Customer service coaching refers to the practice of ongoing communication between the agent and their manager to hone in on how to improve on specific skills, achieve specific goals, and develop their craft so they can handle even the most difficult customer interactions.
And if you’re in a contact center performance management role, you’ve probably invested a lot of time and energy in your customer service training and customer service coaching programs. You’re determined to build a team of brand experts who can connect with customers, resolve issues, and drive sales with ease. You also hope to keep agents engaged so they’ll want to stay put.
These are the top- and bottom-line benefits your coaching and training programs should deliver. If you’re disappointed with the results you’re seeing, it may be time to reexamine your approach.
To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of 29 customer service coaching and training tips. These best practices will not only produce better results on the contact center floor, but they’ll help you bring far more value to your organization.
Coaching Customer Service Agents for Individual Growth
“A good coach plays a big part in determining whether an agent becomes a service nuisance and an early turnover statistic, or a long-lasting high performer.”
–Greg Levin, OFF CENTER, LLC (www.offcenterinsight.com)
Coaching, defined by MIT as a “partnership between the manager and employee that creates a shared understanding about what needs to be achieved and how it is to be achieved,” is a powerful performance management tool. At its best, coaching complements customer service training by reinforcing service ideals, continuously driving performance improvements, and boosting agents’ motivation and morale.
Here’s how to maximize the impact and value of your customer service coaching program.
1. Coach your service team strategically.
Don’t focus too heavily on low performers. Make the best use of your time by delivering coaching to all groups (including top performers) while concentrating most on above-average agents—those who are best positioned to become A players.
2. Micro-coach them throughout the day.
Micro-coaching, or coaching in short bursts, is the most effective form of customer service coaching. In these impromptu sessions, managers pull agents aside to discuss specific, real-time performance data, making the session both personal and actionable for the agent. Use micro-coaching to congratulate top performers, strengthen mid performers’ service delivery, and mentor agents who are struggling.
“Our employees are not amateurs. We pay them. So they are professionals. Ultimately, we want our employees to be just as great at their job as any star pro athlete. So we need to coach them daily”
–Bill Quiseng, Chief Experience Officer, BillQuiseng.com
3. Conserve your resources.
Using coaching to get individual agents up to speed on every change or service issue affecting the entire team is too great a burden for managers and too costly for your operation. Better to schedule group training sessions instead (see below for more on customer service training tips).
4. Make coaching sessions 1:1, always.
Group coaching sessions are impersonal by nature. In a 1:1 coaching session, managers can focus on each agent’s most recent interaction and how it relates to their overall performance scores. Agents feel more comfortable opening up, and they come away feeling better equipped and more valued.
5. Consider your agent’s point of view.
Be mindful of the agent’s attitude, awareness, and needs going into the session. Is the agent a high, average, or low performer? Do agents have access to the same performance data as their managers? Be ready to answer any anticipated questions.
6. Use firsthand, specific, timely data.
Make sure you’re coaching on solid ground. Base the session on a call you listened to, customer feedback, or other performance data tied to a specific interaction. If the interaction is fresh in the agent’s mind, the session will be more meaningful and more impactful.
7. Have a specific purpose for each customer service coaching session.
The law of diminishing returns applies here. The more you try to pack into a coaching session, the less the agent will get out of it. Limit your discussion to a single aspect of performance.
8. Start off on the right foot.
Coaching isn’t about passing judgment or calling out inadequacies and failures; its purpose is to encourage agents and help them achieve their personal best. Start by highlighting the positive, ask open-ended questions, and focus on the behavior (not the person).
9. Keep it simple.
During the session, it’s fine to remind agents of brand guidelines. But the focus of the session should be behaviors that can help them improve. Feedback should be clear and succinct so it’s easy to digest.
10. Put things in context.
Showing agents how they compare with the overall team on a particular performance measure makes them more amenable to coaching and more invested in improving their performance.
11. Give the agent the floor.
Don’t lecture; listen. Encourage agents to assess their own performance and identify any barriers to improvement (time, customer service training, tools, etc.). Ask them for their ideas on how to correct the problem(s).
12. Show confidence in the agent.
You know your agents are capable of correcting performance issues and are eager to improve. Show this in the way you coach. Setting a collaborative tone will lead to better outcomes and pave the way for more productive customer service coaching sessions in the future.
“Feedback should always come in two forms: motivational – this is about praising what went well and is intended to acknowledge success and build confidence; and developmental – this is about explaining what could have been done differently or better and is intended to build competence. A crucial rule of a thumb is to motivate in public and develop face-to-face.”
–Agnieszka Anna Jozwiak, CX & UX Consultant, Business Integrity Manager at Facebook.
13. Use the GROW model to develop goals and action plans.
The GROW model takes SMART goal setting a step further. By focusing on agents’ personal aspirations (not just high-level corporate objectives), you’ll not only serve your brand’s strategic interests, but also challenge and inspire your team.
14. End on a positive note.
Show your appreciation for the hard work your agents do every day to represent the brand. This will remind them of their essential role and their value to the team and the company.
Continue reading below for 15 customer service training tips….
Training Customer Service Agents for Collective Success
“[I]f you care about customer experience . . . then customer service training is not optional. It is not an extra. It is an essential component of creating a Hero-Class® customer experience that is a competitive advantage for your organization.”
–Adam Toporek, Customers That Stick
Group training isn’t just for delivering basic knowledge about products, policies, standards, tech platforms, and the other practical aspects of the customer service agent’s role. If you seize the opportunities group training affords, you’ll go a long way toward building a more cohesive, customer-centric call center culture—something that will shine through in every customer interaction.
Here’s how to start laying that new cultural foundation, brick by brick.
1. Make customer service training an ongoing effort.
Don’t stop with onboarding, and don’t let training fall by the wayside as you ramp up micro-coaching on the floor. Schedule customer service training sessions regularly and as needed to address team-wide performance issues, update agents on new policies and promotions, refresh skills, reduce agents’ feelings of isolation, and build brand pride.
2. Don’t overdo it.
If you over rely on customer service training, you’re not spending enough time spent coaching agents individually to help them progress toward their goals. Be sure to balance periodic one-to-many training sessions with daily 1:1 agent coaching sessions from managers.
3. Determine your training priorities.
Salesforce’s recommended training priorities for customer service staff include product knowledge, effective communication, patience, efficiency (proficiency with tech stack, anticipating likely customer questions, etc.), and attention to detail for more effective troubleshooting and likelier first contact resolution (aka first call resolution). To this list, we would add service “highlights” that naturally encourage sales.
4. Align customer service training with brand values and goals.
If brand guidelines seem arbitrary, it will be harder to get your agents’ buy-in. Include the “why,” or the brand goals and values reflected in the desired behavior, so agents will feel empowered in their role and enthusiastic about representing the brand well.
Google, Zynga, and other tech leaders use Objective & Key Results (OKRs), a concept first developed at Intel, to build a culture of world-class customer service. OKRs help agents see the big picture and where they fit in. OKRs can also help improve product testing, customer training webinars, corporate content, employee coaching and training programs, help center resources, and customer experience design.
5. Clarify expectations at all levels.
Start with high-level expectations and work your way down (brand, department, then supervisor expectations). This helps agents think more critically about their role so they can identify opportunities to streamline operations and improve service quality.
6. Right away, recognize top performing service agents.
Recognizing agents who’ve represented the brand well has important benefits: it keeps top performers engaged, instills important lessons, and inspires other agents to achieve the same level of excellence. Be sure to share details of the call/chat/email and explain why those behaviors are important to the brand.
7. Address trending or anticipated customer inquiries.
Alert the team to any widespread challenges and/or inquiries customers are having or may soon have, perhaps due to website changes, a new promotion, new product lines, etc. This will leave agents better prepared to resolve issues on first contact.
8. Incorporate customer feedback into training.
If more than a few agents are struggling in a particular area of service (product knowledge, for example), schedule a group customer service training session to address the topic. This will help the team focus on specific problems that are impacting customer satisfaction.
9. Focus on agent empowerment, not limits.
Confident, enthusiastic agents are trained to take ownership of the service experience. Instead of strict scripts and rules, give them the knowledge, authority, resources, and tools they need to take charge of the situation, find answers, resolve issues on their own, and make customers happy.
“Exceptional Customer Service starts with hiring, training and empowering the right people. This takes an investment, but the rewards are worth it!”
–John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10. Develop soft skills through “experience engineering.”
Experience engineering, according to The Effortless Experience author Matt Dixon, is the process of “actively guid[ing] a customer through an interaction that is designed to anticipate the emotional response and preemptively offer solutions that create a mutually beneficial solution.” It consists of three principles:
- Advocacy (alignment with the customer, as reflected in Apple’s “Feel, Felt, Found” training scenarios);
- Positive language; and
- Anchoring (nudging customers toward a particular product/solution by casting it in the best light).
To help agents engineer authentic experiences that drive profits, and to help them negotiate complex or tricky customer encounters, combine role play and other experiential learning methods with recordings and transcripts of ideal service interactions.
11. Make customer service training engaging and fun.
If training is not engaging, it’s not effective. Provide a mix of learning aids and experiences, including peer-led training (a team favorite). Regularly update the program so it never gets stale.
According to a 2016 Aberdeen study, contact centers using gamification (trivia games, peer challenges, etc.) saw bigger improvements than other contact centers in four important categories: agent retention rates, customer satisfaction, average cost per customer contact, and customer lifetime value.
12. Emphasize hands-on learning.
Renowned training and leadership expert John Whitmore once observed that by simply telling employees information, their recall after three months is about 10%. If you tell, show, and let employees experience what you’re trying to teach, three-month recall jumps to 65%.
Inside and outside of training, give contact center agents a real feel for the job. This includes the products you offer. Many leading brands have showrooms in their contact centers, where agents can see, touch, feel, and try on merchandise at any time. This builds enthusiasm for the brand’s products and empowers agents to answer customers’ questions more effectively.
13. Include self-directed learning.
Give new agents an initial to-do list of printed and/or digital resources to complete, and provide access to a library of recordings and transcripts of various types of customer inquiries (policy questions, product comparisons, problems with self-help tools, etc.).
What agents do on their own to advance their knowledge is equally important to their success.
Amazing companies empower their employees to find solutions for their customers. They train, motivate, & praise their employees for coming up with “Yes” answers for their customers.
—Shep Hyken (@Hyken) April 15, 2018
14. Measure program outcomes.
Determine how you’ll evaluate the effectiveness of your training. You could gauge employee satisfaction with the program, test their knowledge, measure behavioral changes, and/or track organizational performance and ROI. We recommend using all these indicators, along with real-time customer feedback, NPS, and other measures of customer satisfaction.
15. Give agents a lifeline between sessions.
Communication platforms such as Slack allow agents free and easy access to their supervisors and more experienced peers so they can get quick answers and helpful tips between customer service coaching and training sessions. A lifeline like this is important in a physical contact center, and even more so for remote teams.
Learn How Leading Brands Are Driving Results Through Customer Service Coaching & Training Programs.
Leading brands such as Williams Sonoma, RevZilla, Jet, Warby Parker, and Brooklinen have discovered the simple, powerful fuel that keeps coaching and training programs running smoothly, motivates agents to self-correct, maximizes operational efficiency, and accelerates growth. You can read about it in the case studies we’ve included in our latest eBook, “How to Use Coaching and Training to Drive Contact Center Performance” or sign up for a demo to learn how we can help coach your agents.