One-on-one training model for improved call centers

Help reps feel good about job

One-on-one coaching is a new aspect of call center training that is as important as the usual focus on customer service skills and keeping the calls flowing in a timely manner, says Katherine Dean, SPHR, a partner in Banks & Dean, an international professional services firm based in Toronto.

One-on-one, constructive coaching of call center representatives should be a training priority, and organizations should provide supervisors with the necessary skills to do it, says Dean, whose firm specializes in selection and retention solutions for call centers.

The idea is to coach behaviors, add to skill sets, and make the representatives feel better about what they do, she says. "It’s giving them the skills to understand how to handle calls [and] how to meet needs [that are] balanced with the productivity requirements of the call center."

The call center training model should not be a punitive one, but rather one in which supervisors are "definitely appreciating what has been done right," Dean says. "[Supervisors] should ask reps what they feel they have done right and what they would do differently next time, explain what the supervisor heard [in observing the call], and work collaboratively with them on building effective skill sets."

"It’s about asking, How can we construct some action plans that will make a difference?’" she adds.

Working in partnership with Austin, TX-based Interim Leadership Solutions, she explains, has heightened her awareness that it is not enough to simply provide training to call center employees. This coaching by supervisors is not just about the hard skills — specific, more active questions, for example – but has to do with "the message behind the message," Dean continues. "It’s having the rep feel it’s not about meeting numbers — it’s helping them get better at what they do."

The desired response from the employee is, "I can feel good about getting better at what I do, and I will be recognized for it," she says. "That’s a model change."

In this approach, Dean adds, the supervisor might say, "You were asked this question and didn’t have the answer. What would you differently?" to get the employee thinking about that. Then, she says, the supervisor could add, "Here’s what I suggest, and here’s a reference you can look at that might help."

"There needs to be an understanding that supervisors are [not just] key to reinforcing in a constructive way the old kind of performance," Dean emphasizes, "but that they need to carve out time in their schedules to make [the new approach] the priority that it is."

Call centers are the face of the hospital to patients who start getting impressions when they make that first call, she points out. "In the world of creating a competitive advantage in patient care, a perception of being served well is very critical," Dean adds. "I would suggest call centers can import that by providing supervisors with not just the hard skills, but with the soft skills to understand how to coach efficiently and change behavior in a way that is a positive experience for both coach and representative."

[Editor’s note: Interim Leadership Solutions can be reached at (512) 419-7585.]