Developing Exceptional Contact Center Leaders

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In most businesses, when leaders and managers struggle to balance competing priorities, coaching is often the first activity to get pushed aside. In many cases, our daily activities can be easily formulated by others, with the assumption that coaching opportunities will somehow mysteriously find their own way onto the calendar. This is especially true as you step inside companies' customer service organizations. Everything else always seems more urgent.

At the same time, customer service organizations face tremendous pressure to deliver consistent, exceptional service. To make this happen, leaders need to be well equipped to coach and inspire customer service representatives to create a great experience on every contact. We must therefore understand how coaching is used as either the accelerant or the governor in this model. If we can overcome the time hurdle associated with coaching, we must be prepared to answer the following question: Does this coaching activity truly create sustainable and long-term performance improvement for the employee and the organization?

Coaching as Both Art and Science

Coaching is an activity some may describe as both an art and a science. The more variables you add to a scientific experiment, the more difficult it is to predict the outcome. Given that organizations are constantly on the journey to reinvent the customer experience model, reducing variables through a consistent and repeatable coaching methodology is a logical place to begin.

Even for high-performing managers, the transition from manager to leader and coach is often very difficult, not only because of all the business variables we throw at them on a daily basis, but more importantly because no one has ever shown them what appropriate coaching looks like. If an organization does not invest in defining and developing its coaching culture, new leaders will color the picture themselves, based on their own experiences and coaching role models. In that scenario, a company's coaching culture can be more easily described as an artistic mosaic rather than a repeatable and effective model of consistency. To achieve consistent and improving results, we need to know that our coaching culture is well defined, repeatable, and, most importantly, supported by all functions within the customer service organization on an hour-by-hour basis in all activities.

Where Does the Time Go?

To build effective leaders, senior management must first try to understand where a team leader's time goes and how he spends his energy. To be most effective, team leaders should be spending the majority of their time (75 percent to 80 percent) coaching and developing agents and leading the team. However, typically, we find only 25 percent to 40 percent of time is focused on these important functions. It is crucial for senior leadership to make an ongoing commitment to investing in redistributing administrative tasks to other departments.

This mapping of time and redistribution of administrative work frees team leaders to develop skills around leadership management and developing strategies to inspire their teams to better performance. However, it cannot be a one-time event. Senior leadership must make a concerted effort to continuously check in on coaches to see how effective they are in meeting their coaching schedules. Due to no fault of their own, leaders will quickly fall back into managing their to-do lists, which likely is headlined by something that was delegated to them with the label "URGENT." Senior leaders need to be the filter and challenge the notion of what is truly urgent to make sure coaches maintain their coaching activities on an hourly basis.

Changing the Perception of Coaching From "Walk of Shame" to Opportunity

One of the challenges inherent in training leaders to coach agents to exceptional performance is the perception of coaching itself. For most contact center staff, coaching is perceived as the "walk of shame" to the coaching room rather than an opportunity for the coach and employee to celebrate successes and develop great skills. For many years, we, as leaders, have created this condition because we have embraced the notion that 

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