Try Small Group Call Coaching

I spent yesterday in some "group coaching" sessions with a client. This isn’t for everyone, but I have done it with multiple clients and it has always turned into a positive experience. It tends to work better with groups who are used to being monitored and coached one-on-one, and where call coaching is already part of the fabric of the daily experience.

Here’s how it works:

  • Get three to five CSRs in a conference room together. Make sure you have a good mix of people/personalities. Be intentional about who you put together in the room to try and have a healthy mix of those who will be positive and talkative along with those who may need help to draw them out into the discussion.
  • Have a couple of calls for each CSR screened and ready to go. The first time you do it you may want to ensure that all the calls are overwhelmingly positive so that people can get used to the process and find out they won’t be embarrassed. Eventually move to having calls that may not be perfect, but are still good calls  – so that there are some things to discuss.
  • Play calls one at a time.
  • Let the person whose call was played respond first by asking him/her what they thought of the call. The coach really has to be a good facilitator at this point to draw out some conversation. When the CSR says "It was okay, I guess," you need to respond with "What was okay about it?" Don’t let the CSR be only negative. Ask them to name a few things they felt good about. Keep it balanced.
  • Next open it up or their peers to respond. My experience is that peers will be mostly positive and encouraging. People will often share what they appreciate about each other’s delivery and what they learn from listening to that person.
  • The facilitator should reserve any formal comments until everyone else has shared (but should feel free to be part of the conversation). Often, the things you were going to share will already have been mentioned by that point, and it’s better for it to come from the group. Often, the facilitator may be the only one being critical (besides the person whose call was played – people tend to be critical of themselves), but saving it until the end allows it to be a "by the way – don’t forget these things" balanced by all of the positive discussion that has already taken place. It’s the ol’ Mary Poppins principle: "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Here’s what CSRs say they like about group call coaching:

  • It’s something different.
  • It allows them to hear/see how other people do things, providing them with thoughts and ideas for how they can approach their own calls differently.
  • It often becomes a mini-training session, learning how other people attacked certain issues or navigated the system.
  • The positive affirmation of their peers makes them feel good and helps build a sense of "we’re all in this together."
  • The round table discussion often surfaces questions/issues that CSRs may be too embarrassed to ask in a one-on-one coaching session.

Have you done similar group coaching sessions? What other tips do you have to share?

If you try it in your call center, let us know how it went!

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Snap Man

3 thoughts on “Try Small Group Call Coaching

  1. Hi Tom – Great idea. Have you ever seen a sizable call center (>250 reps) execute a program like this on a regular basis?
    If so, how did they make it work in terms of staffing?
    Let’s say you run a 300-person call center. At 5 reps per group, that’s 60 groups. If there are 20 business days a month, you’ll need to run 3 sessions a day so that everyone cycles through once a month.
    Also, who selected the calls and how?
    At 2 calls per rep, that’s a minimum 600 calls that need to be screened and selected each and every month.

  2. As a way to keep the associates centered and focused on the point of the exercise, have them structure their feedback. When soliciting feedback from peers, the peers can say”First, what I appreciated that you did for that customer was _______?” Then, have them follow up with “You could have wowed that client even more by ______” I find that associates are willing to participate in these discussions and find them valuable, but they seek structure to insure a safe experience. That way it is a win/win for all participants!

  3. David – great questions. The call centers I’ve participated in sessions like these were smaller. The one I did the other day was about 60 agents. In both cases, our group was hired to pull the calls and facilitate the sessions, as we provide an on-going third-party QA function for them. One of our group members went in and spot checked calls that weren’t too long, but still had decent content.
    In larger call centers, I envision that this might be done by the internal QA team or by supervisors as an alternative to one-on-one coaching for a month. We got through groups of three to four associates in an hour.
    This particular client obviously has a commitment to training and quality and is willing to take agents off the phone for an hour on a quarterly basis for these sessions. In other environments, you might have to look at your typical call volumes and schedule sessions during time of typically low call volumes or pay agents to come in early or stay an hour late.
    Joel, those are GREAT suggestions for focusing the discussion. Thanks for adding your two cents. I’m going to try it next week when we do some more of these sessions!

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