Getting Through “Personal Firewalls” in Call Coaching

Great_wallToday I’m asking readers to "coach the coach." I’d like your help and advice.

I have been coaching all week in a client’s multiple contact centers. This is a client I have worked with for many years. I have coached most of their people since they first hit the floor. They are great teams, working for a great company, and they provide a high level of service on the phone.

Yesterday, I was taking a stroll down memory lane with a Supervisor. One particular Customer Service Representative (CSR) came to mind as we talked. This CSR was a hired a few years back, did an admirable job, but left the company shortly thereafter for multiple reasons. This was a wonderful person with a super personality who provided great service on the phone. But he hated to be coached.

According to his coworkers, when reminded that I was coming in for my quarterly call coaching visit, his entire demeanor would change. He became sullen and nervous. When our session would start I would customarily open the session with a little small talk. I really liked this person and, because his quality numbers were high, the session should have been positive and non-confrontational.

But the small talk was pained. He became non-responsive, face would flush, head bowed. No encouragement would assuage his insecurity. If he responded at all it was to get defensive about the one or two behaviors I mentioned which needed some improvement consistency-wise.

The CSR had a "personal firewall" as impregnable as the Great Wall of China. Nothing was going to penetrate it. It was a constant challenge and I admit that I never was able to breach his defenses. It saddens me to this day. He could not see the coaching experience as anything more than a personal threat or attack, when 95 percent of what I had to share with him was what a great job he was doing (complete with examples!).

We have a lot of QA specialists and Supervisors who coach CSRs reading this blog. Have you ever encountered a person like this? How have you been able to scale or breach "personal firewalls"?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Steve Webel.

  6 comments for “Getting Through “Personal Firewalls” in Call Coaching

  1. September 5, 2008 at 5:30 am

    Tom,
    I’ve been where your at on this one. The only solution I’ve found is relationship. It wasn’t until I was able to form a strong relationship with that person that the walls came down. Forming that relationship was the work of months, day by day building a better rapport.
    I’ve had success in some milder cases with bringing the hostility out on the table.
    David B.

  2. Dan H
    September 5, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Having been on both sides of the fence, there are usually deeper organizational issues at play real or perceived – poor supervision, arbitrary policies and or enforcement of the same, added tasks or responsibilities with more opportunity for corrective action and discipline as well as poor or nonexistent calibration in the QA department are but a few of the issues that can be behind it. Employees that feel mistreated often follow several behavior paths. The most common path is where those wheel that they are fighting a losing battle on fairness issues is to rebel in terms of quality and attendance so they get fired and save face among peers by making themselves a victim corporate unfairness. A second is for employees who strike back at every challenge, vocalizing every perceived abuse and policy change kind of like a Don Quixote but they are never taken seriously because they gain the reputation of the boy who cries wolf.
    It sounds like your rep in question is instead one who cares about the job they do, but is facing real or perceived unfairness. This rep would rather take the bullet for the company believing that any attempt to change the broken corporate system are futile. The sad part is that usually these problems are caused by supervisors driving their personal agendas rather than by bad policies. I would do my homework first and examine this CSR’s history, were there opportunities for additional training and advancement that this rep missed out on? What is the supervisor’s reputation? Does the supervisor go to bat when there is a mistake made that hurts the CSR’s pay? Does the supervisor have a reputation for showing favoritism? Does the supervisor promise and not follow through without apology or explanation? Does the supervisor favor his/her interest over the employees and the company. With a little digging you will find that an employee like this is usually one of the most loyal, but is feeling violated and betrayed because their loyalty is not being reciprocated. To break this firewall, you need to demonstrate a reciprocal loyalty.

  3. September 5, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Ouch, Tom. I can understand. I don’t do any coaching, just QA: we have an absolutely wonderful QA coach that handles this.
    It sounds like this person you had was either afraid of confrontation or waiting for an opportunity. Since only positive things were spoken, he may not have been given the opportunity to rant a little and let it all out. He could have been feeling frustration with the job, as we all do from time to time: but didn’t want to ask questions or rock the boat if what he was doing was basically right.
    We have people who just want to sign their coachings and leave. We have people who do not want to be coached, either because they’re doing well or they just don’t care. If they don’t care, they will eventually be weeded out. Since this person was doing well, could he possibly have seen the coaching as a waste of time?

  4. September 8, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    This is an interesting study on why the brain sees attack and how we can move it forward. Great post and thanks Tom. Lots to think more and write about here today as it relates to the human brain and what we now know about it!

  5. Fifi
    September 29, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Hi! I ran into your blog because i was researching for a call center life article i’ll be writing for our center and i AM that rep! i am the rep that always gets the awesome quality and then when i get coached for making a small mistake, i shut down from my supervisor. the reason this happens is because it feels like nitpicking to me. i bust my arse and ive already beat myself up and criticized myself over and over to get the scores i get, and then to have someone else who doesnt know what ive put myself through ADD to that? it sucks and its frustrating and it makes me feel like no matter how hard i try, i will never be good enough to please my sup. i just want that one coaching session where all i hear is “great job”…..just ONE. i know there are always opportunities for improvement on any call, but that rep has already tried so hard and has the track record to prove it. why not just let the rep be right? i mean he gets you these awesome scores, when was the last time you just let him be? thats just my perspective and ive been able to recognize that i do this sometimes. hope it helps!

  6. September 30, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Fifi. I certainly appreciate the difficult job of a front-line and appreciate a job well done. I go into every call coaching session with the goal of making the CSR feel better walking out of the session than they did walking in. I want them to feel better because I’ve praised them for what they’ve done well and helped equip them in areas they are personally struggling.
    One great issue that you raise is what I call the “I’m only human!” effect. No one is perfect and, depending on the quality of the assessment tool, CSRs will never score perfectly all the time. If a CSR has reached a level where they are consistently performing at a “nearly perfect” level, then my job is to keep them encouraged and motivated to keep it up. If I see a trend in behaviors that keep them from reaching higher, I will mention it.
    It’s a tough balance for a call coach. You want to both encourage and challenge. Many coaches get out of balance on one side or the other. Sounds like your sup is out of balance on the challange side and leaving your encouragement tank empty.

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