The Road to Better Coaching: The Data-Armed Supervisor and Why They're Dangerous

The Road to Better Coaching: The Data-Armed Supervisor and Why They're Dangerous

If there is one thing that most contact centers do NOT lack, it's data.  From call length to employee productivity and each piece of VOC in between, there’s a metric for just about everything.  The question, of course, is what to do with all those pieces of data. 

On the surface, it seems like arming your supervisors with rich data would be a great way to manage employee performance.  After all, if you know exactly who your outliers are for each and every metric you track, it makes sense that you’d want to use that targeted information to re-mediate.  This is dangerous territory though.

Necessary but Insufficient

Consider this analogy: When a baseball pitcher has just walked three batters in a row, the pitching coach may go to the mound and offer some advice.  If the coach is just looking at stats, he might say something like “walk fewer batters” or “throw more strikes.”  Not very useful advice! 

To be effective, that pitching coach needs to understand the root behaviors that are causing more walks or fewer strikes.  Then he can offer better advice on how the pitcher is winding up, how he’s releasing the ball, etc.  Coaching to the behavior gives that pitcher a concrete idea of what needs to change to see the desired outcome of more strikes.

Just like that pitching coach, contact center coaches must recognize that data is just a starting point for employee development.  It is useful as one input to consider when preparing for coaching conversations, but really it just scratches the surface.  For example, knowing that a rep has poor first contact resolution (FCR) rates is necessary but insufficient.  I can’t walk into a coaching conversation and say “you need to get better with your FCR” if I don’t have any idea what lies beneath that surface. 

We call this type of coaching “spreadsheet coaching.”  This type of coaching isn’t just ineffective—it’s actually quite damaging for many reasons, including:

  • Poor coaching hurts performance nearly twice as much as good coaching helps. One of the worst things a contact center supervisor can do (as it relates to coaching) is spend the majority of his/her coaching time in scheduled sessions that are just reviewing the latest scorecard or QA results.  It’s actually better to simply not coach at all.

  • Generic coaching degrades employee engagement. When coaching doesn’t feel tailored to the individual (e.g., “everyone on the team is getting coached about FCR this week!”), it actively degrades employee engagement by up to 17% and can contribute directly to greater attrition.  In fact, one of our clients saw a 46% reduction in attrition after teaching their supervisors how to be more effective coaches.

Digging Deeper

Just talking about changing an outcome (e.g., FCR) will not change an outcome.  If you want to change an outcome, you need to examine the root causes that drive it in the first place.  In the coaching and employee performance context, this means examining the behaviors that your rep is displaying.  Through proper root causing, the coach can diagnose potential reasons why a rep’s performance might be suffering in a particular area. 

With those possible reasons in mind, spending some time simply observing that rep in action can solidify the direction that the coaching conversation needs to go.  Too often, coaches think adequate preparation means spending time thinking about an employee’s performance, when really they need to be going out and observing that employee doing his/her job. 

Coaching in action 

At one of our client companies, this type of root-cause analysis followed by first-hand observation led a coach to the startling discovery that her rep needed glasses!  Because she couldn’t properly see the computer screen, she was missing critical pieces of information to give to customers. 

If the supervisor had not done the observation, it would have been easy to assume that the rep either didn’t know the right answers, didn’t know how to find the right resources, or possibly just didn’t care enough to try harder.  As it turns out, it was none of the above.  But what a frustrating coaching conversation that would have been if the coach hadn’t taken time to observe.

What the Best Coaches Do

At the end of the day, coaching can’t be about the data.  It has to be about the underlying behaviors that drive the data, and the best coaches are the ones that can arm themselves with enough data to identify trends and analyze the root causes to focus on the right development opportunities for their reps. 

When this happens, coaching is targeted, personal, and effective.  This type of coaching is what leads to improved performance outcomes.  So as you consider the next set of data you put in front of your contact center coaches, ask yourself whether you’ve prepared them to use that data wisely or not.