It’s now time to go to the next topic and discover how a coach develops staff by giving feedback on performance.
In order to give quality feedback we need to answer the question, “So just what is coachable?” One of the top reasons coaches cite for not coaching is their lack of comfort in giving feedback to reps. The discomfort is usually a result of one of two conditions. The first is a lack of skills training on how to give feedback. That’s the easy one to solve and a future installment in the series! The second is confusion on just what is coachable. Where do you draw the line on what is and isn’t fair game to comment on in a coaching session? This is the harder of the two to get a handle on, and it’s our focus in Part Two.
We all have preferences and biases that affect everything we do from the brand of clothes we wear to the restaurants we frequent to the friends and organizations we contribute our time, talents and money. Some like hot foods, some don’t; some wear Tommy Hilfiger jeans, some don’t; some join clubs, churches, sports teams, some don’t. How likely is it that we take our personal preferences and biases into our role as a coach? VERY! And that’s where we begin to answer the question of what’s “coachable?”
If I asked you to give me a list of qualities that an ideal rep would possess, in no time flat you’d describe a super rep able to please customers and management with equal finesse. If next I asked you to list the specific actions and behaviors that display each of these qualities, the task gets a little more difficult because our personal bias begins to show. “I like a rep to be warm and friendly.” Someone else says,”Forget the warm and friendly jazz, just give me the answer.” The next person chimes in and offers “I think reps need to sound professional on the phone,” to which someone comments “what do you mean by professional – my accountant is a professional but he has zero people skills. Heaven forbid he’d be on the phone with our customers!” When we get down to brass tacks, calling out specific actions and behaviors is hard work and full of our preferences and biases.
Our very sense of how an interaction “should be” handled is a strong impulse for any coach to manage when working with members of a rep team to help them develop their skills.
The goal then is to develop a clear guideline on what is and isn’t fair game to comment on during a coaching session and to be able to manage our preferences and biases in the coaching process. Three terms will help us with the task: standards, styles and ideas.
Standards and styles represent two different measures and ideas are not measurements at all but tools a coach can use to develop both standards and styles.
- A standard is an objective measure that applies equally to everyone.
- A style is a subjective measure that applies to just one person at a time.
- An idea is something that works for someone else and might work for you.
Standards form the core of any coaching program because of their very definition: An objective measure that applies equally to everyone. No one is above or below a standard. There is no exception to a standard. It is a clear statement of what is expected, and it is clear that everyone is expected to follow the standard.
While this sounds harsh, that’s not its purpose. When done right, a layer of solid standards provides a foundation for freedom in style and ideas. Since standards are the core of any coaching program, we’ll dig deeper on these now and tackle styles and ideas in Part Three.
Recalling the definition of a standard (an objective measure that applies equally to everyone), how many real standards do you have at the core of your coaching program? You’ll find that there are conceptual standards and content-based standards and shades of both. Take a look at a content-based standard.
When a rep closes every call with “Thank you for calling First Financial Services,” they have just completed a content-based standard. It’s this very sort of content-based standard that reps aren’t fond of because while it fits most situations, it doesn’t fit all situations, and yet if they use any other wording, they are out of standard. Being out of standard often has consequences in their paycheck! Ow!
Another standard which all call centers have is the call opening, the greeting. Let’s look at a three-part standard expressed this way:
- Begin with a Salutation
- Identify your department or area
- Identify yourself using first name only
Until we “script” each one of these steps it’s clear that this standard as it’s expressed is part conceptual (#1 & #2) and part content-based (#3). A rep would be in standard if they answered the phone and said, “Good Morning (Salutation), Customer Service (Department ID), this is John (Personal ID).”
Anyone greeting a caller without their first name, “Good Morning Customer Service” is out of standard. Anyone not using a salutation, “Customer Service this is Dave” is out of standard. If a rep greets a caller with “Good Morning and welcome to the
You can tighten or loosen a standard. If you want the greeting content-based, then you simply decide the vocabulary of all three steps. Regardless of what you decide, it’s imperative to communicate your standard clearly so it can be followed. (Later in this series we’ll talk about how to formalize this by building a Nuance List.)
Once a standard is set, you see how easy it is to apply it to everyone in the call center equally. Standards are great. They remove bias. They are actionable because they are clear and universally applied. No one is exempt.
Now it was no accident that the two standards I chose as examples were the opening and the closing because they demonstrate a glitch in creating standards. By their very nature, a content-based standard is one where what to say has been decided ahead of time and without any sensitivity to the caller or why they’ve called.
That’s a glitch. That removes dynamic customization by a rep when dealing with the customer.
The reason for removing it is often well-meaning. If we fear that our staff will forget or not be skilled or caring enough to thank someone for calling, we make it a content-based standard, and we deduct points (and maybe pay) when the standard isn’t used. The reasoning is that it’s better to thank 100% of the callers and risk it sounding or feeling awkward 5% of the time than have reps forget or be careless and miss thanking a larger percentage of callers they should indeed thank!
Clearly, the only time you can truly craft the content of a standard without regard to the caller, or the caller’s need, is the call opening. It’s the only place in the call where the rep singularly “owns” the time slot, and it’s an important time slot – about 3 to 5 seconds. In that time by the words they use and how they say them, they will communicate to the caller everything the caller needs to know about what the next 3 to 5 minutes will be like.
Fully scripted, content-based standards are limiting. When we decide ahead of time what someone should say, we take away the possibility of making the best choice of what to say when the time comes to say it. Knowing this does not weaken the bedrock quality of standards at the core of your program. It simply leads us to look at the properties of conceptual standards and how to use them.
Conceptual standards maintain the quality of “structure” that you get in content-based standards and add the element of customization and style. That combination allows a rep and a caller to be truly dynamic in any moment and your rep still meets your standards and delights your customer.
A good example of a conceptual standard is the steps of placing a caller on hold. Here are 4 straightforward steps:
- Pose a question to the caller that includes an action step.
- Activate the hold with a courtesy word or phrase.
- Recall the customer to the conversation by speaking their name putting a question mark in your voice tone.
- Add a courtesy phrase and resume the conversation.
Here are examples of each step so you can see how different content choices fit each “conceptual standard” step.
1. Pose a question to the caller that includes an action step.
Can you hold while I check on that for you?
Would you mind holding so I can look that up for you?
May I place you on hold to find the information for you?
2. Activate the hold with a courtesy word or phrase.
Great; I’ll be right back.
3. Recall the customer to the conversation by speaking their name putting a question mark in your voice tone.
4. Add a courtesy phrase and resume the conversation.
Thank you for waiting; your application was received…
Thanks for holding for me; your application was received…
It takes training and a good nuance list to get the clarity you desire so conceptual standards work for everyone. Are all conceptual standards easy? No, but that doesn’t make it impossible or not worthwhile to work on it. For example, do you hear reps telling callers “We can’t do that until the first of the month;” “I don’t have the information yet;” “I won’t be able to get that document to you until tomorrow.” Do you ask reps over and over to tell callers what they can do, do have, and will do? Yes, of course you do. Have you made it a standard? You can. In fact it’s a perfect “conceptual standard” to create for any group. It takes an excellent nuance list to help set the guideline and remember, we’ll deal with nuance lists yet in this series.
In Part Three we’ll look at “styles” and “ideas” and how to work those into your coaching program. But trust me, the place to begin is with standards. For now, it’s worth your effort to examine your coaching program and answer the question, just how many real standards are at the core of your program?
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