Ever wondered how to take your customer service agents from good to great? You might have thought training was the only answer. But there’s another layer — coaching — that can improve agent performance and job satisfaction.
What is coaching in customer service?
In customer service, coaching means training and mentoring support agents. The goal is to improve service quality and ensure that support reps have everything they need to handle customer inquiries, solve problems, and provide exceptional customer service.
Sounds exactly like a customer service training program for you? Well…
Customer service coaching vs. customer service training
Both customer service coaching and training programs are aimed at improving agent performance. They slightly differ in focus, timing, and methods:
- Customer service training is usually a formal, structured process. It happens at the beginning of an employee’s time in a customer service role or when new tools, products, or procedures are introduced. It teaches the basic things everyone needs to know to do their job.
- Customer service coaching, on the other hand, comes after basic training and is meant for fine-tuning specific customer service skills or helping with specific problems. It’s more personalized, flexible, and can happen anytime it’s needed. It usually includes one-on-one meetings, performance reviews, and specific feedback.
In simple terms, training gives you the basics, and coaching helps you get better and deal with real-life situations. A customer service coaching program might have a training session in it, but training itself is usually a short-term, separate activity.
We got the basics out of the way. Now for the fun part:
Customer service coaching tips
Unfortunately, knowing what customer service coaching entails won’t immediately make you the best customer service coach. There’s good news, though. To start coaching customer service agents more effectively, follow the tips below.
1. Set up a system to keep tabs on agent performance
If you’re serious about your coaching efforts, you have to find a way to track how your customer service team is performing and what your agents struggle with. This will help you plan your coaching sessions, and figure out if your coaching strategy is effective or needs some tweaking along the line.
The best way to go about it is by:
- Tracking basic customer service KPIs. If you’re already using a help desk solution to handle support tickets, tracking basic KPIs like First Response Time or Average Handle Time should be easy and can serve as a foundation for your coaching efforts.
- Reviewing support conversations. Much like how software developers have their code reviewed or how writers get feedback on their drafts, support agents can benefit from having their customer interactions evaluated. These reviews are meant to give constructive feedback and maintain support quality.
- Talking to your agents regularly. Quantitative data is one thing, but frequent conversations with your team members provide you with a qualitative sense of how things are going. These discussions can range from formal one-on-one meetings to quick, informal chats. The goal is to understand how the agents feel they are performing, what challenges they are facing, and what tools or support they need to excel in their roles.
Regular coaching sessions are what ties it all together. The only issue here is keeping all the data, notes, and action points in one place.
If you need any help once you’re at it, Klaus’ Coaching sessions combine all the data and features you need for building a team of expurrrts:
- Identify agents that need coaching the most
- Reduce prep time before 1:1s (metrics, conversation history, and meeting agenda are kept in one place)
- Follow a template every time you start a customer service coaching session
- Set action items and easily track their completion
- Get a detailed overview of ongoing coaching activities
- Share the sessions with other team members for additional insights and better visibility into your team’s performance
- Visualize and measure the impact coaching has on your team’s quality of work
2. Schedule 1:1 coaching sessions
There’s no rule about how often you should coach agents. It could be as often as every week or as rarely as once a year. To decide what’s best, consider the following:
- Are your agents having trouble? If they’re not meeting their goals, you might need to coach them more often, maybe every two weeks.
- How skilled is the agent? If you’ve got experienced or high-performing agents, they might only need coaching once a month, unlike new hires who could benefit from weekly sessions.
After you’ve set up the basic structure of your coaching plan, you can start planning the details of individual coaching sessions.
💡 Keep in mind that group coaching sessions can be useful for general updates that affect everyone, but they’re not very personal. One-on-one coaching lets you focus just on that agent’s own challenges and needs, without the rest of the team watching or judging.
Also, in a one-on-one setting, agents are likely to feel more at ease talking openly. This helps them leave the session feeling more prepared and appreciated, both by you and the whole team.
3. Have one goal in mind for each coaching session
There are typically five different topics that can be addressed in a coaching session:
- Customer service KPIs: Talk about relevant performance stats like how quickly tickets are handled (Average Handle Time) and how often issues get resolved on the first contact (First Contact Resolution). The exact metrics to discuss will differ depending on your customer service goals, and the support channels you offer (call center vs live chat, for example).
- Quality scores: Take a look at the QA scorecards and the average IQS to see how well the agent is doing when it comes to meeting internal support quality standards.
- What customers say: You can’t just rely on numbers and scores to gauge an agent’s performance. Use customer feedback and different types of surveys (such as CSAT or CES) to get a fuller picture.
- How agents feel: Remember, agents are humans first. Check in about how they’re coping with stress and how they’re feeling overall.
- Career goals: Spend some time discussing any opportunities for moving up in the company and what the agent thinks about their current role. Talking about long-term plans can help both of you figure out what kind of training is needed next.
There’s just one thing to mention: Trying to cover too much at once is not the best idea. In fact, it can make things confusing for the agent. If possible, stick to talking about just one thing in each one-on-one session.
💡 Your agents should know what they’ll be talking about before they walk into a coaching session. Let the agent know ahead of time what that one thing will be, so they can get ready for the talk. Keep the conversation centered on that single topic.
4. Always start on a positive note
Coaching isn’t about criticizing or pointing out mistakes; it’s there to help agents get better at their job. When you begin each session, aim to set a good tone. You can do this in several ways:
- Celebrate the good stuff: No one likes to start a meeting hearing about their mistakes. Put your agent at ease by first talking about something they’ve done well since you last met.
- Encourage consistency: When giving feedback, remember that not every action needs to be either amazing or terrible. Most of the time, agents are doing a fine job and should keep it up. Saying “You’re doing fine, keep going” can be a real confidence booster.
- Ask open questions: Don’t just talk at your agent. Let them share their own thoughts and ideas. Ask questions that let them explain why they did something a certain way, or what they might do differently next time.
- Talk about actions, not character: Be careful to focus your comments on what the agent did, not who they are, especially if they’ve had some challenging customer interactions recently. This helps keep the conversation constructive.
4. Look out for signs of inferiority feelings
Agents who have a hard time taking criticism or who constantly seek praise may not be acting out of arrogance. Often, this behavior stems from feelings of low self-esteem.
Pay attention to how your team members react in different situations to understand what might be going on beneath the surface. If something concerns you, have a conversation with them. Remind your agents of the paw-sitive impact they’re making. People with low self-esteem often believe they’re performing worse than their peers, which can take a toll on their confidence.
5. Promote self-evaluation among your team members
One of the best ways to improve customer service is to get agents to assess themselves, and use these insights in your coaching sessions.
Ask your team members to review their own past work, their techniques, and their interactions with customers. Do they see room for improvement? Are there challenges they’re finding hard to beat?
If you need more guidance, try the following questions:
- Are there other tasks you regularly perform?
This question helps you uncover potential unrecognized contributions.
- What recent customer interaction are you most proud of?
This allows the employees to showcase what they consider exemplary customer service.
- Is there a customer interaction you wish had gone differently?
Understanding their perceived shortcomings in customer interactions is equally important.
- What do you see as your strengths and areas for improvement?
This question guides the employee from acknowledging their strong points to recognizing where growth is needed.
- What strides have you made since your last coaching session?
This gives the employee a chance to highlight their personal and professional growth.
- What resources or training would improve your performance?
Employees on the front lines often have the best insights into what could make them more effective.
- How can I assist you in skill development or improving product knowledge?
Your team’s success is your success, so it’s imperative to discover how you can facilitate their ongoing development.
Give your team members the platform to celebrate their achievements and discuss challenges in real-life customer service scenarios. Remember, the aim is to create an environment where employees feel empowered to grow, both for their own satisfaction and for the benefit of the company’s customer service standards.
Speaking of empowerment…
6. Recognize and empower your top performers
Employees who feel they are making a meaningful impact are generally more engaged in their work. Your top support reps are crucial assets to your team, and it’s essential to keep them motivated and invested. One way to do this is to give them more responsibilities. This makes them feel good and also sets a good example for everyone else.
Your standout performers often have unique insights into enhancing customer satisfaction, which is, after all, your ultimate goal. Look at how they do things to find out what methods could help everyone do better. For example, how they:
- Find answers quickly to solve problems,
- Handle talking to several customers online at the same time,
- Decide which customer issues to tackle first.
- By analyzing their work habits, you can identify best practices that could benefit the entire team.
By highlighting the best responses of their top performers, Fi is able to showcase their team’s excellence. Using these responses as templates for the rest of the team can enhance consistency, efficiency, and overall performance. This approach allows agents to feel as if they are part of a collaborative process.
7. Create career paths in support
The reality is that a role as a support agent is often a stepping stone to other opportunities. It’s a job many people won’t hold forever, and that’s okay.
However, support agents make great candidates for other positions within the company. They’re naturally empathetic, knowledgeable about the product, and familiar with the customer base. This makes it easier for them to transition to different roles and continue growing in their careers. It’s your task to encourage your team members to consider these avenues.
Base your coaching strategy on QA data
After setting goals with your customer service agents and holding regular 1:1 sessions, keep an eye on how they’re doing. Try monitoring customer interactions to see if they’re meeting their goals. Are they applying what they’ve learned in training? Are they getting better over time?
The truth is, that quality assurance data is the go-to resource for effectively coaching your customer service agents. It gives you a detailed look at what your agents are good at and what they need to work on, including things like how well they speak, how friendly they are, and the way they sound.
Especially when you rely on AI-powered features to help you make sense of it all.
30% of customer service professionals say that improving key support metrics was a struggle for them in 2022. They probably don’t coach agents with Klaus.