Lauderbaugh & Associates
"Coaching and Developing
Call Center Staff"©
by JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC
In this fast-paced, shrinking world, call centers and other pockets of people answering
phones, have become a way of business life. In developing tomorrow's work force today,
managers are finding that coaching call center staffs to take full responsibility for
customers' experiences is a necessity. It increases productivity and company and
department images. It also helps to maximize sales, and retain internal and external
Managers need to mentor and coach their staffs to give extraordinary care,
and realize that the call center rep is the company to the customer.
Get the Job Done and Grow Your Staff
If a person reports to you, you are their greatest motivator. It's up to you to help them
grow and change into better reps. But you don't have the power to change anyone else. You
only have the power to change yourself. When you change yourself enough, you can influence
your staff in a positive direction of change.
One of the major keys to your success will be treating your staff the way
you want your customers treated.
In the book Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore wrote, "If either
quality of performance, or learning from the experience is important, coaching is a must.
If neither is, then tell, if you must." Telling is the opposite of coaching. Telling
You probably remember a job you've had where you were told and not asked
to do things. Do you remember how this made you feel?
In many call centers, the managers and supervisors are constantly fighting
fires instead of growing their staffs. Then they only have time to dictate. Develop more
awareness of how the fires started. Stop telling and start asking. Be a support, not a
threat as you help each staff member visualize his or her potential. Let go of the need to
control, and you'll gain more control.
Coaching is directing the work process with training. It orients the staff
to the real work place and helps remove barriers. Attitudes need to be dealt with to
promote optimum job performance.
Coaching has emerged as a new self-help oriented profession aimed at encouraging people to
set goals and find ways to reach them.
Coaches are a blend of advisor, friend, therapist, business consultant and
Did you ever teach a child how to ride a bike? You talked about it, and then showed the
child how to do it. Later you were running along side holding the handle bars, and then
finally you let go to let the child ride on his own, but still yelling instructions from
the side of the street. Eventually, you were able to let go and proudly watch as he tried
his new skill. When the first fall came, you were there to pick him up and get him rolling
again. Before long, he was on his own and only occasionally needed pointers from you. He
always knew you would be there when he needed you, and he trusted your guidance.
Counseling May Also Be Needed
Guidance is the coach's job and even if you don't have a degree in counseling, it's also a
part of your coaching duties. Support the training process by helping your employees
personally too. Help reps to identify personal problems (attitudes) that are affecting
their job performance.
It's important to keep their confidentiality, especially when they express fear that
others will learn of their illness, divorce or dying relative situation.
Don't try to give them answers to their crisis. Only help them see alternatives they might
have overlooked. Professionals tell us that most people in crisis say, "I just don't
have any choice!" Your job is to listen, empathize and help them see other choices,
and even assist them in getting professional help.
Reasons Supervisors and Managers Don't Coach
Coaching is your main job as a manager. Many fail to coach because they don't care if
their employees develop or not. They don't coach because they didn't get coaching
themselves. They feel they don't have time, or there are too many employees. They fear
failure and negative responses. They often think that employees should know what to do.
They feel employees don't listen or want it, and they would be cynical and untrusting.
They wouldn't even understand what the manager was trying to accomplish.
What reasons have you used?
Types of Coaches
The SILENT COACH is negative. When his rep doesn't accept full
responsibility for the customer's experience by following up or following through after
the call, he remains silent with a stone face or a frown. He looks intimidating,
disapproving and unapproachable.
The CRITICAL COACH is also negative. He points the finger and asks
"WHY didn't you see that the problem was resolved after the call was finished?"
When "why" is used, it intimidates.
The ADVICE GIVER COACH is positive. He can be heard to say,
"REMEMBER to listen carefully from the beginning of the call, resolve the situation
on the phone and then follow up later to make sure the customer feels the problem was
The REINFORCER COACH is also positive. He would say to the rep, "The
way you take full responsibility of every customer's experience really makes a difference.
You cut down on the complaints and the lengths of the calls, and help our department look
good. You never let the customer push your button and cause you to resent them, or be
careless about the follow up either."
The Advice Giver and Reinforcer demonstrate selective empowerment through their coaching.
They are sensitive to others; open, receptive and approachable; and honest and
trustworthy. They set good examples, and treat internal and external customers the same.
Employees are given more choices and responsibilities, and regular accountability is
expected from them.
Mavericks on Team?
Some of the members on your team may be mavericks and your coaching skills will be tested.
They typically want to do things their own creative way which can throw
havoc into attaining seamless service from the team.
They usually like to stand out in the crowd, so engage them to use their creativity and
talents to help you provide ongoing training for others on the team. When they're asked to
teach problem solving and customer service, they tend to better understand the need for
consistency on the team.
When people teach a concept, they learn the concept all over again
Ask mavericks to share their solutions in daily stand-up meetings, e-mail, voice mail,
memos, newsletters or other avenues of communication.
When the mavericks are working around other teammates, have them wear "Ask Me"
buttons. This will show their willingness to share their knowledge, and it encourages team
Peer teaching and mentoring can increase teamwork, consistency of processes, and harness
the maverick's spirit in a positive way.
The coach works to ask "what" questions instead of "why" questions. A
"why" question can cause intimidation and excuse responses. These are some of
the questions adapted from Enlightened Leadership: Getting To The Heart Of Change, written
by Ed Oakley and Doug Krug.
What is working well? What else? What's making it work? What are we trying to accomplish?
What are the benefits to you, our department, company and customers when we meet our goal
or objective? What do you think we need to do more of, better or
This type of questioning can aid in opening communication and problem solving.
Become aware of the words you use in your own communication. Use "I" instead of
"you." "I appreciate, respect" and "agree" will
promote better communication and confidence.
Use the word "work" instead of "try." Say, "I'm working to get
this finished by your deadline," rather than, "I'm trying to get this finished
by your deadline."
Ask open-ended questions that require elaboration. The most popular one used in sales and
service begins with, "Tell me about..."
Don't avoid coaching and counseling or you will find managing conflict will be very
difficult. Give honest and effective feedback for growth. When you use non-confrontational
words and questions, you'll manage conflict better.
When I'm consulting with companies, many front line people confidentially tell me how
inconsistent their supervisors and managers are in managing conflict. Get together with
other management staff. Share and listen to the successes they've had in dealing with
conflict. Be a support team to each other.
Use common sense within company policy. Test every option to become more efficient and
reduce problems to be resolved.
If there is a personality conflict on your team and you need to give constructive
criticism, start by creating a win-win atmosphere.
Describe the behavior that is in question, "When you find it difficult to..." or
"I am concerned about..." Reveal what you really feel when you observe the
conflict. Say, "I feel..." or "when this happens, I get concerned..."
Ask them how they see the situation.
Then paraphrase their words back to them. "From your perspective, you feel..."
Ask for specified behavior as you give the benefit of the doubt. "What I would like
you and James to do is..." Reaffirm that they have the ability to change. Ask if
there is anything else that they would like to discuss.
Remember to schedule an agreed upon follow-up session for all involved
parties. Reschedule if this meeting does not take place as planned.
Sometimes the coach is the one receiving the criticism. Decide if it is valid and worth
acting on now.
Avoid being passive or counter attacking. Listen and assess the situation. Consider the
source. Watch for nonverbal signals.
Three negative signals are necessary for an accurate read. The control is
yours, not theirs. Paraphrase what you understood back to them. "If I understood
If you feel the criticism is unjustified, stay neutral and remember not to push back at
them in your response. Say, "You might be right..."
If the criticism is justified, request more feedback. You might state, "I'm not clear
about...What did you...?" Take action and admit the truth. Ask about possible
solutions to the situation. "What would you like...?" or "What do you
suggest I do to...?" Now you're on the same team working on a solution.
To be successful at coaching and counseling, you must recognize different work styles on
your team. Listen intently and focus on what is said. Be flexible and willing to think on
your feet to help them.
There are many profiling systems that call the four work styles different names.
Generally, they can be called Driver, Expressive, Analytical and Amiable.
The Driver is impatient, decisive and very often running the show. You'll
find the Expressive to be talkative, social and cruise directing.
The Analytical is usually quieter and sometimes a loner. They're detail
oriented, and want ample time to analyze situations.
The Amiable works to keep peace with everyone and does not like change.
Everyone has one work style that dominates over the others. A secondary style will also be
apparent. At times, everyone demonstrates some of all of the styles.
If your employees' work styles are very different from your own, you'll need to work
harder to understand and communicate well with them. In a social situation, it's easier
when the same work styles are communicating and working together.
The Drivers would be an exception as they have a tendency to be off by
The Amiable works well with all the work styles. The other three styles work well with
each other, but the same style can see each other as a competitor.
When the Driver and an Analytical work together, there is sometimes a speed problem. The
Driver wants it yesterday and the Analytical wants time to look at all the details before
Two Expressives together do well socially, but will not produce well together on tasks.
Neither is as motivated to deal with the tasks.
Drivers and Expressives both like to delegate to others. Adapt your own style to work with
all of the other styles and combinations of styles. Spot the signals and adjust.
Steps To Service Call
Help your staff to read the different work styles and identify their own. Whether they're
communicating on the phone or in person, they will want to immediately adapt to the other
person's style. This is especially true in a service call.
There are proven steps to a successful service call. Greet the customer with only two
lines, each ending with an uplift to the voice. This opens the door wide to the customer
as the uplift shows enthusiasm to help. If the upward inflection is placed at the end of
each sentence, other lines of, "Good morning," and
"How can I help you?" are understood.
Always say the company name, or department name if the company name has
already been given. Then say who you are. For example, at my company, I say,
"Lauderbaugh and Associates. This is JJ." My voice comes back down slightly at
the end of each sentence.
I change the second line occasionally to, "JJ speaking." to prevent a broken
record sound, and to stay in the moment with the customer.
Listen to the caller and allow them to tell you why they've called and to vent if
necessary. Say heartfelt, appropriate words and phrases that will defuse the angry
customer. Remain neutral, not getting too far on the customer's side or too far over on
the companies side.
Actively listen and ask open-ended questions to gather information. Repeat the information
you heard back to them, and problem solve together.
If further information is needed from manuals, catalogs or other reference guides, tell
the customer you need to do some research for them. If they're waiting on the open line,
don't make noises with your mouth to show you're still looking. Instead say, "I'm
still researching," or "still checking." Offer to call them back later if
the research is consuming too much time.
Resolve the situation and keep control of the conversation all the way through the end of
the call. The last thing they hear is what they'll remember. Say thank you if appropriate,
and invite them to call back again before your ending of, "Bye", or
"Goodbye." Avoid saying "Bye bye" in a business call. The ending is
given with an uplift in the voice on the last word. This gives the perception that the
door is half open, which encourages the customer to call again.
Coaches should conduct and control their own phone calls in this way. Others on the team
will tend to model them, and be motivated toward personable professionalism.
Rewarded Behavior Is Repeated
Feed and weed your staff. Give them all the tools they need to do the job well. Motivate
and reward them. Then have the courage to clean house of individuals who aren't able to be
self starters and adequate contributors.
Motivate by helping them believe in themselves. Show them that they make a difference.
Give them the opportunity to participate in role playing exercises in the classroom. This
will provide a
no-risk environment where they can try the new words and concepts before using them with
customers. The mistakes they make there
are seldom repeated on the phone. Implementation of training is much greater when role
play exercises are experienced.
Listen to your staff, and act quickly on feedback. Give recognition verbally, in written
notes, post its, certificates and plaques.
Tie a bonus to productivity and watch the productivity increase. Give them a reason to
produce more. Have teammates design and
conduct productivity contests.
Reward staff for being a part of your work family. Celebrate holiday times together.
Delight them with special eats, and help them feel appreciated during stressful work times
with a crises party.
Provide tapes and books on self help and business skills in your success library for them
to use at their leisure. Offer certification of their skills.
Show employees (call them associates) what career path is available to them. Show your
confidence in them by giving qualified staff members additional responsibilities and job
What motivates and inspires one may not motivate others, so offer other choices, flexible
hours, shared jobs and time off.
What Others Are Doing
What are you doing to motivate your staff? Others are properly staffing for their current
workload. They're cross training so others on the team can cover for the experts'
Call centers are giving reps a larger variety of calls per rep, and more hands-on time
with equipment or products they're selling or supporting.
Many companies are giving communication and customer service skills training on a regular
basis, using both inside and guest trainers.
Many are encouraging staff members to report the most frequently asked questions from
customers. These questions and answers are then sent to users and customers.
Rotate staff members out of their usual jobs to work on special projects and non-related
tasks (newsletters). It's another way companies are showing appreciation.
Get your ego out of the way, and grow your staff through extraordinary coaching. Make a
difference in their lives as you bring out the best in them. Motivate, educate and inspire
them to raise their performance bar, improve employee relations and "Wow" the
A man in one of my audiences passed this anonymously written quote to me.
"It is not smooth sailing that reveals great understanding, but inner conflict,
turmoil, disagreements, and uphill battles that leads to greater awareness and growth.
Remember, the severest of challenges can only direct you along the path you were meant to
Coaching For Performance, John Whitmore
The Platinum Rule, Tony Alessandra, Ph.D. Giving and Receiving Criticism, Crisp
Publications Constructive Conflict Management, Joan Crawley 1001 Ways to Reward Employees,
Bob Nelson 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, Bob Nelson Enlightened Leadership, Ed Oakley
Customer Service Management in a Telemarketing Environment, JJ Lauderbaugh
1997 - 2012
JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC
JJ Lauderbaugh is an international speaker, trainer and
who specializes in customer service management.
JJ may be reached at:
Phone (408) 445-1590