Your most important customer is the one you have in front of you right now.

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 customers.

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 is dictating.

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 career counselor.

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 fully resolved.

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."

Coaching Traits

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 themselves.

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 communication.

Peer teaching and mentoring can increase teamwork, consistency of processes, and harness the maverick's spirit in a positive way.

Effective Questions

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.

Coaching Words

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..."

Conflict Management

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.

Giving Criticism

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.

Receiving Criticism

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 you,..."

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.

Work Styles

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 themselves.

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 moving forward.

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 team players,
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 titles.

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' absences.

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 customers.


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 follow."

Suggested Reading:

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

Copyright 1997 - 2012
JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC

JJ Lauderbaugh is an international speaker, trainer and consultant
who specializes in customer service management.
JJ may be reached at:

Phone (408) 445-1590



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