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Coaching for Better Customer Support
Make your training dollars count with essential follow-up practices.
For the rest of the May 2000 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Customer service training is expensive. No one even argues that point. There are hard costs: investment in training seminars for the trainer/facilitators to be certified to conduct the courses or hiring an outside firm to develop and deliver a custom program; equipment for the classroom as inexpensive as an easel and flipchart or as expensive as a laptop with a PowerPoint presentation and a projection system; and workbooks or ancillary materials for participants to remind them of the major concepts. And there are soft costs--the biggest of which is time away from the job, resulting in a loss of productivity. That alone has driven both the need and the flood of purchasing CBT, CD-ROM or Web-enabled training.

You don't want to waste your training investment. The worst nightmare is to hear a supervisor say, "I need to sign Bill up again for the training session. I don't think he got it the first time." It's a safe bet that re-training isn't the answer. More often than not, it's an absence of coaching and monitoring that has sabotaged the training investment and failed to produce the hoped-for behavior change in a staff member. Yet we continue to pour budget dollars into learning programs, hoping that the next program will work better and finally produce the results we are looking for.

If we step back for a moment, we will find that the learning process is indeed a "process" and not an "event." Classroom-training programs or computer-based training programs are the "events." Implementation and change is the process after the event. People need time to integrate any new information they have learned into their systems (habits). From there, the information takes root, and then they can change their behavior.

So, what are we dealing with when people come out of a training experience in the classroom or have just exited the training program at their PC? They started the training with a set of habits they were comfortable with using everyday, almost unconsciously. The goal of the training was to challenge those habits. Some habits were affirmed and some were not. For those that weren't affirmed, two changes are required: First, let go of the comfortable habit and second, take on a new habit. Demonstrations, maybe even role-plays, were done to show how to use the new tip, technique, idea or skill. Then came the announcement--make the change! Old habits gone; new habits on. But it hardly works that way.

Habits are strong. The simplest of behaviors can be difficult to break. Put your hands together as if you are going to pray. Now fold your hands letting your fingers weave between each other. Notice which of your thumbs is on top. Now, let go and re-grasp your hands so that your other thumb is on top. Simple, right? No. Comfortable? No. Awkward? Yes. Habits are hard to break. New habits are even tougher to create. Coaching and monitoring are the secret ingredients that challenge the old habits and help your staff make a successful transition from good ideas in the classroom to implementation in their work environment. Without this component, it's like throwing your training budget down the drain. You can hope for people to make changes. Some will. Some are easy learners and sponges. They soak everything up and use it all. Many will enjoy the training but never implement a single idea. Some will not enjoy learning anything new and there is little hope that it will make a difference. Coaching serves all these learners. The sponges mature quicker in their use of new habits. Staff that enjoyed the training will be encouraged to recall, remember and use what they learned. The staff that is hardest to change will still be the toughest challenge for the coach, but the coaching process is the best hope for moving this learner from old ways to new ways.

What does a coach do? Take a look at sports. Every sport has a coach. Where does the coach perform the work? Right next to the player. Think of football. In practice, the coach is out on the field sometimes working right behind the player calling out pointers, shouting encouragement and generally making that player his entire focus. When game time comes, the coach is forced by the rules to move to the sidelines, but he's still "on the field." On average, a team spends 30 hours a week getting coached in order to play four quarters on Sunday. And does football have a monitor? You bet. There is a person up in the pressbox filming the game for review on Monday morning.

Coaching is working with your staff members. Monitoring is checking on your staff members. Both are valid measurements of performance. Management mostly does monitoring. Monitoring is a quality assurance step and you find it performed in all industries. Some of it is formal... logging or taping calls for review in the call center; pulling units off the line for inspection at the plant. Much of it is informal... "Hey, what's this?" asks a manager or supervisor as she walks through the plant. "Can I ask why you told our customer that?" asks a team leader in a call center after hearing a conversation as he walked by the workstation. We monitor formally and informally and we do it frequently. Coaching is different.

Coaching takes purposeful time and involvement, being fully engaged with your staff members in all aspects of their work and their interaction with your customers. It's supportive. Coaching requires lots of personal energy. Just like the sports coach, it's about calling out pointers and giving encouragement to your players. Its entire focus is the self-development of your staff member. It's not punitive. It's positive. It's a way for your staff members to grow as a result of the training program you had them take. It's part of the process of moving from classroom information to workstation implementation--helping staff change old habits and develop new ones.

Can you train and not coach? Absolutely. Can you count on changes, improvements, new habits, increased customer satisfaction, more skilled and capable staff? Absolutely not.

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