Training Talks—Creating a Coaching Culture: A Chat with Bob Davis and Brad Baumunk

At Lessonly, we’ve helped hundreds of teams across the globe learn, practice, and Do Better Work. We found that the best teams examine their training efforts through six key phases: Assess, Plan, Build, Learn, Practice, and Perform. That’s why we decided to create Lessonly’s Better Work Guide to Customer Service Training

In the process of putting together The Better Work Guide, Lessonly’s VP of Marketing, Kyle Lacy talked with Bob Davis and Brad Baumunk of Robert C. Davis and Associates. As a boutique consulting firm focused on helping agents have quality conversations with customers and first-line supervisors coach agents, they’ve seen a little bit of everything. See what they have to say about creating a coaching culture, instilling practice among agents, and working with BPOs. 

Kyle: So thanks to both of you for taking the time. I know this is like your bread and butter, so let’s just talk about the future first. Where do you feel like we are headed when it comes to outsourced teams and call centers, both from a technology perspective and where the future in general of this industry is going?

Brad: From my experience, outsourced teams are and will continue to be part of the contact center strategy. There are multiple reasons for that from cost savings to language support. BPOs are an integral part of a large corporation’s contact centers strategy. I don’t see that changing. And as a matter of fact, what we’ve recently seen is a lot of large corporations are starting to shift significant portions of their business to offshore. A lot of companies that had shifted back to the United States are starting to shift them offshore again.

Kyle: Bob, do you have anything you’d like to add? 

Bob: Yeah. Let me link back to your first question about the trends. I think one of the trends or the trends that we’re seeing are really mixed. We’re seeing that there is more transactional work that’s being outsourced and many people who are doing the outsourcing are keeping the high-value work. They’re keeping the complicated work onshore and only outsourcing the transactional work. Some of the transactional work is also being handled with artificial intelligence. That leaves us with calls that are very complicated and very hard to handle. The need for training just grows exponentially and that doesn’t just mean use a deeper knowledge base. There also needs to be ongoing and continuous training for the people who are interacting with the customers. 

Kyle: I couldn’t agree more. When we’re talking about training, what metrics should a leader focus on both to improve training and to improve representative performance?

Bob: I think that in a call center you can measure just about anything and everything. In fact, I think a lot of leaders become confused with the amount of data and metrics that they have at their disposal. Step one is to determine what the few, and I’m talking five or less, most important metrics are and keep your eyes on those. Then, once you determine the metrics that really matter, the next step is to discover what behaviors drive those metrics. 

Brad: I was going to say something similar regarding identifying behaviors. That’s always best done when you listen to calls to understand what the agent is saying versus what the call flow says they should say. For example, during a sales call are reps doing proper discovery to find out the customers wants, interests, and needs? If they’re doing that right, it should deliver the right close rate. If not, then it’s not going to deliver the right close rate.

Kyle: Got it. Okay. Let’s segue more into training specifically. I’ve talked to a lot of experts about blended training programs. Have you blended online training with in-person? Or, have you seen a scenario that has the perfect balance between digital and in-person training? 

Bob: I haven’t seen a perfect solution, but I’ve seen organizations that really do a nice job of blending training formats. A lot of larger organizations are working hard to drive information to the agent’s desktop. These are bursts of online training that really don’t require as much instructor-led training. What we believe is there’s a difference between knowledge transfer and skill transfer. Leaders need to understand what they’re transferring and that certain mediums are better addressed for some learning. For example, electronic mediums are better for knowledge transfer, but when it comes to skills transfer, live coaching is probably a better fit. So, it’s important to understand what you need to transfer and use a method that’s best suited for the level of retention you’re looking for.

Brad: I’d add to that some methods, like electronic training with video, require some type of follow-up. Once an agent finishes training, the supervisor or manager needs to follow up with role-play scenarios. This will make the newly learned knowledge stick and improve the retention rate. It’s important that they apply new knowledge after they learn it.

Simply transferring information isn’t helpful. Build training content that your customer service team will love. Get ideas, best practices, and tips here.

Kyle: Yeah. So, you know, we talk a lot about practice here at Lessonly. Do a lot of your customers talk about practice? Do they use terms like continuous training? 

Bob: I don’t think they’re talking about it nearly as much as they should, Kyle.

Kyle: Okay.

Bob: Oftentimes, I hear first-line supervisors and managers think learning or doing something once is not enough. Clearly, that’s not enough and there is the need for practice. In our work, we call it skill transfer where you explain what you want them to do differently. Leaders need to demonstrate how they want agents to do a certain task and then have them practice with coaching until agents are at a level where you want them to be. That’s woefully lacking in a lot of call center environments. Leaders think that just telling an agent to do something is going to be enough. In some cases, it may work, but the majority of the time it won’t. There really is a need for practice. Brad, what are your thoughts?

Brad: They certainly talk about it a lot but in practice, it’s not done nearly enough. If supervisors can spend a minimum of 50% of their time working with their team members, listening to calls, doing skills transfer, and completing performance reviews, that’s when you’ll start to team performance really change. We have examples where we actually measure the coaches and their adherence to their coaching schedule. Those who adhere to their coaching schedule typically have better performing teams. There’s certainly proof that the more you effectively coach, the more effective your team will be.

Kyle: I definitely agree. Do you have any other tips, suggestions, ideas, that you would add for our readers? 

Bob: I would like to go back to the point that Brad made about coaching. You just can’t skip on coaching time. We’ve done time and motion studies where we find that first-time supervisors have as many as 40 tasks that they’re supposed to do in the course of the week and usually coaching only occupies a minor piece of their time. If you really want to improve customer service, you need to spend quality time with your team and continue to coach. Athletic teams need continuous coaching, so do first-rate support teams.

Brad: It’s also important to focus on reinforcement and track the follow-up with agents. What we’ve found is that you have to be able to measure training. For example, consider adding in a short quick or knowledge check after someone watches a training video or completes a piece of training. 

Kyle: This is great. Thank you both for your time. 

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