A Holistic Coaching Model for Agent Onboarding
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Over the last year we've observed thousands of contact center coaching exchanges. In the process, we've had a number of 'aha moments' in how to (and how not to...) coach new agents, particularly in the development of soft/human skills like empathy or de-escalating tense situations.
Whether you're designing a program scratch or simply updating a program that's already in place, here are a few observations we hope help you get to impact faster!
Use Onboarding to Observe a Holistic Baseline
When our customers begin to coach and provide practice simulations to new agents, there's a tendency to work through training piece-by-piece. And this makes sense - first we train you on topic A, then we train you on topic B, and so on.
But when it comes to soft/human skills, this approach - while logical - usually isn't enough for new agents. Unlike software or product knowledge, which can be trained fairly quickly, soft skills (or the better title, 'human' skills) take time to develop. And as a result, coaches need more than 1 or 2 interactions to truly understand where someone's baseline skillset is. In our system Bright, we've increasingly encouraged our customers to reist the urge to start coaching right away, and instead let learners go through multiple simulations that can capture observations on a range of soft skills.
This patient approach gives the coach a better, holistic view of the agent. And this is key, not just because they can give better feedback, but because it also signals to the agent that someone is investing in them in a thoughtful way. Traditional training quizzes and other similar exercises are aiming for immediate 'right or wrong' evaluations - it's robotic by design. By contrast, a holistic coaching experience centered around simulations makes the discussion about agent readiness and learning more personal.
“The Takeaway: Design your program in a way that coaches can observe multiple simulations and exercises in order to truly understand an agent's baseline capabilities.
Build in Time to Grow Self-Awareness
One of the biggest 'aha moments' from the year came when we physically observed agents in soft skill simulation-based training. There's a feature in Bright where agents listen to themselves managing a call or difficult discussion. Based on our observation, it's clear that agents HATE listening to themselves. In fact, according to our platform data analysis, when given the choice, about 95% of agents choose not to playback their recordings or performances before sharing with a coach.
What does this mean?
It means soft skill development requires self-awareness, but there are natural, human blockers and biases that make it hard to build self-awareness. Your new agent onboarding program needs to acknowledge this by building in experiences for which the sole aim is reflection and awareness-building.
“The Takeaway: allowing time for agents to go through experiences - even uncomfortable ones - where they can understand what they really sound like.'
Provide a Warm Handoff to Floor Managers
There's a strange phenomenon in many companies whereby floor managers don't actually know what goes on during new agent training! Sure, they went through it years ago themselves. But practically speaking, they no longer know what the training team is saying, how they're saying it, what's being emphasized, etc. And more importantly, as new agents enter nesting or hit the floor they don't know what their new team members' strengths and development areas are.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
If you design your new agent onboarding experience with this dynamic in mind, you can capture data and insights that provide a warm handoff to floor managers when the agent transitions to the floor. Your aim should be to go beyond training quiz results or completion reports to explain exactly where the agent is on product knowledge, system proficiency, and soft skills. If you can recommend a 30-60 day coaching plan based on this info, you can connect the dots between onboarding training and 'real life' in the field.
“The Takeaway: Generate agent-specific summary reports that can be delivered to future floor managers, and used as a discussion starter between the agent and their new supervisor.