Call Center Coaching: When is it Counterproductive?

I see this talked about everywhere I go.  The call center representative (CSR) that needs to be coached.  The “managers of people” one has been asked to become can drive you to coach people.  When training someone new they can be coached, there’s an operational definition we can live with in a call center atmosphere.  Most would call this training.

The type of “coaching” I see is of the prescription kind.  You know, he/she didn’t hit the numbers or targets as prescribed by management.  You AHT is a little high this month we need to have a coaching session with the violater.  What managers lack is an understanding of variation and its impact on systems.  The first is that 95% of organizational performance is attributable to the system the CSR works in . . . meaning the technology, work design, management roles, structure, procedures, etc will have more of an impact than the indivdual (5%).  Further, once an indivdual reaches statistical control (see Service Metrics: What You Need to Understand) it does not good to continue to train or coach.  It is to take the wrong action and only frustrates the worker and demoralize the culture.  This presents a management paradox for many.

Most metrics I see used in call centers are not helpful for anything other than resource planning.  The prescribed methods of number of calls, average handle time and service levels tell us virtually nothing about the performance of the system.  Better (end-to-end measures) that cross functions are more useful in seeing things from a customer perspective.  But wait, that would mean individual coaching sessions become meaningless . . . Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!  Coaching is highly over-rated in the improvement of either system performance or individual performance. Call center management would be better off taking a systems thinking approach.

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Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at

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