Call Center Coaching Futile? You’re Training Not Coaching

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For many call center managers, there comes a time when their coaching doesn’t seem to be bringing the results like it used to. Naturally, they might ascribe this problem to the themes and topics of their coaching materials, or even to the literal activities they’ve been coaching their agents to carry out.

More often than not, however, the thing that needs to change is their approach to coaching—not the materials or activities they’re trying to coach.

In the corporate sector, there’s a nuanced difference between coaching and training. If your call center coaching hasn’t been working that well—or at all—then you could be getting these mixed up. If so, rebuilding your approach to make sure you’re truly coaching as opposed to training can bring your results back. 

Coaching and Training Definitely Aren’t the Same Thing

Coaching, at least in business environments, entails an interactive mentorship between a senior and a junior-level employee. In the case of call center managers, they’re the mentors who help agents develop and enhance their existing skills. 

Conversely, call center training typically refers to teaching agents new skills and/or concepts within a specific time frame. Furthermore, business training also tends to involve a group of people, whereas coaching is oftentimes oriented around single pairs of mentors and pupils.

For example, imagine that there are new compliance regulations that a given call center’s agents need to be made aware of. Training might entail sharing these new regulations with agents through a verbal lecture and then following up with a written test. On the flip side, coaching could imply helping each agent remember said regulations in their own way so that they follow the new rules on every call.

Alternatively, maybe your CEO is dead set on purchasing new call center software for the company. In this case, while training would entail how to use the new software (such as by administering a course with a certified trainer), coaching would be about helping each individual agent find ways to navigate the new system as it relates to them and their particular roles—and this coaching would only come after the aforementioned training has already been concluded.

Perhaps the easiest way to look at it is by considering the workplace dynamics of a new hire. Whenever a new agent joins the team, for example, they need to be trained on how to do the job. Sure, they may have come in with previous experiences that make it so that you won’t have to teach them all the ins and outs of your phone system, but you’ll still have to show them the ropes and educate them on your products and services so that they know how to interact with your customers and clients. 

Once a new hire has completed the necessary training and is fully onboarded to start working, that’s when you should move on to coaching them on things like soft skills and how they can develop their problem-solving abilities.

Therefore, if your goal is to develop your agents into more productive employees, you can’t stop at the training stage. In other words, rather than treating your agents like perpetual trainees by merely offering them new information and showing them how to use systems, your focus should also be on coaching them to build their skills and become the best professionals they can be. 

How to Become More of A Coach Than a Trainer to Your Agents

Once again, employee training mostly boils down to telling agents what to do or how to perform a certain task.

To be a true coach, you need to shift away from this approach by instead focusing on active listening, asking questions, and sometimes even encouraging your team members to discover new things and find solutions to problems on their own. 

Remember that almost every single agent will develop at their own pace. As a manager, it’s important to honor these variations because you want them all to achieve mastery. As such, it’s a good idea to emphasize that the quality of service can oftentimes be more important than the delivery speed of said service. You can back this up with the idea that most clients are willing to forgive a couple of extra minutes if it means they’ll receive exceptional customer care.

Of course, if your average handle time (AHT) ever reaches or exceeds six minutes, that’s where you should draw the line and reemphasize the importance of speedy call resolutions.

Anyway, the point of coaching is to meet your agents where they’re at so they can find realistic ways to grow professionally. Some of them may require more frequent one-on-one coaching sessions. Some of them may require different exercises and mediums to match their specific learning styles—whether visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Whatever the case may be, it’s up to you to find out.

How To Put Each Agent on a Specific Development Plan

Call centers have historically been challenged by disengaging work environments and difficulty retaining talent. Unmotivated employees are less likely to stay with their current employer, leading to increased turnover rates, frustrated clients, and decreased business profitability in the long run.

On the flip side, satisfied call center reps are four times more likely to stay at their companies than their dissatisfied peers, 16 times more likely to refer friends or acquaintances to their employer, and around three times more likely to feel capable of solving a variety of different customer inquiries.

Taking all of that into consideration, it’s safe to assume that building a work environment that’s conducive for satisfied representatives is a gigantic deal for call center managers—and it all starts with a specific type of coaching.

First, you need to break down agent roles into different levels—such as junior-level agents, mid-level agents, and senior-level agents. Next, establish expectations that agents need to meet according to their specific level.

For junior-level agents

Junior agents might be the most challenging group to retain at a call center environment, as they’re known for disliking corporate hierarchies and are more prone to become job-hoppers for the chance of a better salary or a promotion.

That is why it’s imperative to establish effective communication channels with rookie team members and to give yourself ample time to explain their duties—but not to the extent of lecturing. In other words, leave some breathing room for rookie agents to figure things out on their own. Step in at times when course corrections are needed, but otherwise get out of their way and let them grow into their roles naturally.

For mid-level agents

Mid-level agents are those who are proficient and knowledgeable enough in their day-to-day tasks and duties that they require almost no hand-holding through complicated calls. The transition from rookie to mid-level isn’t tied to any specific time frame, as it’s highly dependent upon the individual skills and learning speeds of a given agent. On average, however, it should take anywhere between six months and a year for new agents to familiarize themselves with the working environment and transition from the initial beginner phase into a mid-level role.

At this point, you may want to start considering the psychology and motivation of your agents—or, in other words, why they do the things they do. Generally speaking, employees are usually driven by some combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors. Intrinsic motivators come from within a person and may deal with individual achievements, finding a sense of belonging, working toward some goal, or altruistic tendencies like finding meaning in helping other people.

Alternatively, extrinsic motivators are usually tied to tangible rewards such as promotions, bonuses, social praise, professional certifications, and newly gained status in the workplace.

While the value of extrinsic financial and health-related incentives can’t be overstated, intrinsic motivators can often be more powerful drivers for middle and senior-level call center representatives to do better and become more engaged at their jobs. In fact, intrinsically motivated agents are 32% more committed to their roles, 46% more satisfied with their occupation, and perform 16% better than their less motivated coworkers.

Therefore, try to come up with intrinsically-centered coaching strategies to help your mid-level agents progress to the next level.

For senior-level agents

The biggest issue with senior-level call center agents, and employees in general, is the tendency to become complacent after many years of performing the same tasks. In a way, they end up doing the same things they already excel at without being challenged, running the risk of professional stagnation and perhaps stalling the organization as a whole.

Here, it’s clear that job satisfaction and complacency aren’t the same thing. Senior-level agents who are persistently challenged can stay on top of their game, have a productive career, and retain their clients.

From the perspective of call center coaching, it’s therefore paramount to understand whether a senior agent refuses to abandon their comfort zone because they simply don’t want to, or if it’s because they don’t have the skills or knowledge to do so. 

Here are a few suggestions on how to encourage your most experienced agents to go beyond their call of duty:

  • Introduce monthly or quarterly awards for the most innovative employees and encourage your senior-level agents to compete for it
  • Reframe workplace failures into learning opportunities—even for the most senior squad members
  • Make asking for help the norm rather than the exception
  • Incentivize your senior reps to participate in team-building exercises outside of the workplace. Obviously, these events won’t have the same appeal for everyone (especially people who are introverted), but they may draw out some leadership qualities that can spill back into the professional environment.

At the end of the day, try to focus on welcoming the new and unfamiliar so you can inspire your senior-level agents to take on even more responsibilities as department leaders. After all, you can’t have your senior staff doing the same tasks for more than five years and expect innovation, fulfillment, and growth.

For all agent groups

No matter the seniority level, one coaching tip that can always be applied is to encourage professional development through visual representation. For example, you can create a poster, graphic, or spreadsheet with a timeline that shows a team member where they are today and where they can be after a certain period of time and progress. Consider putting in the individual steps they might need to take to get there—such as developing a unique skill, shadowing a team leader, and passing certain tests to achieve seniority.

Next, set up a meeting to start the conversation with them directly. Follow up with monthly check-ins via lunch, email, or team messaging chats to gauge their progress. Remember to take organized notes about each of your agents so that you remember their unique learning styles, challenges, and how to connect with them on an individual level.

Lastly, share your findings with them. If all goes well, they’ll be more than happy to see a visualization of their progress and ask you more about how to proceed in their career path.


If your coaching methods ever stop producing results, take a step back to reassess the situation. The most likely culprit is that you’re doing more training than actual coaching, which can stymie long-term agent development and satisfaction.

Alternatively, when you have a clear development plan in place to support, motivate, and coach your agents, you and your business will reap the benefits of having happier employees and improved customer experiences across the board. 

The key is to create development plans that can help each of your individual junior-level, mid-level, and senior-level agents develop into their full potential. 

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our guides on the unmissable criteria for call center quality assurance and the best call center software available today.

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