The contact centre industry is rapidly changing with the introduction of artificial intelligence and chat bots. It’s requiring that agents become more skilled and more knowledgeable as their role shifts to handle more complex queries. Is training enough to get these skills ingrained in employee behavior, or does it require ongoing coaching support from both management and peers?

Formal training vs coaching

Formal training is valuable in introducing new information, skills or technology as it can be presented in a concise way. However, most people learn gradually though experience and this means that a once off training session isn’t enough, especially when it comes to topics such as soft skills. These are best learnt through repetition and practical application. Soft skills require ongoing evaluation and feedback. It is difficult to achieve those purely with formal training sessions, hence why coaching is so valuable.

Coaching provides the ongoing support structure to help employees master the new skills they have learnt. And while coaching is most effective when it’s part of a culture in which top management participate, there is also a very valuable role to be fulfilled by managers and co-workers. For example: A new junior employee may attend training on how to deal with angry customers. However, the training will never be able to cover every possible customer scenario. A senior colleague can be paired with the newcomer and sit next to them to listen into some of their calls. If a scenario comes up that the new employee doesn’t know how to deal with, the more senior colleague can help talk them through the best way to respond. This helps build confidence in the junior employee and adds to what they have learnt in training.

Coaching is a two-way learning experience

Getting senior employees involved in coaching and mentoring has multiple benefits. Aside from helping get new employees up to speed quickly, it also helps to build team cohesion. What many people forget is how much the senior employees also benefit from the coaching experience. Having to coach someone else requires that you carefully evaluate your own knowledge and working habits. In sharing knowledge it refreshes the skills that have been learnt over the years. In addition, being able to articulate that knowledge and teach it to someone else requires patience and good communication skills. So it is not only the new or junior employee that is learning from the coaching experience, but also the coach or mentor.

Senior managers and business owners that make themselves available as mentors will gain some very valuable insights about the business in the process. It often highlights challenges that employees are experiencing and areas in the business where systems may not be as effective as they are supposed to be. In larger organizations coaching by senior staff can help to build and maintain better communications between various departments because through the mentoring process they are able to keep a pulse on the day to day happenings. In short, coaching helps to improve employee engagement and loyalty, and helps to create better performing teams.

Coaching challenges

One of the problems often encountered when implementing a coaching program is that organizations often embrace the idea and want to implement it without considering what’s involved. They don’t account for the additional workload that coaches and mentors have to take on -or the time involved- and often expect them to simply take it on over and above their normal workload. However, this isn’t a fair expectation.

In the working environment learning is becoming increasingly valued, so if employees are going to be contributing through their own time and effort this needs to be recognized in some way. For example: awarding a certificate of appreciation or recognition for their contribution, detailing their coaching role and time involved. This is something that can help them in their career progression.

Additionally, it’s unfair to expect the same level of performance from employees taking on mentoring roles without accounting for the time they have to invest with the people they are mentoring. If senior staff have to listen into calls of a junior colleague and coach them through what to say, they cannot be expected to handle the same number of calls as effectively as before. Targets need to be adjusted accordingly and the results of the staff they are mentoring also need to be taken into consideration. When a mentor is able to get someone else to improve their metrics through their coaching input this can have a positive knock on effect for the whole team.

The lesson for businesses to learn is that coaching is a valuable part of learning for all people involved and needs to have a strategic approach. The more organizational support that can be provided to trainers, mentors, management and staff, the greater the chances of success. Coaching is integral to creating a strong culture within an organization, helping people to improve their own knowledge and skills while ultimately delivering stronger customer experiences.