How to Achieve Excellent Customer Service Through Coaching


A picture of people clapping excellence

We uncover how you can coach your contact centre team to deliver excellent customer service.

Understand What Your Customers Want

Understanding what your customers want is easier said than done, but there are a few models out there – developed through practice – that will help you on your way.

One such example is Nick Drake-Knight’s customer experience model, which is conveniently entitled “What Customers Want“. This model follows the simple equation that is shown below.

A picture of the "what customers want" equation

You can apply this logic across your customer experience, but you can also strip it back and use it to define performance standards and build quality assurance (QA) scorecards. You can than ensure your coaching programme matches up to scorecard.

If you can do this, you can start to build a customer service proposition that reflects “what customers want”.

For more on the topic of creating contact centre quality scorecards, read our article: How to Create a Contact Centre Quality Monitoring Scorecard – With a Template Example 

Define Your Performance Standards

To achieve excellent customer service, it can be best practice to create a set of explicit standards for advisors to follow and self-evaluate, through coaching – as highlighted in the previous point.

These standards can be split into five key areas, as highlighted below:

  1. Environment – How do we expect advisors to prepare and maintain their workspace?
  2. Process – What kind of processes do we expect the team to follow?
  3. Knowledge – What kind of knowledge do we expect advisors to have about products and processes?
  4. Behaviour – What do we expect from in terms of behaviour – both verbal and non-verbal? The latter is also important, as posture can play a key role in how messages are relayed to customers.
  5. Values – Do we have any organizational values or cultural expectations that need to be put into place?

By making these standards explicit, describing them in the form of training, we achieve the first step in achieving our vision of excellent customer service.

Unfortunately, having a set of standards on their own is of limited value. Unless they are delivered, then they are just words. We need to make sure that the standards are not only in place, but they happen and are delivered consistently across the contact centre.

To achieve this we need a combination of hands-on leadership and training. But, according to Nick, the problem with training is that it has a short “half-life”.

Training, on its own, has limited long-term impact. The key is to achieve sustainability within the delivery of those explicit standards…

“When it comes to training, especially soft-skills training, it is like wet mud on a wall – it slides off immediately. Training, on its own, has limited long-term impact. The key is to achieve sustainability within the delivery of those explicit standards,” says Nick.

To achieve sustainability in terms of advisors meeting your performance standards, we may need to rethink our whole approach to contact centre coaching.

Rethink Your Coaching Approach

When we coach advisors, we will ideally be reviewing and looking to improve their performance through three channels:

1. Recorded – Often referred to as “quality monitoring”, this involves listening through historical calls and assessing how advisors performed with respect to our performance standards.

2. Observed – This involves sitting next to an advisor as they take calls – observing their posture, how they navigate systems and perform in-the-moment.

3. Reflective – We can ask people, through formal and informal discussions, to reflect on their performance over recent days and weeks regarding key parts of our performance standards.

Across each of these channels, we want to coach our people in a way that builds up their egos and confidence, so they can celebrate the things that they have already done well. We want advisors to be enthusiastic about better meeting our performance standards.

We want to coach our people in a way that builds up their egos and confidence, so they can celebrate the things that they have already done well.

There are a number of contact centre coaching models out there that will help you to do this – but the one that we’re going to focus on here is Nick’s Continue and Begin Fast Coaching model.

This approach is focused on helping advisors build on the success that they have already achieved before we start talking about further improvement.

So you start by helping your advisors feel good by asking them to reflect on their successes and what they would like to continue to do well. This is before nicely bringing in a couple of elements that the advisor can begin to do – to even better meet performance standards. Make sure you explain that purpose.

Watch how you can use this approach in the following video:

Implementing a method like this can take you away from giving feedback and towards real coaching.

The model also allows us to share our thoughts in an “advisor-friendly” way, which is the first step in getting them to enjoy coaching, not to dread the sight of you and a quality scorecard.

To find out more about Nick’s Continue and Begin Fast Coaching model, listen to the following episode of The Contact Centre Podcast, where Nick also discusses the keys to sustaining learning and making coaching fun.

Changing Employee Mindsets

When we ask advisors to alter their approach to handling calls, they often lack the enthusiasm to get behind the idea. Why? Because people don’t like being taken out of their comfort zone.

Employees in any profession are often held back due to their limiting beliefs. They decide that they can’t do something. As Nick says: “They put themselves into a ‘tissue paper prison’.”

“When we make a prison for ourselves, which we believe that we can’t step outside of, we never have to experience a feeling of discomfort,” Nick adds.

“So when people find something difficult or threatening or it makes them feel bad, quite often they will decide that they can’t do it and that becomes a limiting belief.”

A picture of someone stuck in a "mental prison"

Quite often they will decide that they can’t do something and that becomes a limiting belief.

To help people step outside of their comfort zone – and feel enthusiastic about doing so – we need to change advisor perceptions of possibility, suspend their restricted thinking and motivate them with a future feeling.

The future feeling that we are talking about is one of possibility, of opportunity and of being able to do that thing that they thought, until recently, they weren’t able to do because they decided so.

Talk them out of their “tissue paper prison” by using language such as: “Just imagine if you could do X how much easier that would make Y.”

To help advisors get there, we first should talk them out of their “tissue paper prison” by using language such as: “Just imagine if you could do X how much easier that would make Y.” This gets them to acknowledge the benefits of making the change and demonstrates the purpose.

Then – to move from, as Nick puts it: “Can’t to can,” – jointly explore how they can achieve the required outcome and that “positive feeling” – letting the advisor come up with their own plan. This plan needs to have specifics of when and how they will achieve their goal.

To help, sit next to them as they come up with their plan and nicely challenge them when they say “I can’t do that”, engaging in an open discussion of how they can overcome the can’t.

Avoid Classic Language Mistakes

When we’re coaching advisors and we give them positive feedback, one of the worst things that we can do is bridge the positive with the word “but” as we then look at where they can improve.

Advisors can sense that the “but” is coming and won’t pay attention to all the praise that you’re giving to them. Instead they will focus on the negative.

It’s like when somebody says: “I’m okay, but…”, you know that they are not really okay. It is only natural for the advisor to disregard everything that you have said beforehand.

When somebody says: “I’m okay, but…”, you know that they are not really okay. It is only natural for the advisor to disregard everything that you have said beforehand.

Nick refers to this phenomenon as “The But Monster” and instead encourages us to use other conjunctive adverbs instead like “and”, “now” or “next time”.

Other examples from Nick of classic language mistakes to avoid when coaching people to achieve excellent customer service include:

Should / Must / Need to / Have to / Got to / Ought to – These phrases are authoritarian and confrontational and they can make people feel bad. This is not helpful in the process of encouraging confidence from advisors and celebrating success. “It would be great if you could also…” or: “To make that even better, you could…” are all much better examples to use.

“If I Were You” – When you say this to an advisor, it is perfectly natural for that advisor to think: “Well, you’re not me”. There are many better options to use here.

“Why Can’t You Do It?” – This question is known as a “presupposition” – aka. it presupposes something. In this example, it presupposes that they can’t do it and reinforces to the poor advisor that they were right and they can’t really do what you have asked of them. All of a sudden their tissue paper prison is made of something much stronger.

Be Wary of “Chocolate Praise”

We all like to get a “well done” – whether that’s from a boss, a colleague or a customer – it feels good. This is just like eating a piece of chocolate, our blood-sugar level rises, but only for a very short period of time, and very quickly after that, we get the drop-off from the high.

“Chocolate praise” is how Nick describes this phenomenon and he believes that is not an effective approach, because it doesn’t enable advisors to understand the component parts of their performance that made their excellent customer service what it was.

“A much better approach is helping call handlers to understand the structure of their ‘well-done-ness’, the component parts that made their performance so fantastic,” says Nick.

A picture of a box of chocolates

“Chocolate praise”… is not an effective approach, because it doesn’t enable advisors to understand the component parts of their performance that made their excellent customer service what it was.

To do this, we can support the advisor in reflecting on their performance and think through which parts of those explicit performance standards – which we set earlier – they were able to implement with that customer during that call.

This is a much more thorough approach than relying on well-dones and sharing good quality scores.

In fact, our reader Renee adds: “We don’t share scores with agents any longer and only coach on behaviours. Scores are used for helping us recognize learning opportunities.”

“Chocolate Praise” and the language mistakes that we highlighted in the last point were viewed to be of little value to Renee and there are certainly better ways of helping people to grow and develop…

Guarding against “motivation by chocolate” was one of the many great points made in our popular article: The New Rules for Good Customer Service

Understand Constructive Language Patterns

Now we’ve told you what not to do in terms of coaching through giving feedback, let’s look at how to use constructive language patterns. These will help you to celebrate what the advisor is already doing well and will encourage them to continue to do those things well.

Such language patterns involve asking questions like:

  • What did you think?
  • What were you pleased with?
  • What else?

Once we’ve initiated this conversation through using these questions, we can summarize each of those highs, we record them and celebrate the excellence that is already being delivered.

A thumbnail photo of Nick Drake Knight

Nick Drake-Knight

This approach is put forward by Nick, who says: “You’ll notice that people’s physiology, posture and breathing patterns change, the more they start to think about what they are already good at.”

“When advisors begin to feel that and when those feelings manifest, then we can maybe start to talk about improving on that level of performance.”

For example, we could ask a question like: “What would you like to do differently that would make your performance even better?”

Then we can summarize all of those areas for improvement, record them and ask the advisor to commit and ensure that they deliver on the things that we’ve talked about.

Final Thoughts

We can achieve excellent customer service by understanding customers, adding value for them and making it easy. There are many ways in which we can hit these three goals, but coaching is no doubt a key area for us to focus on.

When focusing on coaching, a good idea is to create an explicit set of standards that cover each of these three key arenas, setting the bar for consistent and sustainable learning.

To sustain learning, we want to experiment with contact centre coaching models, such as Continue and Begin, and look to build greater enthusiasm around learning.

When coaching advisors we also need to be aware of the pitfalls that we can step into that harm how well an advisor will react to our feedback. This involves us understanding how the language that we use impacts an advisor’s thought process and the methodology behind “Chocolate Praise”.

We hope that by following each of the pieces of advice given in this article you will be well on your way to achieving excellent customer service..

Good luck!

For more from Nick and his innovative methods, follow the links to his “Fast Coaching” book and audiobook.

For more on the topic of customer service excellence, read our articles:

Published On: 10th Jun 2020 - Last modified: 22nd Jun 2020
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , , ,


Get the latest exciting call centre reports, specialist whitepapers, interesting case-studies and industry events straight to your inbox.