Why Coaching Beats Training in Support Teams


Who loves training sessions? Support reps get a lot of training sessions from the moment they start their job: for product training, new feature launches, soft skills and communication. This is great. This gives them a solid baseline for doing their jobs.

But at some point, training starts to become less and less effective. They also become less interesting to the reps themselves, even when you’ve mixed it up with customer service training activities. Reps – just like anyone else – need the same kind of one-on-one time and direction to hone their skills and develop their craft. After all, there’s a lot to learn.

The work of a customer support rep spans a spectrum of psychology, hard skills and emotional intelligence. These can’t improve through training alone.

That’s where coaching comes in.

Too much training hurts

Training by itself offers diminishing returns. You probably know this anecdotally (how many hours can you sit still listening to someone else anyway?).

“Organizations that focus on training (often at the expense of coaching) tend to have relatively lower-performing teams compared to organizations that prioritize coaching (often at the expense of training),” found Matt Dixon, co-author of The Effortless Experience.

There could be a number of culprits behind this: training is inherently passive and too much of it can get boring. There’s only so much you can passively absorb. Training programs are not usually tailored to individuals either, so it may not fit their goals or learning style. That results in lower performance too.

Training is great for introducing new topics and approaches. However, it’s a passive environment — and mastery doesn’t happen here.

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Mastery happens on the field or as we like to call it, active mode. This is why coaching needs to be included in a support rep’s development.

Coaching builds and refines much-needed skills

Coaching hits the switch on active mode learning.

What’s different? The individualized feedback and support you get in coaching helps support reps guide customers through positive experiences. It’s also where reps gain master their skills and funnel it into better interactions.

Daniel Mooney has been on both sides of the table as a product support manager at Redgate. He says of the effect of 1-on-1s:

“The feedback is not where it stops – the follow up to that is suggestions of how I improve. Providing examples as and when they arrive and how I could have improved on that interaction was essential for me understanding and improving!”

Coaching can take on a number of forms depending on your team or company structure, but it must happen regularly and it must be actionable. That is, coaches should be able to point a finger at specific interactions and recent performance. Then use small-scale formats, like 1-on-1 sessions, peer mentorship or real-time coaching to give feedback and work on making tangible improvements.

It trains them as negotiators

Many of the hard skills (positioning alternatives, anchoring expectations, etc.) that support reps need to control a customer conversation aren’t learned in training, but built up over time during coaching. These skills do become intuitive with practice, so roleplaying and 1-on-1 sessions – anything that involves feedback and repetition preps support reps for this kind of skill set.

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It gives a sense of ownership (move away from rules to guidelines)

Investing in support team coaching starts to pay off immediately. When coaching is based on specific feedback on a limited number of scenarios, reps put that coaching in practice right away.

This helps you shift a team running on rules and restrictions to a much more confident working style, operating with a level of efficacy under a set of guidelines. This enables them to improve individual interactions – making judgment calls, steering customer conversations towards positive resolutions and to take ownership of the outcome.

Our favorite resources for 1-on-1s:

It builds a tighter support-driven ship

On our own support team at Kayako, coaching takes the form of scenario redux and role playing. With the element of surprise, everyone get actively involved.

The reps who actually worked on the issue start off the scene. Then the moderator calls in others from the audience to jump in and replace them to carry on the role of the support agent or CSM. Everyone pays attention because they know they can be called on from the audience to play any role at any point during the discussion.

After we’ve played out the scene, the success manager leaders a discussion, going over questions like, “What would have they done? Why?” During these sessions, we question everything.

Build an easier customer experience

“Some companies where feedback isn’t as much part of their culture don’t consider the small details as a ‘serious’ problem, and this is how they start to fall short,” says Mooney.

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The obvious winners in a successful coaching program are the customers themselves. Companies that treat every single interaction as an opportunity to build the relationship require a more granular attention that only coaching can give.

Coaching that asks, “How can we make this customer experience better?” always wins.

start hiring for excellence then begin your customer service coaching

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About the author
Jamie Edwards

Jamie is the co-founder and COO at Kayako, the effortless customer service software that helps teams be more productive and build customer loyalty. You can find him helping our customers deliver customer service so good it becomes their competitive advantage.

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