The Top 3 People Skills Challenges

Melissa Pollock

Interpersonal Leadership Skills Challenges

One major component preventing more effective coaching is the level of frontline Supervisors’ interpersonal leadership skills.

According to DDI, the #1 reason Frontline Leaders fail is because of interpersonal skills.  And, 80% of Agents who leave, do so because of their direct Supervisor.

Interpersonal Skills
To learn more, view DDI's Frontline Leader Project exploring the research behind the anxiety of frontline leaders.

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Managing vs. Leading: What you must stop doing

In contact centers, the environment is often one of continuously changing priorities.  On top of that, the responsibility for coaching Agent performance may fall into different operational areas – across training, production, and quality.  That means every one of us involved in Agent performance have to become more effective at the more high-value activities – like engaging and developing our people.  

Regardless of how small or large your ownership is for Agent development, there are 3 core truths of which you must be aware:

  1. Managing call center coaching is not leading performance
  2. Focusing on negative performance increases negative performance
  3. Coaches must be leaders

Let’s consider how each of these concepts can be prohibitive to delivering more effective coaching.

To learn more, read The Call Center Coaching Effectiveness: 5 Steps To (Finally!) Realizing A Return On Coaching

1. Managing call center coaching is not leading performance

Managing the coaching process is about administering and supervising coaching procedures and tools.  Although as Peter Drucker once said, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.”

To empower our people to perform better, we have stop focusing on the wrong things!  Marcia Daszko, a protégé of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, and author of PIVOT DISRUPT TRANSFORM, says we must stop setting numerical goals and targets and expecting individuals to meet them.  The unfortunate reality however, is that most call center coaching programs are deeply rooted in holding agents accountable for meeting goals and targets (and less so for the behaviors that drive attainment.)  

The resulting effect is that employees operate with checklist-style, compliance-focused adherence, rather than as empowered, engaged and innovative contributors who share ownership for customer experiences and business outcomes.

Ultimately, we must create a system, and leaders, that enable our people to collaborate, develop skills, and effectively serve customers.  If you find you’re not getting the results you want, look to what you’re focusing on first, versus assuming your people are the problem!

The higher goal of our coaching programs should be to facilitate a coaching process, and encourage a coaching mindset, where frontline agents and supervisors own their performance and their contribution towards serving customers.

Jim Rembach, President of CX Media

2. Focusing on negative performance increases negative performance

In his book, It’s the Manager, Chief Scientist of Workplace and Well-Being, Jim Harter, shares that our brains are hardwired to critique others.  And traditional contact center coaching programs reflect these instincts; they’re designed to rate employees and to “correct” their weaknesses.

While we may be wired to give criticism, we aren’t wired to receive it.  The approach to correct weaknesses often fails to actually improve performance – just 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

In order for a contact center coaching program to create a development culture instead of a compliance culture, coaches must be careful not to turn ongoing conversation into ongoing criticism.

Constant criticism makes it almost impossible to build trust, which makes it difficult for employees to accept critique with an open mind, and makes engagement highly unlikely.  This is why a standardized model and methods, and training on those methods, are essential for coaches to deliver on the relational needs of their people – and keep them receptive to hearing corrective input when needed.

What best differentiates actively engaged from actively disengaged employees?  It’s the time Supervisors spend focusing on Agents’ strengths, compared to the time they spend focusing on their opportunities.  Harter points out that there are times when giving constructive feedback is needed to help agents improve their performance – but coaches need to ensure the feedback they deliver is heavily tilted towards what employees do best.

Managers who excel at coaching have learned how to lead strengths-based and engagement-focused conversations


3. More Important Than Ever: Coaches Must Be Leaders

Although distinctly different, “manager” and “leader” are often used interchangeably.  But those responsible for managing the contact center coaching program also have to lead the engagement, performance and development of people!

MIT defined coaching as a sophisticated management style that requires developing a relationship that empowers employees by building confidence and competence.

Leadership is that intentional relationship between the leader and the led.  Respect, confidence, caring, and meeting needs are all required in order to build trust with team members so we can help them see their opportunities while ensuring they remain open and receptive to hearing feedback and discussing alternate approaches.

“Our contact center glosses over development for frontline leaders,” is something we commonly hear from senior executives.   But you can't build a great contact center by allowing or tolerating mediocre leaders.  Everyone responsible for Agent development must also be developed themselves!

In one study, DDI reported that business outcomes of mediocre leaders in leadership roles can be devastating:

  1. 69% admitted the promotion of the wrong leaders resulted in loss of employee engagement
  2. Nearly 2/3rds experienced loss of productivity
  3. 1 in 4 respondents indicated their business suffered a loss in profitability

loss of team memeber engagement graphic@2x

Let’s be clear, everyone responsible for the performance improvement of people is in a leader role.  But being a leader, and developing leadership competency, are two different things.  If we want to empower our people, develop them to their potential, and engage them to put forth effort and innovation, we cannot continue to enable and tolerate mediocre leadership skills.

Remember, the best mechanism for performance improvement is effective coaching.  And effective coaching requires a formula consisting of defined and communicated Procedural Infrastructure + interpersonal leadership skills.

And when you put together a proper system, and develop interpersonal leadership, then you can transform your contact center into one that delivers effective coaching within a culture of development, not just compliance!

Procedural Challenges

Now that you've looked into the people side of things, check out the Top 5 Procedural Challenges within Contact Center Performance Coaching.

The 5 Steps to Finally Realizing A Return On Coaching

People Challenges is the first part of Melissa Pollock's Call Center Coaching Effectiveness: 5 Steps To (Finally!) Realizing A Return On Coaching.

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The future of success in your contact center is contingent on how you impact performance in ways that are both immediate and sustainable. And it doesn’t matter whether your agents are on-site, at-home, full-time, part-time, or temporary – you must deliver on performance.

Coaching is one of the most significant tools we can use to deliver on the engagement and performance of our people – but we must develop our processes, our people and leadership skills, and our technology tools, in order to overthrow the pervasive challenges to achieving greater coaching effectiveness and supercharging contact center performance!

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Connect with the authors:

Melissa Pollock Customer Success at AmplifAI

Jim Rembach President at CX Media

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