Support Coaching 101: Everything Leaders Need to Know to Build a Coaching Strategy

Emily GregorLast updated on December 7, 2023
13 min

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A healthy support team makes for a healthy business. Their knowledge and skills keep customers engaged, make your products shine, and ensure any customer challenges are quickly smoothed out. 

However, to deliver standout support, your support team has to keep honing its skills. They need to be on top of both how your business is changing—with new product launches or rapid scaling, for example—and wider trends in customer support and the technology that powers it. 

To do that, you can’t rely on one day of onboarding and a dusty handbook. Instead, you need to focus on consistent improvement. That’s why coaching is an increasingly key part of any thriving support team. Unfortunately, many businesses struggle with it—and customers notice, with 68% stating that they think businesses need to improve the training of their customer service agents. 

That’s why, here at Aircall, we want to help you both understand the benefits of coaching and put your best foot forward in implementing a coaching program. To get started, let’s take a look at the benefits of support coaching:

A more optimized customer experience (CX)

Coaching is all about refining your approach. It enables more experienced agents to share best practices, tips, and advice with greener coworkers. That helps everyone to deliver a consistent standout experience for customers. And happy customers are more likely to become returning customers. In fact, according to research from HubSpot, 93% of customers are likely to make a repeat purchase with a company that offers excellent customer service. 

More innovative teams

Two minds are always better than one. If one of your reps finds a smart way of navigating a tricky customer challenge, you want to set that knowledge free. By implementing coaching, you can ensure those innovative solutions are shared across your team—which can also inspire everyone to think outside the box when needed. By sharing knowledge, or even coaching junior agents live during interactions, organizations can also reduce the need for customers to be passed around multiple agents—which 33% of customers highlight as a key frustration.

Simpler monitoring of performance

Regular coaching sessions don’t just improve your team but can act as a health check—which is particularly important when just 19% of consumers believe customer service exceeds their expectations. With monitoring, team leads or managers can spot trends—whether that’s a recurring skill gap or burnout—and take action before they cause serious customer issues. 

Retained teams 

Turnover in support roles can be high—as much as double that of other departments— but it doesn’t need to be. By building a coaching and development program, businesses can both attract more talent and retain existing customer support reps who know the organization well. In turn, the business delivers a better experience for customers and saves costs on onboarding new hires—a win-win. 

In short, support coaching is a route to more productive and engaged teams and happier customers. 

Checklist: Signs You Need to Improve Your Support Coaching 

While it’s important to be proactive about support coaching regardless of your business, there are a few warning signs that mean you should accelerate efforts. Run through this checklist to identify red flags—but also be assured, with a few steps (more on that below), you’ll be able to overcome them. 

1. Do your reps feel confident they can solve customer problems?  

Let’s face it: Feeling unable to support customers is a pretty fundamental problem for a customer support rep. The key for managers and leaders is making sure any serious concerns are being heard. When answering this question, you should be able to identify that you have clear lines of communication (whether meetings or a specific collaboration channel on a tool like Slack or Teams) for agents to share feedback, alongside coaching and regular check-ins. 

2. Are your CSAT and NPS scores healthy? 

One of the clearest indicators that you need to invest more in coaching your support teams is poor customer experience scores in metrics like CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score) or NPS (Net Promoter Score). These high-level measurements can be your canary in the coal mine, telling you when it's time to focus on upskilling agents to deliver stronger customer interactions. If your score is below 75%, you need to take urgent action—such as increasing training or making new hires. 

3. Are you scaling? 

Whether you’re gearing up for a seasonal spike in activity or your business is entering a new stage of growth, if you’ve had a hiring spree, it needs to be matched by a parallel drive to boost your coaching. This will help you get those fresh faces stuck into impactful support work faster. It’s vital that you remember support team growth doesn’t start and end with adding a new team member—it’s an ongoing process. 

4. Have you launched a new product?  

There are few experiences worse for customers than calling support only to find the rep has no idea what product they’re talking about because it’s brand-new. Ensure this doesn’t happen by scheduling additional coaching sessions around big product launches and giving time to walk reps through any questions they have so they can deliver the expertise needed to make your products shine. Make this information engaging and digestible for different types of learners—for example, using a mixture of hands-on training, visual aids, and written materials.

What Really Works in Support Coaching

Now you’ve got an idea of the benefits of support coaching, along with some of those signs that you need to kick-start a program, let’s look at what it takes to be a good coach. 

The Essentials

Be positive

The first thing to remember is to not be hard on yourself—coaching is a skill that takes time and practice to learn, so don’t worry if it feels a little tricky at first. Go in with a positive mindset and treat it as a learning exercise for both yourself and the rep you’re coaching. After each of those early sessions, take three minutes to write down the things that went really well and you’ll soon find the process rewarding. 

Make the time

Coaching is usually the responsibility of managers, and they’re some of the busiest people in the business. It’s important you work to block out time to coach—treat it as part of your core responsibilities, not a nice-to-have—and make it clear that you’ll be otherwise out of action when coaching.

If you’re finding this hard, try creating diary blocks—both for the sessions themselves and any follow-up or prep work you need to do. Not only can this signify to your coworkers that you’re not to be disturbed, but it can also help you psychologically make the space for coaching in your days. 

Listen to your reps’ concerns and ambitions

Coaching isn’t dictating. You need to find a balance between guidance and responding to your reps' concerns and ambitions. This will ensure that you’re not only delivering on business priorities but also helping them develop (in turn, increasing their satisfaction and the likelihood of retention). To do this, always ensure you’re prompting the person you’re coaching to ask questions—encourage curiosity, and even test them on what they’ve learned or to share concerns they still have. 

Be honest about your own limitations

Even the best coaches in the world sometimes need to call in extra support. It might be that a support rep has a particularly technical training requirement, or that you need to ask advice from your own mentor. The best coaching programs aren’t self-contained; they integrate with the wider business so you can keep driving development even when what’s called for goes beyond your direct responsibility. As a part of your coaching program, coordinate with other experts or senior leaders—from your direct manager to other departments—to build a network of knowledge sharing. 

The Don'ts

Don’t sugarcoat things

Honesty is key when you’re coaching. While you need to be tactful in your approach, if you’re not up-front about what needs to change or why, then your coaching will lack impact. At first, this might feel uncomfortable, but if you’re open from the start, you’ll be able to build a stronger relationship with those you coach in the long term. 

  • Do this instead: Start your sessions with a positive about your agent—even if it’s something small like a good customer interaction or a can-do attitude. Then shift the focus to areas to work on. For any criticism you have, be prepared with a solution to show how you’re turning it into a development opportunity. 

Don’t stick too closely to one playbook

Different reps will have different needs. While it’s helpful to have a strategy in place before you start coaching, don’t be afraid to try different methods. It might be that one rep wants to be coached live during a real customer call, while another feels more comfortable role-playing. Keep communicating about what works and adapt as you go. 

  • Do this instead: Many people will already have an idea of what kind of learner they are. Ask them up-front and adapt your approach to their preferences. If they aren’t sure, experiment. For example, try live coaching or provide a written brief and see which they respond best to. 

Don’t expect what got you here to get reps where they need to go

Coaching takes a fine balance between sharing experiences and adapting to what the rep needs. One common mistake new coaches make is expecting others to follow the same path they took. Your role as a coach is less about repetition and more about ensuring they reach their goals. 

  • Do this instead: Drawing on your own experience is important for coaching, but instead of saying “I’d do this” or “When I was in your position, this is what I did” try and position it as “You could try this” or “Here’s one way of approaching this challenge.” Give them guidance, but let them find their own path forward. 

Don’t confuse the need for coaching with the need for more reps

Sometimes teams are struggling because they’re simply understaffed. No amount of coaching can make up a shortfall if more hires need to be made. If you’re seeing continuous burnout, long hours, and lengthy resolution times, it’s time to consider whether you simply need more feet on the ground.

  • Do this instead: If you need more support agents, you’ll need to make the case for hiring to the wider business. Use the evidence from your coaching sessions, alongside other materials like data measuring CSAT scores to build a case. That way, you can make an informed proposition and demonstrate that you’re already working on other solutions through coaching. 

Becoming a Better Support Team Coach

The best coaches don’t just help others; they push themselves to improve. At different stages of the coaching process there will be opportunities for you to level up your approach, so let’s break those down. 

Before you start

Know your trends 

The coach of your favorite sports team isn’t only working during team practice. They’re watching clips of the competition, studying rookies, and keeping their ears to the ground when it comes to the latest trends. You need to do the same. Whether it’s by attending industry events like Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference, reading trade publications and leading research from experts like HubSpot, or testing new technology, make sure you’re taking industry shifts into account in your coaching program. 

By doing so, you can better respond to their needs and your customers’. For example, you might end up coaching teams on how to make the most of new AI and automation capabilities or prepare them to discuss sustainability credentials as customers become more eco-conscious.

Know your budget

Coaching doesn’t have to cost the earth, but it’s important to know what your budget parameters are before you start. It may be that you’re operating on a lean budget and the main resources you can offer are time and expertise—and that’s really where the greatest value of coaching comes from. However, if you’ve got extra to spend, think about how you want to use it, for example by offering specialist training or investing in new technology to help teams connect with customers. 

If you’re unsure what a typical budget for training should be, the average U.S. organization spends around $1,300 per worker per year. To keep costs low, try incorporating coaching into live sessions with customers, rather than entirely separate sessions with external trainers. 

During the process

Target the opportunities 

Ambition is an important quality for an effective coach, but to be a good partner to your team, you can’t bite off more than you can chew. As you get started on your coaching journey, you need to target the highest-priority opportunities. That’s why it’s important to have a process in place that will help you rank your team’s needs and deliver coaching where it will have the greatest impact. To get started, consider the essential skills needed in customer support—from problem-solving to active listening, and then rank your agents' skills in each. 

Need more guidance on how to go about this? Read on, because we’ve got the perfect template to get you started.

Maintain a steady momentum

During busy times it can be easy to let coaching slip from your priorities list. However, it’s important to treat it as an essential part of your work calendar. To deliver effective coaching, you need to be meeting regularly with your agents—at a minimum, once a quarter, but more frequently if more intensive coaching is needed. Book time well in advance (weeks, rather than days), have a regular cadence of meetings, and commit to them.

After the process

Measure impact and effectiveness

Coaching continues well beyond delivering one-to-one sessions. You need to continuously measure the impact of your efforts and keep refining your approach. Make sure you have a set of before-and-after support metrics you can track—whether they include time to resolution, NPS, CSAT, or other variables. While also helping you understand how to become a better coach, these data points will enable you to showcase the impact to the wider business. If your CSAT score was previously 66% (a red flag for the business) and you’ve raised it to 75%+, you can show the concrete impact of your work, with those happier customers more likely to be return customers. 

Alongside these hard data points, you could also gather testimonials from support agents you’ve helped develop. With real-world evidence to showcase the positive effect of coaching, business leadership is likely to reward your efforts with more resources and budget going forward. 

Share best practices

Now that you’re a coaching expert, take the learnings you’ve had and share them around the business. Many other teams, from sales to marketing, could benefit from coaching. Your newfound experiences are valuable, so don’t hoard them away—whether building a coaching playbook or sharing your very own set of coaching tips, spread the word and help the rest of the business become better coaches. Why not put in place a formal meeting to run through the results with other managers and leaders? Think of this almost as an extension of your coaching program—from coaching individual agents to coaching the business on your learnings. 

Taking the Next Step to Coaching Success

Coaching your support team can do wonders for both individual reps and your business. You’ll unlock the benefits of a more engaged team and happier customers while also building your own leadership skills. 

However, it’s not always easy to know where to start—particularly if you’re building a program from scratch and are operating with limited time or resources. 

That’s why we’ve built a set of templates to get you started! They provide you with everything you need to develop your support team’s skills, with a clear framework for assessing what needs to happen and taking action. Start your journey to better coaching today by downloading our free templates.

Published on June 5, 2023.

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