Coaching For Customer Service Excellence

One of the (if not the) top reasons that I see many customer service initiatives fail to reach their full potential is due to a lack of accountability. Too often managers ignore substandard service performance from an employee (or employees) because the
manager is either uncomfortable with confrontation, worried the employee might quit, or they believe they'll handle the problem at performance appraisal time - which is absolutely the worst time to surprise an employee with any performance issue.

My all-time favorite leadership quote is this: Intolerable service exists because intolerable service is tolerated.

You're not doing anyone any favors by delaying taking action.

Be honest with yourself - Are there any situations in which you are tolerating intolerable service in your organization?

One of the most powerful leadership responsibilities is being a coach. Coaching is real-time training. A problem customer service behavior is identified, you meet with the employee (in private) and you coach the employee on what happened or should have happened. Training doesn't get better than that.

Here's a 5-step coaching process that can help you plan and deliver coaching to any employee who is not living up to your organization's service expectations.


  1.  Position the discussion – This step lets the employee know why the coaching is occurring. Too often leaders begin discussing the performance situation (Step 2) without providing context. The best way to position the discussion is to refer to the organization’s objectives, values, or standards that connect to the performance issue you are addressing.
  1.  Discuss the performance situation – Based on the perspective of Step 1, what's the current performance? What's happening (or not happening) that's causing a problem? It’s important at this step to discuss observable performance and not pass subjective judgments such as, “You have a poor attitude.” The best approach is to discuss outcomes that have been agreed upon, but not satisfactorily accomplished or an organizational performance standard that hasn't been met.
  1. Set a plan of action – At this step, the employee and the coach agree on what behavior(s) must change. A rule of thumb is that the employee should do the majority of the talking during this step, with the manager guiding the discussion. The employee must own the solution. Keep in mind that the employee won't always agree that his/her performance is a problem. While it is most helpful that they do agree there's a problem, it's more important that they understand you expect a change in performance and that they are clear on what that change is. 

  2.  Communicate the consequences of non-performance – This step is often left out because discussing consequences can be uncomfortable for the employee and the manager. Without consequences, however, there's little incentive for the employee to change his/her behavior. The consequences aren’t always extreme, like termination of employment – not every situation is that bad. But consequences must be discussed. The consequence may be to the organization or to the customer experience, but there is always a consequence. The employee should clearly understand the consequences of their actions. 
  1. Set a follow-up plan – I always recommend scheduling a follow-up meeting to discuss progress made. This step communicates to the employee that the coaching was not just a chat – changes are expected and he/she will be held accountable for those changes. Pull out the calendar and schedule a follow-up discussion.

 Again, I want to stress the importance of planning each step in advance of the coaching session. Don't leave it to chance - if the discussion gets heated it's easy to get off track. Have a plan. 

Finally, never, ever let a coaching moment go. A coaching moment is one of the most powerful training opportunities an employee can experience. It's real time training because it focuses on a specific and immediate issue.

Here's something to think about: Is there someone who you should have coached but did not? You know what do do.