Disengaged employees can negatively impact numerous company performance metrics, from customer satisfaction and growth rates to customer perceptions of the company.

For many organizations, customer care and service centers pose the biggest engagement challenges. Front-line workers don’t get the feedback they need to stay engaged, which can lead to low job satisfaction and high turnover rates. In order to keep any employee  –call center or otherwise – engaged and successful, managers must find ways to move them through the four stages of competence.

Multiple studies have correlated the relationship between employee engagement and both company revenue and longer-term worker success. Gallup research found that the odds of success were nearly double among workers in the top half of engagement levels vs. those in the bottom half. Employees in the 99th percentile of engagement had four times the success rate of those in the first percentile.

These top performers very likely operate in the optimal competence stage, which is known as “unconscious competence.” Workers in this stage perform actions as second nature. They can work quickly and efficiently, rarely needing outside assistance. The “unconscious” part of the stage comes through training that hones the employee’s talents and gives them the confidence to act as a problem-solver.

Preceding the unconscious competence stage are three others:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: Workers are not aware of the skills they lack.
  2. Conscious incompetence: Workers understand their shortcomings.
  3. Conscious competence: Workers can perform tasks well, but this performance requires a high degree of effort.

Moving employees to the fourth stage of unconscious competence should be a primary goal for supervisors and managers, and doing so requires a mix of tech and coaching.

Let’s look at how supervisors might move their employees to unconscious competence, using call center and customer service staff members as examples:

Using Performance Analytics

Moving any employee through the stages is a journey of finding and fixing their shortcomings. In the case of a call center employee, perhaps the agent does not stick to regulatory language on the phone, or they’re too eager to end a call that could be turned into a sale. Regardless of the particular area that requires improvement, employees can only improve if they have access to information about their daily performance.

cafeIn a traditional call center, performance reviews are based on random samplings of a few calls. A supervisor will listen in and make assumptions about an employee’s performance based on that very narrow set of data. Other data could be mixed in, such as average hold times and similar metrics, but listening to conversations is the only way to gain a glimpse into an agent’s overall tone and style. This glimpse, however, is often inaccurate, as it only takes into account a tiny percentage of the agent’s calls.

Technology tools that automate the monitoring and scoring of all agent-to-customer interactions can help address this problem. Tech tools that transcribe all phone calls, chat, and email conversations into searchable text can give managers a more complete view of an employee’s true performance. Employees can also use these transcriptions to reflect on their performance and identify shortcomings. Technologies that similarly capture comprehensive and relevant performance data can play the same role when managing the performance of employees outside of call centers and customer service roles.

How does this relate to guiding employees to unconscious competence? Performance data allows employees to identify and fix negative behaviors before they become ingrained habits. The data also alerts employees to positive actions they should repeat. The analytics become a feedback loop, and employees feel invested because the entire process is designed to make them more productive and successful.

Supervisors can also use analytics to guide new hires through the performance stages, spot employees who are a good fit for the team, cut ones who don’t have the requisite skills, and pick out future supervisors. Armed with data, managers can cut down on attrition rates and shorten time-consuming training periods.

Leveraging Context-Based Coaching

Typical coaching within most service centers is a source of frustration for both the managers and the agents. A core part of the problem is the inaccurate data that informs the coaching, which often results from the limited call monitoring mentioned above. However, when coaching is backed by a comprehensive data source – like transcriptions of all calls, emails, and chats – then it can offer more accurate and actionable insights.

Supervisors and managers can use data to perform context-based coaching tailored to the individual employee’s strengths and weaknesses. If employees understand the coaching is based on their own actual actions and words, then it’s much less likely they will disagree with their performance assessments.

Comprehensive data removes ambiguity from coaching so employees can clearly see where they need to improve and where they already excel. The removal of ambiguity creates a clearer path to unconscious competence. Tying relevant metrics tracked by the data – such as “use of empathy” or “within compliance language” in the case of call center agents – to raises and other incentives will spur employees onto the fourth stage of competence more quickly.

Coaching is made simpler and more productive through access to analytics, and supervisors can spend more time discussing strategic concerns instead of arguing with employees about performance. The end results of combining analytics and coaching are better employee retention, fewer headaches for HR, and a stronger bottom line.

Scott Kendrick is vice president of marketing at CallMiner.

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