Guest Article: What Has the Most Impact on CSRs’ Performance?

In the last 20 years, I’ve primarily focused on improving one area of multichannel retail: What’s the key to improving a customer service rep’s (CSR) performance in the call center?

My experience has led me to one simple conclusion: It’s not about technology, or focusing on the right metrics or even training. If you want to improve a CSR’s performance, it’s all in the coaching.

Most organizations confuse coaching with performance evaluations. I’m a big believer in developing a scorecard to ensure that each CSR knows where he or she stands. I’ve found, however, that CSRs knowing “their scores” has minimal impact on affecting change. The sports world understands this, but the typical call-center world is bogged down in metrics.

In sports, a large majority of an athlete’s time is spent under the guidance of a coach developing his or her skills — and very little time reviewing performance. Most contact centers have the player-coach meeting. “Suzie, your percentages are down, and you’re not upselling XYZ. Now go do better, and I’ll see you in two weeks.” That’s not coaching. Coaching is about improving the future. Way too many managers just report on the past.

So what’s the answer? Conceptually, everyone believes in coaching, but many of us don’t have the time. How do you free up the time to coach? The first step is to learn to think more strategically about ranking your CSRs.

Managing Your Time Via the Quadrant Approach
The first coaching step is to realize that you don’t have enough time to equally invest in developing all of your CSRs to the level of performance required. Instead of ranking CSRs A, B and C just on performance, divide the team into four quadrants based not only on performance, but also on the desire to change. Here’s an example of how you can assess and rank each team member:

  • Independents: CSRs with adequate performance and little or no desire to change.
  • Detractors: CSRs with substandard performance who lack the willingness to change.
  • Strivers: CSRs who have a strong desire to improve and grow, but aren’t meeting required performance levels.
  • Achievers: CSRs who have a strong desire to improve and grow, and are meeting or exceeding required performance levels.

Once the team is categorized, you can implement the appropriate strategy and determine where to spend your time.

With Independents, very little time is required (5 percent). They’re meeting their performance requirements and don’t want to change, so leave them alone. The key is to raise the average level of performance for the entire team, and they’ll most likely be motivated to elevate their performance (i.e., “High tide raises all boats”).

Detractors are typically the greatest drain on managers’ time. If the desire to change is low or nonexistent, all coaching and development efforts will fail. Therefore, the time invested in Detractors also should be minimal (5 percent) until they demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow.

Communicate the desired level of performance, the time frame required to reach an acceptable level and a willingness to support them if the desire to change suddenly emerges. Don’t communicate that you don’t value these reps, but until they’re willing to change, coaching is futile.

On the other hand, heavily invest in Strivers (75 percent). This is your greatest opportunity to enhance the overall performance of your team. They embrace the idea that they need to improve and are open to input and ideas for improvement. Communicate specific performance requirements, but allow for a bit more grace as long as they’re committed to the development plan you’ve mapped out.

Second only to Strivers, managers should invest a considerable amount of time with Achievers (15 percent). These are the stars of the team who also have a desire to continually improve. Here the strategy should be to grow, challenge and retain.

Adopting this strategy will help remove the first barrier to developing your team — a lack of time. The next step is to place a high priority on developing your skills as a coach; you’ll see a dramatic change in results.

Tom Stanfill is CEO & co-founder of Aslan Training & Development, a Marietta, Ga.-based call-center consulting firm. Tom can be reached at

3 thoughts on “Guest Article: What Has the Most Impact on CSRs’ Performance?

  1. Laura Chadbourne says:

    Great post. I’ve used this quadrant approach too and it works just as well when managing non customer-service teams.

  2. John Dontje says:

    Great article, I completely agree with you. What is your methodology for placing CSRs in the various quadrants. It appears to be fairly subjective base on the reviewers perception of the CSRs attitude. Am I right or do you use a different method.

  3. George Smith says:

    Fundamentally agree with the article except “detractors” should be encouraged to up date their resumes because they often poison the others.

    Great article though!

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