You’re Katherine’s manager, and you’re concerned about her performance. She’s punctual and upbeat, but her writing skills are weak. You tried assigning her to live chat, but she earned poor CSAT scores, so you moved her to email. Now it’s time to check on her performance. You choose one of her recent email responses to a customer and settle in with your QA scorecard to see how well she did.
Now, you’ve got your head in your hands. You’re wondering what poor Jane Doe did after receiving this badly written email. Did she ever get the shipping label and refund she deserves? Did she have to write yet another email to explain what she wanted? You’re wondering why your predecessor hired Katherine. You’re wondering whether Katherine’s poor writing skills should cost her the job.
Related Article: 11 Customer Service Skills You Should Be Hiring For
Why Are Some Contact Centers Staffed by Agents Who Don’t Write Well?
Writing Well is Difficult
People in all types of jobs struggle with it.
Many CSRs Started Out Talking to Customers on the Phone
They didn’t need great writing skills, and they don’t have them.
CSRs Write to Customers in a Production Environment
They write one email, chat, or tweet after another–all day, every day. That’s not the kind of environment that fosters excellent wordcraft.
Many CSRs Rely on Templates
So you may not know until they’ve written some pretty bad responses that their freetexting skills are poor.
Their “Soft Skills” are Rusty or Undeveloped
Don’t let the word “soft” make you think this category of skill is merely nice-to-have. Learn about the 11 Soft Skills For Customer Service Teams That Make Customers Happy.
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Can Bad Writers Improve?
Yes, they can. It takes work on their part and on yours, but CSRs can learn to write better if you coach them properly, and if they take your coaching seriously.
How Should You Coach to Improve CSRs’ Writing Skills?
For coaching to work, it has to be frequent, consistent, focused, and brief. Think of the way a track coach shapes the performance of a runner, and you’ll have a great model. A track coach works with the runner every day they train. The coach rarely comments on the runner’s overall performance. Instead, the coach gives the runner focused feedback on pace, stride, arm swing, or foot strike.
If the runner tries but fails to do what the coach is suggesting, the coach figures out another way to demonstrate what they’re looking for, asks another runner to show the technique, or puts the request aside until the runner is more capable. The coach times some of the athlete’s practice runs, but they don’t time all of them because they don’t need to measure performance each time to help the runner improve their performance.
Related Article: Your Complete Guide To Contact Center Coaching
Use These Contact Center Coaching Strategies to Improve Weak Writers’ Performance
1. Figure Out Whether They Lack “Big Picture” Writing Skills, “Small Picture” Writing Skills, or Both
I developed these terms to refer to two broad categories of writing skills. “Big picture” writing skills require decision-making on the writer’s part. Using a friendly tone, customizing templates, and sequencing the paragraphs in an email or the responses in live chat are all “big picture” writing skills. In contrast, “small picture” writing skills require obedience. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are all “small picture” writing skills.
Sadly, Katherine lacks both types of writing skills. She makes “small picture” errors in spelling and punctuation. But she does more damage with her “big picture” skills errors. She fails to explain clearly to Jane how to return the faucet and when she’ll receive her refund.
To coach agents to be better writers, you need to know which types of skills they have or lack. If they lack “big picture” writing skills, I suggest you focus your coaching on those first. Those “small picture” skills errors are embarrassing, but the “big picture” skill errors do more harm to first contact resolution.
Related Article: How to Improve Your Email First Response Time
2. Require Agents with Poor “Small Picture” Writing Skills Use Software Tools to Fix Their Errors.
Everyone who uses spellcheck makes fewer spelling errors. If your CRM doesn’t have a good spellchecker built in, ask your weaker writers to copy and paste their emails into a Word or Google Doc to check for mistakes. You can also ask them to use tools like Grammarly, Ginger, WhiteSmoke, or StyleWriter to support their proofreading.
3. Build Agents’ “Big Picture” Writing Skills by Asking Them to Annotate Sample Email Responses.
Let’s say, for example, you have a weak writer who often fails to answer all the customer’s questions. If the customer asked three questions, the agent will answer two of them but disregard the third. This writing habit is a “big picture” problem.
To coach this agent to improve, give them at least one sample email response per week and ask them to annotate it. Ask them to mark the customer’s questions and mark where the agent answered each question in the response. Discuss these annotations during your brief coaching sessions. This coaching practice has two benefits: it gives weak writers a diet of well-written emails to read, and it puts most of the responsibility on them to do the work to improve.
4. Meet with Your Weakest Writers for Short Coaching Sessions at Least Twice a Week
Coaching must be frequent to be effective, so don’t save up your feedback for a long sit-down with your weak writers. Plan to meet with them for about 10 to 15 minutes at least twice weekly. Give them feedback on their own work. Between sessions, ask them to collect at least one email they wrote in which they worked on the skill you’d focused on.
5. Gauge the Agent’s Willingness to Improve Their Writing Skills.
Becoming a better writer is hard, slow work, so you need to know whether your bad writers are willing to exert themselves. If they don’t show you they’re trying, consider asking them to look for a new job. Being a competent writer is a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have for today’s customer service agents.
I firmly believe that good workplace writers are made, not born. While you may have some contact center agents on staff who will never be elegant writers, I believe focused coaching will help most of them become competent writers.