Coaching in call centres: Summary report

By Matt Somers, copyright holder


Coaching has become a major part of Human Resource Development for many organisations. Coaching promises much: development at the actual workplace, dissemination of knowledge and skills throughout the organisation, savings on training costs and more besides.

But to what extent does coaching deliver on these promises?

1.1 Background

There were two main strands to the research into coaching reported herein. Firstly a comprehensive catalogue of the existing literature was complied and the major books and articles were critically reviewed in order to establish the current level of knowledge in the field and to frame further research questions to explore in an organisational setting.

Subsequently, primary research was undertaken in a large Call Centre operation in North East England. This Centre was chosen because it sets great store by coaching and had created the role of a Sales Coach to work with new recruits. This enabled the research to consider many perspectives, i.e. those of the coach, the coachees the managers who are responsible for them both and those of the organisation overall.

1.2 Research Aim

The research aimed to investigate the 'live' use of coaching in a commercial organisation, to identify any attributable performance improvements and to compare and contrast these results with the current views of the efficacy of coaching in the literature.

1.3 Research Objectives

  • To understand precisely what is meant by coaching; distinct from other development interventions
  • To identify the requisite skills, knowledge and personal qualities
  • To identify any improvement in personal performance that can be reasonably attributed to the coaching intervention
  • To evaluate whether such benefits are worth the investment of time and financial resources

1.4 Purpose of this paper

This purpose of this paper is to report the findings and conclusions of the research outlined above in a style and format suitable for review by the Centre management team.


2.1 Background

The first stage of this research was a detailed analysis of the existing work within the field. A list of references was complied by examining databases at the University of Sunderland Library and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and by reference to the World Wide Web via the Internet.

Negotiation for access to the Call Centre for research purposes began in July 2000 and concluded in November 2000. The research was carried out on 15 December 2000 and 11 January 2001. The remainder of this document reports how this research was designed and undertaken and goes on to detail the findings and conclusions it suggested.

2.2 The Research Participants

Based on a combination of research time available, interviewees available and managing disruption to day to day business at the Centre it was decided that interviews would take place with 1 Manager, 5 Sales Coaches, 2 Team Leaders and 4 Sales and Service Advisors (SSAs).

Despite the relatively small numbers a census, i.e. researching the entire population, was felt inappropriate because:

  • It was impractical to survey the entire population because of changeable shift patterns
  • Budget constraints prevented a survey of the entire population
  • Time constraints prevented a survey of the entire population


3.1 What precisely does coaching, distinct from other development interventions, mean?

It was found that, fundamentally, coaching is a means of bringing about individual performance improvement so that each individual might move towards his or her full potential. Whilst coaching shares many characteristics and requisite skills with interventions such as mentoring and counselling, it differs in its emphasis on raising awareness and consequently not requiring experience/expertise in the underlying issue.

3.2 What are the requisite skills, knowledge and personal qualities?

There appeared to be no specific statement of the requisite knowledge, skills and competencies in the literature, but a number of writers had sought to identify what it is that makes successful coaches effective.

A synthesis of their various views, coupled with those from the research sample, produced the following list:

  • Patience

  • Aware

  • Technical expertise

  • Detached

  • Self aware

  • Knowledge

  • Supportive

  • Attentive

  • Experience

  • Interested

  • Retentive

  • Credibility

  • Good Listener

  • Authoritative

  • Perceptive


3.3 What improvements in personal performance can be reasonably attributed to the coaching intervention?

The Sales Coaches all reported positive change in the SSAs they coached. Specific examples included increased motivation, ambition and confidence. There was also talk of some more ethereal changes such as a strengthening of team identity and increased levels of trust.

3.4 Are such benefits worth the investment of time and financial resources?

This was rendered almost impossible to answer by a lack of empirical data on the effectiveness of coaching. It was seen that coaching at the Centre had improved personal and consequently business performance but there was no meaningful data to illustrate by how much.

So, although it would have been fairly straightforward to collect data on say, the salaries of the coaches, the costs of their own training in coaching skills, the costs of their materials, etc, this data would likely be unilluminating without quantifying the benefits in a similar way.


4.1 Outcome

This research looked in some depth at the subject of coaching in the workplace and sought to develop insights into the subject beyond those uncovered by the critical review of the literature.

Throughout the research it was difficult to arrive at a definition of coaching that might be accepted universally. Instead it was discovered that there are many 'variations on a theme' and that confusion may surround exactly what activities constitute coaching in organisations. Whilst it is acknowledged that this may be of little relevance in practical terms - as long as performance improves - it may be difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of coaching if its exact nature remains unclear. It is sensible that organisations articulate a definition of coaching with which they can live comfortably and which serves to provide its coaches with a useable framework.

Coaching often appeared on the list of tasks and responsibilities of line managers, but these very people may be ill placed to discharge the responsibility. Line managers invariably have a range of other duties to attend to and it can be difficult for them to find adequate time for coaching. The implications for organisations wishing to implement coaching to any meaningful degree are that they are probably best advised to create specific coaching roles.

Coaching was discovered to be inherently about developing performance based on the potential and innate abilities of the coachee. It follows that the best way to develop coaching skills is for coaches to be coached. So following an initial period of training, organisations may need outside help before they can build up a 'critical mass' of effective coaches.

Similarly, the research illustrated that although coaching could be delivered proactively, with the coach seeking out the coachee, it was probably better in the long term if the coachee took responsibility for seeking the services of their coach. Once again this is a matter of putting responsibility in the hands of the coachee and asking them to be mindful of their own development needs. Whilst the argument for this approach is clear, it may be difficult for the organisation to take such a relaxed view. They will have a pool of coaches drawing a salary and will need to make sure they are meaningfully deployed and utilised.

Coaching was found to be no different to other forms of training and development in that it is difficult to evaluate its effectiveness. It was reasonable to conclude that coaching had been very effective at the Call Centre based on the relative sales performance of the 'coached area' against the rest of the business but this improvement could not be empirically linked to coaching. It may be that those working in this area would have outperformed their colleagues anyway or that they simply responded to a higher than usual level of attention.

Nevertheless, some form of evaluation is important if the organisation is to consider the effectiveness of coaching to a level beyond the educated guess. The research showed that there are means of doing this such as asking the coaches to participate in 360 degree feedback and looking out output measures such as staff attrition and absence etc.

The overarching research question was to what extent does Coaching have a genuine, positive impact on personal and business performance? This research has shown that provided coaching is properly supported and carried out by trained coaches, the intervention has a dramatic effect on personal and subsequently business performance. The investment in time and money to bring coaching into the workplace is not great and if coaching could improve each workers performance by as little as 1 or 2 per cent, the effect on the organisation could be profound.

4.2 Options

For the Call Centre, the outcome of this research means some interesting considerations in terms of how they move their coaching model forward. Broadly they are.

  • Do nothing
  • Disband the Sales Coach team but position coaching as a team leader and line management function (it is understood that this is currently being considered)
  • Re-focus the coaching model in line with the findings and conclusions of this research.

The relative merits of each of these options is considered below:





  •  Do nothing

  •  The coaching framework in use at the Centre is well established and working effectively

  • The organisation is already convinced that it has brought about significant performance improvement

  • There is no cost implication

  •  There is some confusion over the nature of coaching and a lack of focus and precision in the way it is carried out

  • This may mean that the evaluation of coaching is flawed and disguising the true level of benefit

  •  No

  •  Disband the Sales Coach team but position coaching as a Team Leader and Line Management function

  •  Coaching could be more quickly spread and delivered across the organisation

  • Coaching skills and abilities would permeate throughout the organisation

  •  It would be more difficult to establish a relationship of trust necessary for coaching

  • Team Leaders and Managers will struggle to find time

  • Coaching may become 'cheapened by misuse' as it is performed by non-specialist staff

  • Coaching may become ill formed and difficult to measure

  •  No

  •  Re focus the coaching model in line with the findings and conclusions of this research

  •  The effective work undertaken to date can be built upon and developed

  •  The cost of providing a dedicated role will need to be maintained

  •  Yes

  • 4.3 Recommendations

    The specific details of the option recommended above are as follows:

    • A working party should be formed consisting of Sales Coaches, Line Managers, Team Leaders and SSAs who are experienced in working with coaching. This working party should be tasked with articulating a precise definition of coaching that is appropriate for the Call Centre
    • This definition should be widely disseminated and all those involved in coaching should be encouraged to adhere to it. In time it can be expected that whenever people speak of coaching they mean the same thing
    • Continue to position the Sales Coaches as the primary source of coaching support. Consider contracting outside expertise and experience to provide ongoing coaching and development to this group
    • Ensure all who provide coaching are clear about being directive or non-directive and encourage a non-directive form wherever possible
    • Encourage coaching to be positioned as a response to a proactive move from the coachee rather than a forced agenda. Encourage the coachees to come forward to request coaching
    • Establish a simple and practical evaluation approach based on a combination of feedback from the coaches and coachees and measurements of business performance

    4.4 Policy Implications

    Should the above recommendations be implemented, certain areas of policy may need to be reviewed:

    • It may be necessary to abandon the idea of dismantling the role of sales coach and spreading responsibility across those with a people management role
    • A review of training in coaching skills may be required to ensure a uniform, consistent approach in keeping with the organisation's own understanding and definition
    • The method of recruitment and selection of coaches will need to be considered in light of a deeper understanding of the exact requirements of such a role

    Matt Somers
    Tyne & Wear
    February 2001

    For more information contact Matt at