Inside CAA NEO’s Coaching Culture

CAA NEO is in the business of providing excellent customer service. Read on to find out how creating a coaching culture has improved its bottom line

by Mary Wimmer

There’s an old saying in business that if you don’t take care of your customer, someone else will. And in the hyper-connected, social media-obsessed times we live in, customer service (or the failure to provide it) can make or break any business.

Which is why at CAA North & East Ontario (CAA NEO), the focus never wavers on providing excellent customer service to our Members and the general public. It’s why the Club consistently invests in maintaining its high standards of customer care through training, performance management, and – most importantly – regular and consistent coaching.

CAA NEO’s Alison McBratney, Managing Director of Human Resources, was recently a guest speaker at this year’s Cutting Edjj Customer Service Conference in Toronto.  The audience was comprised of senior call centre managers and directors, all of whom have made customer service their business priority. She spoke about how CAA NEO had developed its ‘own coaching culture’ and its impact on Member care at the annual meeting.

What is a coaching culture?

Ms. McBratney opened her presentation with a quote from marketing guru Larry Yu that describes a coaching culture as one in which “…supervisors spend more time giving constructive, individualized feedback on performance to subordinates, rather than barking orders and sending their troops to boot-camp training programs.” (The Benefits of a Coaching Culture, MIT Sloan Management Review; January 01, 2007).

It’s an idea that resonates well with CAA NEO management, who champion a process in which employees are kept apprised of their successes and areas for development.  By ensuring consistent feedback, embracing the positive, and helping to improve performance challenges; CAA NEO has managed to reach its goal of improving staff engagement and empowering employees on the job

How did we do it?

So, just how did CAA NEO create a coaching culture of its own? Ms. McBratney says that it began with having a champion. It would not be possible without the support of CEO and President, Christina Hlusko, as well as others on the management team who believed in the process. 

The Club then clarified its expectations of employees through the re-development of its Customer Service Standards, which made it clear what its employees are supposed to be doing and how they are supposed to do it. Staff provided input on the process and it was improved upon to become a useful job aid and feedback tool.

Once staff knew what they had to do, CAA NEO then focused on developing the key skills in its workforce necessary for them to get the job done. This required taking stock of what their existing skills were and defining which, if any, needed further enhancement.  To support and reinforce these efforts, the key skills were incorporated as Competencies to be evaluated and reinforced through the Club’s performance management system.

Classroom training on communication, delivered by a certified in-house trainer, was the first step. All executives and most managers have been trained to date, with more training to come for front line staff. External trainers were brought in to teach Customer Service, Coaching and Leadership skills to management staff.

A new quarterly performance management process was also introduced to capture how every staff member contributes to the Club’s strategic and operational goals, and to reinforce the use of key behaviours and a positive attitude. Managers now capture the results of their regular coaching sessions using online ‘conversations’ that ensure continuity and enable quarterly employee reviews to flow smoothly.

In keeping with CAA NEO’s focus on the carrot (and not the stick), the Club has also added more opportunities for its top travel agents to attend educational travel tours, as well as a roster of other benefits; like quarterly celebration events, emails from our CEO for top sales months, and hosting celebrations on the Yammer social network as a way for employees to stay connected with each other.

The impact of these efforts on CAA NEO as a whole has been tremendous.  Travel and Membership sales have had unprecedented growth.  But more than that, creating a coaching culture has been its own reward for the Club. It’s about creating a work environment that employees want to be at, where they feel appreciated and have the support they need to do their best.

Improving their engagement raises their performance level at work, which in turn enhances the Club’s customer service overall and leads to better interactions with Members and the public…in a positive feedback loop that is, well, just good business.