Providing feedback to agents in your call center is entirely needed to maintain and improve a quality facility. The right encouragement, or even criticism, could dramatically alter agent performance, both for on-site employees and at-home agents. However, knowing how to deliver feedback can be tricky. Unfortunately, there are a number of pitfalls that can derail the process of delivering effective feedback. The primary problems typically fall into three categories.
- Lack of Confidence: Some managers are great at meeting metrics and making schedules. But when it comes to confronting potential issues and offering feedback, certain individuals aren’t confident in their abilities.
- Lack of Skill: Some leaders are ready to tackle feedback, yet miss the skills needed for preparation, delivery and follow-up. Developing these skills should be ongoing for every call center leader — even those who are considered adept at feedback.
- Non-Targeted Feedback: Leaders offering vague or non-specific feedback often fall short of providing agents with the real-world examples and actionable advice they need to improve their performance. Tools like interaction analytics can help call center managers identify relevant issues and deliver precise, targeted feedback to agents and have a more direct impact on metrics like call handling time.
Providing accurate, real-time, and consistent feedback plays an important role in employee engagement, which in turn improves employee satisfaction and motivates agents to provide excellent customer service. To empower call center leaders to improve agent feedback, we’ve rounded up 25 tips and best practices for delivering effective agent feedback.
Many of the tips are those from experts directly in the call center industry. Others are from training and leadership professionals, experts in the area of training and coaching employees. Entries on this list are in no particular order and should be valuable to anyone in a managerial role — especially in a call center.
Expert Tips & Best Practices for Effective Agent Feedback
- Employee feedback is the starting point for designing and implementing employee experience initiatives. “Whether it was taking a continuous improvement approach to employee experiences or tackling an enterprise-wide cultural transformation, examples abounded where organizations purposefully (and rightfully) started with gathering feedback from employees to better understand current and design new experiences. One state government agency shared how its traditional annual employee survey spurred enterprise-wide action to make things better. Keys to success for their program included active, visible participation by executives in the process from start to finish, publicly shared action plans to keep individuals and teams in the loop, and ongoing engagement with an internal champions network who served as key change agents impacting everything from best practices identification to action plan coaching. Over the four years the program has been in place, all key program metrics have shown progressive, benchmark-exceeding improvement. Another organization shared that the start of its turnaround began with its first employee survey – that delivered a negative eNPS score. Rather than getting caught up in just the number, it used additional employee feedback to understand WHY employees were disengaged and leaving and used those insights to ‘rewrite the story.’ The company simplified its core brand and values and invested in changing internal perceptions from the ground up through internal communication campaigns, revamped learning and development offerings, and more impactful employee recognition and celebrations, to name just a few of the actions taken.” – Aimee Lucas, CCXP, Improving Employee Experiences: Highlights from the EE Conference & Awards, LinkedIn; Twitter: @Aimee_Lucas
- Employee and agent feedback should be a two-way street. “Does your organization listen to its employees? I mean, really listen and act on what they say. Based on what our research has uncovered, it’s likely that the true answer is “no.” Check out some data from our recent research:
- In our Q3 2018 Consumer Benchmark Study, we found that 40% of full time U.S. employees strongly agrees with the statement, “My company asks for my feedback and acts upon what I say.”
- In the report, Employee Engagement Competency & Maturity, 2018, we found that only 40% of executives within large organizations put a high priority on taking action based on results from employee engagement studies.
“Does it really matter? Yes! While there is enormous value from using employee feedback to improve your business, the true win might be in how it improves the engagement level of those employees.” – Bruce Temkin, The Engaging Power Of Employee Feedback, Experience Matters; Twitter: @btemkin
- Be consistent with feedback and enforcing policy. “The most effective call center agent performance improvement programs provide continuous and encouraging feedback to motivate call center agents. When an agent is struggling to perform, it’s a good idea to offer the agent some extra attention. Conduct routine evaluations of the agent’s calls, and provide timely feedback. When needed, provide additional targeted coaching that addresses the agent’s specific needs, and reinforce what they are doing right.” – Donna Fluss, 5 ways to improve call center agent performance, TechTarget; Twitter: @SearchCXM
- Letting agents self-evaluate. “When it’s the agent starting the “what needs to improve” conversation, things tend to flow much more smoothly and agents remain much more open to input and feedback compared to when the coach launches a unilateral attack. The best coaches give agents the opportunity to review their monitored contacts and allow them to express how much their performance stunk before the coach goes and does it for them.
“Agents are typically quite critical of their own performance, often pointing out mistakes they made that QA staff and supervisors might have otherwise overlooked. Of course, the intent of self-eval sessions is not to sit and watch as agents eviscerate themselves – as much fun as that can be – but rather to ensure that they understand their true strengths and where they might improve. Self-evaluations should cease if agents begin to slap themselves during the process, unless it is an agent whom you yourself had been thinking about slapping anyway.” – Greg Levin , 5 Steps for Coaching Contact Center Agents to Victory, Customer Contact Week Digital; Twitter: @CCW_Digital
- Leverage analytics to offer targeted agent training and coaching. “With a global team of 1,000 agents who handle more than 5.5 million calls a year, Morgan Stanley’s contact center was heavily segmented with teams of employees handling different types of products and issues. Getting customers to the right agent was a challenge. The company turned to an analytics program to monitor calls and metrics while also offering targeted agent training and coaching. The analytics pinpoint the root causes for many customers issues, which helps future calls get routed much more quickly and efficiently.” – Blake Morgan, 10 Examples Of How Operational Efficiencies Improve Customer Experience, Forbes; Twitter: @BlakeMichelleM
- Setup a customer feedback stream for agents. “This is something we hear a lot, and it’s a reasonable concern. But you can easily set up a feedback stream that doesn’t flood agents with confusing or distracting data points. Although our Stella Connect clients do provide a link-back to the full CRM ticket, what agents see at a glance in their dashboards and on the group leaderboards is very simple: star rating, comment, and reward.
“These three data points are just enough to keep agents informed so they can self-correct and motivated to do their best. The net effect is higher productivity, not lower. If you’re focused on getting the most out of every agent, no other contact center performance management tool or workplace incentive can hold a candle to an agent-level VoC program.” – Ross Cranwell, Contact Center Performance Management: Is Sharing Customer Feedback a Mistake?, StellaConnect; Twitter: @StellaConnect
- Understand both feedback and coaching. “Merriam Webster defines feedback as the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event or process to the original or controlling source. As defined, the concept of feedback implies a simple communication process whereby a manager conveys information to his or her staff members about a process or event. What the definition fails to account for, however, is the two-way nature of the transmission.
“Impactful feedback is more than just the communication of information. It involves a meaningful dialogue and requires the manager to have an open mind, becoming receptive to feedback from the other party. In the contact center, particularly, management must recognize that one-way communication about any action, event or process will damage—not build or sustain—the trust it takes for their team members to openly receive and act on feedback given to them.
“Coaching, on the other hand, is defined as the effort to train intensively as by instruction or demonstration. The act of coaching, unlike traditional training, requires an ongoing effort and a vested interest in the performance of those being coached. Coaches may utilize feedback as one tool through which to foster ongoing learning and development, but their efforts extend much further. They show. They teach. They reward. And they follow up.
“Together, the definitions clarify how the concepts of feedback and coaching intertwine to become critical in providing contact center agents the information and encouragement they need to perform up to and beyond the standards set forth for them.” – Brian Burke & Francis Hawthorne, Delivering Impactful Feedback + Coaching in the Contact Center, Contact Center Pipeline; Twitter: @CCPipeline
- Don’t forget the basics. “Call center agents aren’t likely to be motivated by a constant flow of negative feedback. If you must provide constructive criticism, start the coaching session by praising the employee. Giving praise first puts employees in a positive frame of mind so they are more open-minded about what you have to say.
“…Your agents are more likely to take criticism seriously if it is based on your own personal observations. When you observe calls, write down notes about each agent’s attitude and adherence to your company’s call scripts. It is easier to give constructive criticism if you can point to specific issues instead of giving generalized feedback.
“…When you meet with an employee to discuss performance issues, pay attention to the tone of your voice. If you sound irritated or stern, the employee might think you are being too critical without offering any constructive feedback.” – How to Give Constructive Criticism to Call Center Agents, Executive Boutique; Twitter: @eb_call
- Avoid micromanagement. “As opposed to training and onboarding, coaching leans toward individual growth. But, this shouldn’t be confused with micromanagement. When you’re worried about stats and KPIs it’s easy to hover around underperformers so you’re immediately available whenever one of them needs help. However, have you ever stopped to think that they might view you as a vulture waiting to pounce on them like a dead carcass? It’s intimidating and it pressures them even more. Good thing there are numerous ways to put micromanagement to a halt and shift over to targeted coaching.
“Each agent possesses a combination of skills and weaknesses that a manager may or may not find in another agent. It’s important to know what makes one agent ticks incorporate this in your coaching sessions.
“Manager coaching can substantially improve customer service by 450 percent within the first five months. Identify areas of struggle (call quality, product knowledge, tool familiarity, empathy, will issue, etc.) and device a customized game plan to discuss these weak points, the reason behind them, and the things you and the agent can do to surpass the challenges. Another trick is to listen attentively for verbal and non-verbal cues. A manager should remain approachable and observant, and be sensitive to what the agent is trying to tell him, even indirectly. Keep feedback honest yet positive and set milestones to allow an agent to gradually work on multiple goals.” – Aki Merced, 8 Strategies for Effective Contact Center Management, Tenfold; Twitter: @growtenfold
- Make sure to listen to calls. “Many contact centres will run a survey at the end of a call to formulate a Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Effort Score (CES) or to determine First Call Resolution (FCR).
“Most of these surveys are done through an IVR, so that advisors have more time to handle the queries of other customers.
“Yet some advisors will hold the line instead of hanging up. This allows them to break for the duration of the customer survey, with management none the wiser.
“How to Spot It: Again, listening to call recordings is the best method of spotting this trick.
“While checking more complex queries and answerphone messages, it is also useful to check calls where the customer has gone into a survey afterwards.
“If the call analyst can hear the IVR-based survey in the recording, it is clear that the advisor has held onto the line, despite their obligation not to.” – 7 Tricks That Call Centre Employees Play, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
- Make sure feedback is private. “Nearly all the managers we interviewed noted the importance of the setting in which they give employees feedback. “Speaking privately is always more appropriate when dealing with correcting behavior,” said Sales Manager Andrew Collins. The reasoning behind this is it allows the employee to focus on the work they need to do, not what their coworkers think about them. Speaking privately also gives employees a chance to ask follow-up questions and bring up any issues affecting their performance.
“Sales Manager Brad Chrisakis sums up his approach by saying, ‘Praise in public and provide feedback in private.’ This was a common thread among the answers, but others pointed out that some employees don’t want to be the center of attention. One strategy Classy managers have used is to send out a quick survey asking team members how they prefer to have their accomplishments recognized, whether it be in private, with your team, in a company meeting, or any other way.
“Constructive criticism, though, is better delivered in a one-on-one exchange, rather than putting someone on the spot in public.” – 4 Tips for Giving Effective Employee Feedback, Classy; Twitter: @classy
- Empowering agents is an important step. “How much power do your agents have? What sorts of decisions can they make? You should have the answers to those questions and be able to communicate them clearly.
“In general, it’s better to give your customer service agents more authority where you can. That helps them solve problems more quickly.
“No matter how much authority they have, though, it’s important that they know exactly what they can and can’t do.
“Can they give customer discounts? Or accept product returns? What about making changes to customer accounts or doing favors for callers?
“In an article for CustomerThink, Bob Thompson writes about Ritz Carlton, which gives employees authority to spend up to $2,000 per incident to solve customer issues. That’s incredible and shows you just how far some companies will go to please their customers.
You don’t have to go that far. But the more authority you give, the better your customer service will be.
“Don’t skip over this one. Seriously. Give your agents the authority to make your customers happy. There may be a few times when they step over the line of what you find acceptable. But for the most part, they’ll do a much better job.” – Dann Albright, Embrace Active Learning (and 7 More Call Center Training Tips), Continu; Twitter: @continu
- Don’t forget internal customer service. “Internal customer service is when we provide customer service to the people we work with, helping them to do their best to serve external customers and promote the interests of our company.
“Internal customer service is when the support staff serves the attorneys in a law firm. (It’s also when the attorneys turn around and provide customer service to their support staff.) It’s when medical administrators and technicians serve the physicians in healthcare. (It’s also when the physicians serve the administrators, technicians, nurses, and each other.) It’s when back-of-the-house employees serve the front of the house in the hospitality industry–as well as vice versa. (And, in your own particular industry, it’s whatever is analogous to these examples.)” – Micah Solomon, Internal Customer Service: Training Employees To Help Their Co-Workers Do Their Best, Forbes; Twitter: @Forbes
- Focus on your own leadership development. “Senior managers must be self-starters with initiative and discipline. They must have strong core values and know how to elicit and apply these values. They know how to lead people through training, coaching, performance management, and mentoring. They are able to coach and communicate effectively to get the best from people, offering advanced communication to provide structured and developmental feedback.
“Effective leaders create a culture of positive work and establish performance benchmarks that assist in its creation. They assist in creating and developing high performance teams and understand the key factors involved in this process.” – Needed Leadership Skills for Call Center Management, Universal Class; Twitter: @universalclass
- Monitor and give feedback for absenteeism. “While it’s inevitable that sooner or later an agent will become too sick to work, there are others who simply don’t show up because they are “sick” of working. This is often a sign the call center is not viewed as an ideal place to work. What can be done to reduce the impact of absenteeism and high turn-around rates?
“Giving feedback to agents helps them realize just where exactly they stand in terms of the business. Good or bad, this knowledge can help agents feel empowered to make change.
“Call avoidance often signifies an agent’s view of his or her position. Things like excessively long breaks, making a large number of local calls, agent disconnects and other avoidance patterns need to be observed and addressed.
“One of the main reasons why many agents call in sick is because of poor working conditions. This could be caused by the overall working environment, problems with management or a lack of interest in the organization. A good working environment has potential to vastly improve absenteeism rates.
“…After a long period of being away, or if the agent is excessively calling in sick, it may be time for an interview. This helps the agent acclimate back into the workplace while giving management an opportunity to discover the reason behind the absences.” – Effective Call Center Management: Agent Absenteeism, Contextual Strategy Group
- Create a customer-centric culture through a positive work environment and employee training. “Mazda is implementing changes both at our U.S. headquarters and within our U.S. dealer network. In February, every U.S. employee at Mazda, more than 800 employees, and more than 100 employees of our key business partners, attended a two-day event that focused on the Mazda brand and what makes Mazda unique and special within the automotive industry. We also spent a day focusing on the importance of the Customer Experience and how every employee can bring a new mindset and approach to their individual jobs, which can benefit our owners and dealers.
“Knowing that a single event does not result in meaningful change, we have several sustainment activities planned and in process that will continue to reinforce these key messages. Over time, we will see a strong customer-centric culture in place at Mazda that will guide all of our activities and make sure our brand is among the most respected in the U.S.
“For our dealers, Mazda, together with our partner Strativity Group, has developed a comprehensive program that will focus on enhancing the customer-centricity of our dealerships. The program includes leadership training to create a positive working environment, individual employee training and role playing, and comprehensive reviews of all customer touch-points for each dealership to identify areas of opportunity. Every aspect of this program is designed to enable our dealers to create unique Mazda experiences that will engage our owners emotionally with the Mazda brand and the dealership. This is the foundation for a strong, sustainable business that will attract the best employees and customers who appreciate everything Mazda has to offer.” – Tim Manning, interviewed by Jim Tierney, Mazda Takes New Approach to Customer Loyalty, Loyalty360; Twitter: @Loyalty360
- Delivering feedback to redirect. “While reinforcing feedback can be given any time, it is good practice to ask before providing someone with redirecting feedback. We’ll cover more on this in the section on how to give feedback but making sure someone is in the right mindset to receive your feedback is important.
“Also, before diving right into redirecting feedback, get a feel for how the person is doing. Build a sense of their self-awareness of the feedback topic. This will help you gauge if you’re about to start a conversation about something the person is unaware of, or if it’s something that’s already on their mind.” – Alexis Croswell, Employee Feedback Examples for Development and Evaluation, Culture Amp; Twitter: @CultureAmp
- Don’t wait long to deliver feedback. “The biggest mistake we make with regards to giving feedback is waiting far too long! The more you delay sharing feedback, the less effective it becomes. For maximum efficacy, share feedback as soon as possible. This means, sharing feedback as soon as a task has been completed or while the task being done. The whole point of giving feedback is so that the receiver can apply the feedback.” – 6 Tips for Giving Effective Employee Feedback, Engagedly; Twitter: @engagedlyInc
- Think your feedback through. “Whether you’re providing positive or negative feedback, it’s important that you prepare well before speaking with your employee. If you do not give some thought beforehand to what you will say, you risk conveying your message badly, meaning you could offend your employee, fail to get your point across, or even embarrass yourself through poor word choice or delivery. Positive feedback is much easier to deliver than negative feedback because it’s likely to be well-received regardless of how it’s structured, but there are certain things to avoid when delivering negative feedback:
- Avoid sounding accusatory. Using ‘you’ structures instead of ‘I/ we’ structures tends to imply that the employee should feel guilty. Instead of ‘You turned in your reports late this week,’ try ‘I noticed this week that your reports were late.’ It’s a subtle difference, but it prevents the employee from feeling attacked, so they’re less likely to become offended or defensive.
- Avoid using the phrase ‘need to.’ This makes it seem as if something has gone seriously wrong and the employee is to blame.
- Don’t be vague. For example, don’t just say, ‘I’ve noticed you seem to have poor attitude lately.’ Instead, clarify your statement with specific examples, as this clarifies for the employee exactly what you consider to be indicative of a ‘poor attitude.’ This helps both of you to avoid a similar discussion in the future.” – Andrew Jensen, Tips for Managers on Giving Feedback to Employees, Andrew Jensen; Twitter: @sozocreative
- Really strive for sincerity. “When providing anyone with feedback, be sincere in how you approach them. No matter how good the feedback is, if presented in an apathetic or even angry tone, the communication can be instantly lost. Sadly, 44% of employees don’t think their boss is being honest during the feedback process.
“Show you have a true interest in the employee and that them receiving, and learning, from this feedback is important to you. You can also use this to create a back and forth conversation about the discussed behavior. Providing them with a bit of control can grant new insight and allow for better feedback in the future.” – 7 Tips for Providing Effective Employee Feedback, Reviewsnap ; Twitter: @reviewsnap
- Consider solely positive feedback sessions. “Unfortunately, most managers tend to take their employees’ good performance for granted or praise it only in the context of a constructive, corrective feedback.
“Here are a few reasons why many managers don’t offer a standalone positive feedback:
- They simply aren’t used to it or don’t know how to give positive feedback in an effective way because they didn’t receive much praise either.
- They don’t think that commending employees is needed when they’re just doing their jobs.
- They think that their employees’ performance would suffer if they tell them that they’re already doing an awesome job.
- They think that only corrective feedback can help their employees improve and grow.
“If you share some of these beliefs, get ready to be mind blown! Giving positive feedback to your employees has numerous proven benefits – including improving your company’s bottom line. ” – Anja Zojceska, 8 Examples of Giving Positive Feedback to Employees, TalentLyft; Twitter: @TalentLyft
- Know that employees want honest feedback. “Employees want feedback. They want an honest assessment of their behavior to help them improve their work. They know that if they listen to, and take action on, clear and constructive feedback, their overall performance will improve. Successful employee retention and promotion will result. And so will overall employee job satisfaction.
“However, most managers feel uncomfortable delivering feedback, especially when it involves a problem or concern. So many managers take a passive approach or are guilty of knee-jerk, “drive by” feedback, which can be counterproductive. Providing feedback that gets results isn’t as difficult or painful as you think.” – Joel Garfinkle, Ten Ways to Provide Quality Feedback, Garfinkle Executive Coaching; Twitter: @JoelGarfinkle
- Delivery is nearly as important as the feedback. “It’s often the case that employees will have some areas for development and therefore how supervisors present this information is very important. First, while delivering this information, it’s important to maintain a sense of respect throughout the process. Even though some of the information may be challenging to deliver, maintaining composure can help prevent a negative reaction from employees. Showing one’s credibility and status of being knowledgeable of the information presented will help to gain acceptance. So, it’s important to be prepared prior to the session.” – Alissa Parr, Ph.D, 3 Tips To Giving Employee Feedback That Employees Want To Receive, PSI Testing Excellence; Twitter: @PSIServicesLLC
- Make it a safe environment. “Believe it or not, people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time, according to Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, who cited that research at the NeuroLeadership Summit in Boston. If the person receiving the feedback doesn’t feel comfortable, this can cause the feedback to ultimately be unproductive.
“If you don’t have the kind of buddy relationship with a colleague or employee that allows you to say virtuallyanything to each other, then I suggest you add civility and safety into your feedback approach. Don’t be mean-spirited. Your feedback usually won’t be productive if it’s focused on making the other person feel bad or make them look foolish in front of peers.” – Scott Halford, 5 Steps for Giving Productive Feedback, Entrepreneur; Twitter: @EntMagazine
- Pay attention to more than an employee’s words. “Look around the room when you speak to your team. Do you see downcast eyes? Averted gazes? Tight faces? At times, such reactions may be appropriate—like if you announce bad news, or if an employee really messed up and you call her out on it. However, if you regularly see body language or non-verbal reactions that convey distrust or frustration, you may have a problem on your hands, and you should take the time to dig a little deeper.
“Again, you need to ask meaningful questions at the right time. For instance, you might approach an employee individually and note, ‘I noticed tension when I announced the new project assignments. I was obviously hoping for a different reaction. Maybe I missed something in planning for this project. Can you tell me a little bit about what’s going on?’
“This lets your employee know you’re aware of his frustration and provides him an opportunity to enlighten you. Whether you believe your employee’s frustrations are warranted or not, it’s better to know why discontent is breeding than to dismiss or misunderstand it. You can’t adequately address something you don’t understand.” – Caris Thetford, 5 Smarter Ways to Get Feedback From Employees (That Don’t Involve a Heated Exit Interview), TheMuse; Twitter: @TheMuse
What strategies do you employ to provide targeted, effective agent feedback?