As a call center manager, one of the most important parts of your job is providing feedback. Regular feedback helps agents improve their performance, stay on track to meet their goals and ensure that basic business outcomes are met.
However, a lot of feedback advice or training programs often center around constructive or negative feedback. We often forget that providing positive feedback is just as important and needs its own focus.
Scott Halford, author of Be a Shortcut: The Secret Fast Track to Business Success sums up the need for positive feedback best, "positive feedback stimulates the reward centers in the brain, leaving the recipient open to taking a new direction. Meanwhile, negative feedback indicates that an adjustment needs to be made and the threat response turns on and defensiveness sets in."
To be a successful call center manager, it is critical to know how to give quality feedback in your call center that will strengthen your team and reinforce the right behaviors in the workplace.
However, many of us are unsure how to go about it without coming across insincere or gratuitous. Here are seven simple strategies to follow to help you give positive feedback that inspires and motivates your employees.
1. Timing is everything
For feedback to be productive and to make an impact on the employee, it needs to be immediate. Don't wait until the person's next performance review to acknowledge an achievement or hard work. The human memory is faulty, and for positive feedback to take root, it needs to happen at regular intervals and as soon as the commended action happens.
For example, if you want your call center agents to take the initiative more and rely on their good judgement instead of running to you with every single problem - praise that behavior.
Of course, you need to consider their perspective too: employees can sometimes be so afraid of making mistakes and risking their job they choose not to take the initiative.
It is vital to cultivate a company culture of openness and equality. This does not mean disrupting the standard structure of your call center — managers, supervisors etc. — but treating workers at all levels with the same respect.
Your employees must feel they can talk to you if they feel unsure how to solve a particular problem or complete a specific task. Being able to go to a superior for advice and assistance can help to avoid costly mistakes down the line.
Breaking down barriers and creating an environment that encourages clear communication between all members of the workforce makes knowing how to give quality feedback in the call center (both good and bad) much simpler. This makes timing less of an issue, as you can just drop by an agent’s cubicle and praise them in an informal way.
Keep it simple, friendly, and direct. For example:
"Jenny, can I give you some feedback? When you take care of XXX issue, it takes the load off my back. Thanks for taking the initiative and solving the problem on your own. I appreciate it."
Positive praise will lift their mood, make them feel valued and motivate them to take the initiative again in the future. Make a regular habit of giving credit where it is due, and you can build a more productive, confident workforce.
2. Be as specific as possible
Not all managers instinctively know how to give quality feedback in their call center. If your go-to positive feedback line is "good job" it is time to broaden your horizons. Chrissy Scivicque from EatYourCareer.com recommends the following when delivering positive specific feedback:
- Use the person's name
- Describe the specific actions you observed or learned
- Avoid ambiguous details
"Sarah, I appreciate you staying at work last night to help with the backlog. I know you were not asked to go out of your way to do that and you put in a lot of time and effort. It shows your commitment not only to your role but the continued success of our team as a whole. Thanks for that."
By ensuring your positive feedback matches the above criteria, your employees will know what they did to warrant praise and will feel as if you are giving genuine feedback.
Using the employee’s name shows that you recognize them as an individual rather than just another anonymous worker. You are thanking them for going above and beyond their basic duties, which goes a long way to making them feel resected and rewarded.
The clearer and more specific you are about what an employee did right, the better they will be able to repeat and improve upon the positive action.
3. Keep your negative feedback separate
While it can be tempting to use a positive and negative statement back to back, this approach often does more harm than good. It creates confusion with the employee and makes your praise come across as insincere. Knowing how to give quality feedback in your call center requires you to think carefully about the effect of negative feedback.
Employees will feel as if you have used the positive reinforcement as a means to soften the blow and won't focus on the behaviors you want them to repeat.
If your call center agent has done an outstanding job dealing with a difficult customer on the phone, praise them for that. You don't need to give them a constructive feedback comment on what they could have done better. If you do need to discuss areas of improvement, schedule that conversation for another time.
When you do deliver negative feedback, you have to be tactful and consider the employee’s feelings. This can feel far from your mind if you are having a challenging day yourself.
Stresses and strains have a habit of shortening tempers, and if you are feeling in a bad mood, your criticism may become less constructive than it should be.
Try to arrange meetings to discuss mistakes and improvements at a time you know you are less likely to be frustrated or flustered. Get into the right headspace to see the discussion from the employee’s view. It is vital that they feel you are interested in making them a better, more productive worker rather than basking in the opportunity to flex your managerial muscles.
Think about your phrasing and language. For example:
“Joe, thank you for sitting down with me for this discussion. The goal here is to look at how we can give our callers more, and make sure they feel they have received the very best service. Let’s explore a few points to focus on that can help each customer end their call with a smile on their face, okay?”
The above example is friendly, focuses on the positive outcome of the constructive criticism and highlights your reasons for pointing out mistakes they may have made.
4. Don't focus on recognizing results only
No matter which industry a manager is in, too often we get trapped into the bad habit of recognizing results and not what the person did to obtain them.
This is understandable. As a manager, your focus is often on the bottom line and keeping the call center running at its best. You spend a lot of time assessing employees’ results and how they contribute to your overall success.
However, the reality is that your workforce is made up of people. They each have their own thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and fears. Completing a task may be more difficult for one individual than for another, and praise can help to make them feel their effort was truly worth it.
Remembering that is key when thinking about how to give quality feedback in your call center. When delivering positive employee feedback, make sure you are articulating the effort and behavior and not the results which are often out of the employee's control. Recognize that the individual performed at an exceptional level and has demonstrated their abilities to a high standard.
"Alison, I think your presentation impressed the client. We might have a shot at securing this new contract."
By keeping this in mind, you are still acknowledging the work that Alison put in and that it is worthy of recognition, even if the call center does not get the new business. In this example, Alison’s presentation may not secure the client’s custom, but it still represents your company and team brilliantly.
This will only do positive things for your reputation and may lead the prospective client to recommend you to others in the future. If Alison’s presentation did not win the contract, her manager should thank her again and emphasize that other factors beyond her presentation contributed to the client’s decision.
5. Recognize how the behavior made a positive impact
If you are struggling with how to give quality feedback in your call center, ask yourself these questions about the employee:
- How has the employee made your life easier?
- How has the employee helped the team or call center as a whole?
- In what ways has the employee gone above and beyond their job description?
Once you can answer these questions, you will be able to identify the positive ways the employee's work is affecting you, the team and the organization. Think about the benefits they bring to the call center and their colleagues carefully, and prepare a few positive examples you can point to while delivering praise.
"Olivia, I'm glad to know that our team can rely on you in a time of crisis like this. It gives me peace of mind to know you are here and how much you care about the team and the call center as a whole."
In this instance, Olivia is made aware that she is reliable, helps to make your job easier and is a point of stability in your busy environment. You would also be drawing attention to her commitment to her colleagues, and showing that you recognize how she has performed beyond what her contract may specify.
6. Back up feedback with evidence
Using call recording software gives you support when providing feedback, good or bad.
If an agent receives a call from a difficult customer who clearly has an ax to grind, the way in which they handle it can have a serious impact on the caller’s view of the company. Agents are expected to remain neutral, be helpful and represent the company as best they can regardless of how insulting a caller may be.
This is much easier said than done. Many people might struggle to bite their tongue if someone were to launch a verbal assault at them, but being able to do so is the mark of a good agent.
If an employee has received such a challenging call from a disgruntled customer, play the recording back to highlight good or bad areas. Did the agent say something that worsened the situation? Did they manage to calm the caller down and leave them in a positive mood?
Praise the positive aspects, and role-play to explore improvements on negatives. For example:
“John, your tone of voice here and your sincere apology on behalf of the company clearly set the customer at ease. You followed procedure and never rose to their attempts to trigger an emotional response. We will use this call in future training sessions.”
7. Realize that feedback is a two-way street
Your employees have their own thoughts and opinions on working in your call center. They are the core resource and perform vital work every day.
While you should provide feedback on a regular basis to guide your workforce’s development, you must invite employees’ feedback too. This is a big part of knowing how to give quality feedback in your call center.
Let employees know it is okay to be specific. Are there any factors that make their work more frustrating or complicated than it could be? Are your systems too convoluted and cumbersome? Do they feel undervalued and disrespected?
You should invite employees to provide feedback in an honest way, whenever they like. They experience the call center and working processes in a different way to managers, and their insights can make a powerful positive impact.
Be willing to offer praise and responses to feedback too. For example:
“Melissa, thank you for your well-reasoned insights into how our software needs updating and improving. We are currently discussing options and plan to overhaul the system soon. This will help us all to work to a better standard and save time in the future.”
Your employees will feel that their opinion is valued and matters. Critiquing the way in which the call center works takes courage, and individuals should be rewarded for that.
By following these seven simple strategies on how to give quality feedback in your call center, you will have a more motivated and focused workforce. Your employees will experience greater job satisfaction, and as a result, your team will increase productivity and work together like a well-oiled machine, thus making the time to be more conscientious and regular with your feedback entirely worthwhile.