Feedback is a gift - are you giving enough?
By Anne Nickerson, Vice President, Client Advocate
“Without a coach, people will never reach their maximum capabilities.”
- Bob Nardelli, CEO of Home Depot
Providing feedback is critical to successful communication and employee support for every call center manager. Our research and experience indicates that a balance of feedback, including a combination of monthly one-on-one’s, immediate coaching after a call, quality reviews and silent monitoring encourages employees to grow in their job. There are several important characteristics for feedback to be effective.
Feedback is best given as soon as the behavior has been observed. By not providing immediate feedback, it loses the impact, not to mention is more difficult to change over a long time period. Employees actually crave feedback that is given sincerely, along with the opportunity to rectify the behavior.
While call centers do have recording and playback capability, waiting weeks after the call can often cause more harm than good. One employee reinforced this concept perfectly when they said, “If I had known a month ago I was giving out incorrect information, I would have corrected it immediately. Now my team and I will get more calls from irate customers that received the wrong information, making it even more difficult to gain their confidence back. I’d rather hear about something I’m doing wrong, or right, immediately.”
Telling your employee, Cheryl, to “improve customer service” is non-specific and leaves her wondering what she can do to improve her service. Saying something like, “Cheryl, the customer did not receive your best service on your last call when your tone of voice became defensive and combative. The customer was more upset by end of the call, and likely will call back. Rather, when an upset customer comes on your line, take a deep breath, and think about how you can empathize, by saying something like, ‘I can only imagine how difficult it has been for you with a new baby and mounting bills.’ Saying this will let the customer know you understand their issue, and will calm them down to partner with you to find solutions.”
Likewise, just saying “Great job on that last call!” has little impact, because the representative does not know what was done well or how to replicate the experience. Rather, let the representative know exactly what made it a great call. For example, “Sherri, you did a wonderful job on that last call when you immediately took ownership of a complex situation. When you said, ‘I will absolutely look at every invoice and determine where the error is and correct it immediately.’ You could hear the customer relax, and he calmed down immediately.”
Constructive, Not Constrictive
Employees need to hear both positive feedback about what they are doing well, along with areas for change and opportunity. Constructive feedback, especially when a behavior needs to be corrected, inflates the morale of the representative as it demonstrates how they can become more successful.
Be sure to focus the feedback on the behavior, not the person. If you said, “You did a horrible disservice to the customer by giving them inaccurate information,” you are focusing on the person rather than the behavior. By changing it to, “Your customer could have received better service if you had looked into the knowledge base and found the correct information,” you are focusing on the behavior and how to correct the behavior while still being realistic about the impact on the customer.
Some employees would rather hear feedback in private-perhaps in your office, the employee’s office, or in a conference room. You want to be viewed as being supportive of them and treating them fairly. By respecting the dignity of the individual, they are more likely be receptive to changing or correcting a behavior. When you implement an effective coaching program, employees will recognize that everyone is treated the same and all can learn from both positive and constructive feedback. This recognition will result in employees becoming more comfortable to receiving feedback that is both public and private.
When an individual is trying to change a behavior, it often doesn’t happen the first time they try to make the change. It is at this moment that it is even more important to be supportive, coaching them along the way until they master the behavior, and then congratulating them when you observe them doing it right several times to reinforce their hard work and consistency. Often, individuals are expecting to hear something they did wrong, so they often don’t hear you giving them praise and reinforcement. Therefore, it is important to reinforce good behaviors many times over, and even publicly to demonstrate to others that you value the positive contributions made by each member of your team.
Keeping Track of Feedback
Too often, feedback becomes an “annual event” such as during performance reviews or bonus time. Making feedback a normal, everyday occurrence is far more effective than just “annually”. By giving feedback often every month, and tracking progress, employees have an opportunity to know exactly where they stand, have the option to make changes, and can even find additional ways to be more successful.
By tracking both constructive and positive feedback frequently and more often, it is easier as a manager to create a collective appraisal and there are no surprises when meeting with employees for an annual review. Whether an electronic or paper file, having a tracking system with copies given to employees along the way makes feedback developmental and keeps employees engaged in their own progress.
Be Open to Feedback from Employees
The people around you who interface with customers all day long will have many ideas for how to improve processes, work flow and technology. A fundamental characteristic of a good leader is to have the humility to ask for and receive feedback and focus on those ideas to improve. By simply asking the question, “What ideas do you have to improve customer satisfaction?” and then graciously responding with “thank you,” you will encourage employees to offer feedback and be grateful for the feedback they receive from you.
Most importantly, when you implement ideas received from employees, recognize and praise them for their input and help. Feedback is a gift, no matter who gives or receives it. When employees see that you value giving and receiving feedback, your chances of improved business results is exponential. The currency of success is based on the quality, frequency and openness of an organization to give positive and constructive feedback throughout all levels of the business.