As a contact center leader, you will know the importance of feedback to help your agents continuously learn and improve their work. Truly effective contact centers recognize that agent development should continue to occur even long after initial call center training, and that constructive feedback and coaching should be a part of the entire employee lifecycle.
Many management development programs teach the basics of giving great feedback, but choosing the right method of doing so can often be difficult – and actually getting results from that feedback can be even harder.
Here are some straightforward feedback tips you can start using right now to shake up the way that you give constructive feedback, engage with the development needs of your reports and ensure that you’re consistently acting as a driver for exceptional quality within your center.
Show, Don’t Tell
Asking your agents to reflect on their own interactions is often a very effective way to get the message through. Many agents take pride in their work and can be often more critical about their own work than you would be, so take advantage of this.
This method works especially well for call center QA reviews, where you can pre-prepare some examples of conversations you want to give feedback on, and focus on the areas where you think some learning could occur.
In your QA review meetings, ask your agent to look at or listen to the interaction, thinking about what went well or not so well in four areas:
- Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Was language used positive? Was tone appropriate? Were their thoughts and feelings acknowledged and adapted to?
- Was the interaction professional in terms of established conventions in your center – such as the greeting, the closing statements, hold or escalation processes, any survey offering, or any other mandatory requirements?
- Was the right information given? Was it enough for the customer? Could any more detail or information have been useful?
- What else could you have done? Were there any alternatives which could be offered? Were there any opportunities to go above and beyond?
Give your agent time to make some notes or collect their thoughts and ask them what they thought about each area. Often the agent will be able to see areas to develop if you are able to lead them in the right direction to think about these areas in detail. Make sure you are using high-quality questions throughout, such as “Tell me what you thought about…”, “How did you feel about…” to encourage your agent to open up as much as possible.
This method is great for… encouraging agents who are quiet and don’t contribute much in feedback sessions to open up and engage critically with their work.
Challenge Ingrained Behavior
Many of us hope that when we’re giving constructive feedback, the person who it has been given to will take it on board and act upon it. However, some agents will agree with feedback given while they are in the room with you, but carry on using the same old behaviors anyway.
There can be several reasons for this. Either, agents just don’t agree with the feedback given, or see why it’s important. They might feel threatened, worried or unclear about how they can actually make a change. And we all know ourselves that unless we really believe in and are committed to a goal, we are unlikely to actually make changes – consider the amount of New Year’s resolutions made each year that don’t last.
It’s important to realize that every behavior has a positive intent – that is, for everything a person says and does, there will be a positive factor behind it for them, even if that intent is simple self-preservation.
In order to get your agents bought in to making the changes you need, you need to drill down to what intent is driving the way a person acts at the moment, emphasise the negative consequences of this, and propose a more appealing option. (If you can’t think of any ways in which the option you’re proposing is more appealing, perhaps you might want to think about whether it is such a good option after all.)
Questions you can consider asking to get to the bottom of this are:
- What is it about [this behavior] that makes you keep doing it?
- What are the advantages of carrying on doing it?
- What are the disadvantages?
- What would your work look like if you carried on doing this?
- What would your work look like if you stopped doing this?
- What advice would you give to someone else in your exact position?
Asking questions like this will help you to understand the roots of a behavior. It also gives your agent a chance to critically examine why they act the way they act, open up conversation about the real issues underlying a problem, and allow you both to collaborate on a plan of action that gets both of you what you need.
This method is great for… changing stubborn behavioral issues that just don’t seem to shift.
Harness Creative Thinking to Create Solutions to Problems
“How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself so always think positively”– Norman Vincent Peale
Often, even where an agent agrees that a change is needed, they might not know exactly how to make that change. You can facilitate a brainstorming exercise here to explore the different possibilities an agent has to make a successful change, or achieve a goal.
Once you and your agent have worked to figure out an outcome they would like to achieve, ask them to draw on a piece of paper, in bubbles, the following headings:
- Tasks and things to do
- Resources needed
- Solutions to overcoming obstacles
- Other people who could help
- Reasons to involve other people
Ask them to spend a solid five minutes brainstorming potential solutions, using each of these areas as a prompt. The key here is to ask them not to analyse or criticize anything they write – as soon as they think of any idea, get it straight out on paper. It doesn’t matter how outlandish or silly an idea is, they should write it down. Sometimes the best ideas come from pure creativity, and creativity isn’t critical.
By looking at a problem is a new way, you can lead your agents to discover solutions and resources they didn’t previously consider were available to them. Harnessing creative thinking can be a great way to drive development, and by looking at an issue in a fresh way, help others to realise the wealth of potential help they have all around them.
This method is great for… agents who reply “I don’t know” when you ask them how they could achieve a goal.
Build a Development Culture
Giving feedback isn’t easy, but tracking the progress of your reports in acting on feedback can be even harder. SMART goal setting is a common way to set a goal and the conditions through which it can be realised, but many managers don’t follow through with tracking the progress of even a SMART goal.
Some of this can be down to setting clear expectations and opportunities to discuss as the goal is worked towards. Make it clear when goal setting that you’ll be interested in and connected to your agent’s progress, and don’t be afraid to drop into everyday conversation a quick enquiry into how your agent is working towards achieving their goal.
A quick check-in, using a phrase like “How are you getting on with [your goal]?” can go a long way towards giving your agent an opportunity to ask for any further help or support, while showing that continuous improvement is something that’s part of your everyday language.
This method is great for… building a long-term, truly effective feedback culture for your entire contact center.
Do you have any tips for ways to give great feedback, and helping agents to make changes which really stick? Let me know in the comments below.