5 Points for Effective Contact Center Agent Feedback

woman playing guitar as play on contact center agent feedback

5 Points for Effective Contact Center Agent Feedback

One definition of feedback from the Cambridge dictionary is “the sudden, high, unpleasant noise sometimes produced by an amplifier when sound it produces is put back into it: Jimi Hendrix loved to fling his guitar around to get weird and wonderful sounds from the feedback.” Jimi Hendrix and his guitar virtuosity aside, we are focusing on their business use of the word feedback: information about something such as a new product or someone’s work, that provides an idea of whether people like it or whether it is good: In particular, this is about providing quality feedback to customer service agents that improves performance and company culture. Agents learning to perform at the industry comparable level of a guitar legend is supported by effective contact center agent feedback.

Feedback is Wanted

Have you ever found out you had something in your teeth hours after eating when you looked in the mirror? You talked to multiple people but no one said anything about that glaring piece of spinach. People want feedback more than they actually give it. According to 2022 studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this gap is especially wide in workplace situations. As a leader, ask yourself if any of the following reasons are preventing you from giving feedback:

  • underestimating the desirability of feedback
  • discomfort in giving feedback
  • fear of negative reception

From one of the authors of the study: “Even if you feel hesitant to give feedback, we recommend you give it: the person most likely wants it more than you think,” Abi-Esber told PsyPost.  “Secondly, if you’re still hesitant about giving feedback, take a second and imagine you were in the other person’s shoes, and ask yourself if you would want feedback if you were them.  Most likely you would, and this realization can help empower you to give them feedback.”

Not all contact center agent feedback is equal though. The quality, timbre and focus of the feedback matter. 

Feedback isn’t cut and dry because people aren’t. Striking the right balance for your company is key. Consider using the following nuanced elements to up your feedback game. 

1) Empathy and Expectation

The way in which feedback is given has a significant impact on how it is received and acted upon. The empathy you show your agents impacts the empathy they bring to customers. Make an effort to understand the unique and challenging role your agents play in your business. Appreciate their contributions, hear their concerns, but balance empathy with professional expectation.

A study on the impact of leader agreeableness, Constructive feedback: When leader agreeableness stifles team reflexivity, revealed it negatively impacts team performance and growth. Agreeableness, or the character trait of prioritizing being pleasing or likable over being seen as demanding or harsh, is found effective in relational aspects of the workplace but not in performance aspects. The study found that constructive feedback from agreeable leaders made less of an impression because it didn’t cause workers to reflect on their own performance. That reflection is a catalyst to improvement.

This isn’t to advocate harshness, but clarity. Critical feedback with an overly positive tone is confusing. Be clear about the results you want to see and make sure your agents know where they are excelling, which leads to the next point.

2) Positive and Negative Contact Center Agent Feedback

It isn’t simply about doling out positive feedback alongside the negative. They do not have equal impact.

It’s amazing how one nasty comment can eclipse multiple positive ones. This human tendency of negativity bias has shown the brain devotes more mental energy toward processing negative stimuli. 

The intent of agent feedback is to use acknowledgement of poor performance to create reflexivity and positive change. One tool for doing that is to balance the bad with the good. 

Studies have found the best ratio of positive to negative feedback for improved performance is 5 to 1. Acknowledge agent accomplishments and examples of stellar service. Also identify the day to day things agents have been doing well that you want them to continue doing well.

Negative statements yield a stronger blow, but positive ones keep people doing what they are best at and improving it.  

3) Focus on Future Performance

Consider the effects of focusing on the future. The 2020 study, “The future of feedback: Motivating performance improvement through future-focused feedback” (abstract available on the National Library of Medicine)’ found the focus on future performance creates greater agreement between giver and recipient. 

In the study recipients tend to attribute positive feedback to their own efforts/abilities. By contrast, they tend to attribute negative feedback to external factors. The givers of feedback tend to attribute both positive and negative outcomes to the worker’s attributes. These biases cause disagreement and feedback rejection. The study found that focusing on future rather than past performance was the top predictor of both feedback acceptance and motivation to improve. 

What is past cannot be changed, but the future is not yet written. The agent’s ability to write their future performance is empowering. Identify the results you desire for your business in the future and how your agents factor into it. Ask your agents what growth they would like to see for themselves. Work together to develop a plan to get there. 

4) Avoid Overwhelm and Embarrassment

Agents are expected to learn and retain a myriad of information: company policies, product information, dashboard operation, ticket protocols, customer details, empathetic language. Hitting them with too much at once reduces retention and creates negative feelings. 

The way we learn in business is impacted by shifts society-wide. Take a tip from this Harvard Business article that reflects on the tendency toward short form learning with platforms like Youtube and bingeable content like Netflix.  Consider making agent training available in bite sized amounts, easy to digest and interesting. 

People learn at different rates and in different ways. Though you can’t accommodate every learning style, you can create an environment where agents feel they can ask for clarity if they need it without embarrassment. That clarity may be the difference between a high and low NPS score. 

5) Employ Technology to Reduce Bias

This is not to go back on everything already discussed. Human to human feedback is important. It builds company culture and connection and when identifying strengths it encourages them. However, one of the biggest hurdles in human feedback is bias. Humans are not consistently reliable in rating other humans.  

This is where technology is helpful. AI based tools are built on substantive data and able to parse that data in ways that were impossible before. Though not immune to bias, these tools can reduce unconscious biases and if biases are uncovered, label them and the AI learns to identify them.  AI helps agents by guiding them in real time and giving feedback on an even field. In turn, AI helps management by taking on some of the feedback burden and helping identify problems before they become major issues. 

CSAT.AI provides real time feedback to customer service agents, automatically scoring customer service engagements on empathetic language and whether or not a customer query has been answered. With the right feedback, your contact center agents can hit the right pitch for your business.

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