What Is Effective Feedback?

By Glenn Pasch

An article in the December 2009 issue of T&D magazine (put out by the American Society for Training & Development) states that in a survey of more than 3,600 employees:

  • 66 percent said they have too little interaction with their bosses
  • 53 percent indicated that when their bosses praised them, they received too little information to repeat their performance
  • 65 percent stated that when their bosses criticized them, they were not given sufficient information to correct the problem

In simple terms, this means that two out of three managers do not interact on a consistent basis with their teams; when they do, over half of them give only brief feedback, such as “Great job”; and two out of three give vague feedback, such as “Pick up your numbers.”

In my years of training frontline call center supervisors, I’ve repeatedly had to address these same issues.  The following is a condensed version of a seminar topic I teach on “Effective Feedback.”

How many times have your call center agents heard one of the following?

  • “Keep it going.”
  • “Your numbers are dropping — let’s get it rolling.”
  • “You’re killing it today.”
  • “Come on, I know you can do better than that.”
  • “Nice!”
  • “Come on, what was that?  Unbelievable!”
  • “That’s what I expect.”
  • “Last month we missed our sales goal. This month we need to knock it out!”

How is the agent supposed to apply this type of feedback? Let’s first address the “Good job; keep it up” feedback.  My first response to the supervisor giving that information is, “What is ‘it’?  Could you be more specific?”

This leads to my first point: All feedback must be specific.  Maybe the supervisor could have said, “Great job; you are speaking clearly and waiting until the person finishes speaking before you continue – keep that up.” That is something that agents can comprehend and repeat.  It is a tangible action that can be taken.  There is no misunderstanding, no “Oh, I thought you meant something else.”

This leads to my second point: All feedback must be something the person can do. As a helpful hint for this point, when considering how to give feedback, if you cannot demonstrate how to do it, then you are not being clear enough.

This type of feedback makes follow-up easier.  The person either will be doing it or not. If he is, then again compliment him, as this locks in the behavior and he will continue to achieve results. If he is not doing what you require, it will be easy to get him back on track as long as you are specific about what you expect him to do.

Now, let’s look at saying, “I need you to pick up your numbers.” My first reply to the supervisor would be, “How could they pick up their numbers?  Did the numbers fall on the floor?”  I am not trying to be sarcastic; I just present it in such a way that the supervisor is able to realize what she actually is saying versus what she really may mean.

What she could say instead is, “I need you to listen to what the customer is asking so you can provide the correct information.  This way you will not drop so many calls and get frustrated. This will lead you to close more sales.” Again, in this case, the feedback is specific and includes something actionable that the employee can do.

A word of caution is warranted here.  Managers and supervisors can be lulled into a dangerous comfort zone when their teams are achieving the results they expect.  They do not dig into why their agents are getting results. They are happy to be hitting their numbers, and they assume it will just continue.  Successful people need to understand what they do to get results, so that they can repeat that behavior.

When providing feedback, make sure to spend time anchoring the proper behavior among your top people.  Make them aware of what they do to get results so they can repeat that behavior.  This way, if their performance drops for any reason, you can see what they are doing, match it against what they previously did, and see where they may be cutting corners. That way, it should be easy to get them back on track.

I have been asked what percentage of supervisor time should be dedicated to the top performers. That depends on other factors, but I suggest that at least 40 percent of supervisors’ training time should be spent with their top people.  Keeping them focused and performing is what will make their organization successful.

Glenn Pasch is the president of Improved Performance Solutions, 732-261-5472, which, among other things, offers call center training programs.

[From Connection Magazine April 2010]

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