Employee recognition and reward change the game in your contact center

How to Strike the Perfect Balance Between Developmental and Motivational Feedback to Improve your agent and customer experience

You’re 30x more likely to actively engage your employees when you focus on their strengths. And, companies who implement regular feedback see turnover rates 14.9% lower than those who don’t.

Your agents’ performance and motivation ride on the feedback you give. But you have to strike the right balance of constructive and positive feedback to motivate your employees and keep your metrics on track.

It takes equal parts performance management and development, served with a side of employee recognition and reward.

You need to empower your employees and give them praise. But you still need to challenge them to deliver better service for your customers with every interaction.

Customer experience consultant Agnieszka Anna Jozwiak explains that the right combination of feedback builds confidence in your agents and pushes them to improve.

“Feedback should always come in two forms: motivational – this is about praising what went well and is intended to acknowledge success and build confidence; and developmental – this is about explaining what could have been done differently or better and is intended to build competence.”

Together, the two forms of feedback contribute to your agents’ holistic experience. It’s defined by the three E’s: efficiency, effectiveness, and empowerment. Motivational feedback is connected to agent empowerment, while developmental feedback can impact agent efficiency and effectiveness.

When it comes to motivational and developmental feedback, though, what should managers prioritize — agent effort or results?

When you put both types of feedback to use, you foster positive agent attitudes and effort, but you also drive positive business results.

It’s true no results come without effort. But, it’s also true that effort and results are not one in the same. Often times, your agents with the go-getter attitude might come up short because they need developmental feedback to hit their target results. And, your high-achievers might need to clock more time to keep peace with their teammates.

Both sides are crucial to your contact center and team success. Let’s dig into each type of feedback and why it matters.

Here’s the positive side of effort-based feedback.

  • Receiving positive feedback about observed effort empowers an agent. When you hand out this kind of praise, you recognize that effort and hard work is important. Even if that hard work doesn’t lead to meeting every KPI. It makes your agents feel valued and builds their confidence.
  • Positive, effort-based feedback helps build momentum—especially when the effort brings consistently successful outcomes.
  • Letting an agent know their effort is appreciated, even in the face of missed metrics, builds resilience and determination. And, it creates a safe environment where agents feel comfortable making their own decisions.

Here’s where too much of a good thing can go wrong.

  • Your agents can game the system for effort-based feedback. Or, it can lead agents to care too little about their metrics and the bigger picture – solving customer problems. If agents know they’ll get praise every time they make an effort, achieving positive business results won’t drive their performance standards. Sometimes, when people under-deliver they justify poor performance with the effort they put in. That’s not a behavior that will help you reach your contact center goals.
  • Praising effort can’t be a substitute for giving honest feedback around low performance. Tough conversations (around SLAs and KPIs, for example) still need to happen. Agents’ efficiency and effectiveness are mission-critical for your company’s reputation and bottom line.
  • Frequently praising effort can lead to agent burnout. When agents start to equate effort with results and try to constantly do more at work, burnout won’t be far around the corner.
Learn how employee recognition and reward motivates your team. Head to section 2 of Your Call Center Manager Playbook and How-to Guide for Better Coaching.

Here’s why you need to mix in results-based feedback to improve agent performance, too.

  • Results matter to everyone. Customers want to have quick and easy interactions. Agents want to provide real help. And managers want their teams to succeed. Not to mention your brand, your bottom line, and your stakeholders all depend on positive results. Coach your agents to achieve these positive results, and give them constructive feedback when their efforts fall short.
  • Results-based feedback is more objective than effort-based feedback, and often more actionable. When good agents want to get better, data-driven feedback creates a clear path for them to follow.
  • Since results largely speak for themselves, feedback is less likely to be taken personally. When feedback is connected to the customer experience and your company’s vision, it builds agent empowerment and confidence.

But, keep these potential setbacks in mind.

  • The line between results and abilities can blur. Results can change with effort and better coaching from a manager. But certain skill sets, like being a natural communicator and a people person, are often associated with distinct personality types. When you’re sharing feedback on results in certain areas, some agents may interpret your feedback as a “some have it, some don’t” sort of thing. Drawing these negative connections can make your agents feel defeated. When this happens, they experience learned helplessness and stop putting in effort on the job.
  • It can create unhealthy competition. Competition acts as a motivator in some cases, but if agents are put in a daily gladiator battle, team unity suffers. And, so does customer experience. Plus, constant scrutiny over results is extremely demotivating to employees who do put in tons of effort and get no recognition for it. Your agents look for regular, actionable feedback to help them grow. That growth will never come if you only nail down initiatives around KPIs and never praise their hard work.
  • It, too, can lead to burnout. For some agents, an intense focus on results can lead to anxiety and insecurity. On the other hand, if the bar keeps moving higher and higher with each made target, agents begin to feel like they’re chasing an uncatchable prize. Burnout almost always comes quickly after.
Want to help your agents steer clear of burnout? Learn 8 reasons for agent burnout – and how to avoid them. Read up on the tactics, here.

Now, time for a pop quiz. What feedback should you really focus on? Effort or results?

Answer: both.

Effort and results balance each other to bring your agents to equilibrium. Each type of feedback gives you a different lens to assess and assist your agents with more meaningful coaching.

Addressing either effort or results in a vacuum sends a confusing message to agents. By considering both effort and results, as well as how one impacts the other, you impact your agents’ holistic experience.

Now that you’re inspired to improve how you shell out feedback to your team, get a refresher on other important coaching methods, too.

Click to get our abbreviated guide with 29 tactics to coach your agents more efficiently, so they deliver standout experiences with every interaction.

We originally published this post on June 20, 2018, and we updated it on August 21, 2019.