Featured Image for the blog: How Constructive Feedback Spurs Better Agent Performance: Three Steps to Share Empowering Feedback with Your Team and Improve Customer Service

Positive feedback builds momentum toward positive performance. Some 69% of people say they’d work harder if they got more recognition. And, another 78% of people say positive recognition is a key motivator at work.

Positivity and recognition are important. They tap into your agents’ intrinsic motivation. But, positivity alone doesn’t drive high performance. If positive feedback is all an agent or team hears, you can expect diminishing returns.

Positive feedback served up without constructive feedback that challenges agents to do better can make your agents complacent. Or worse, it can cause agents to doubt your leadership and guidance.

Without sharing feedback from both sides of the coin, you run the risk of creating a team that does the bare minimum to get by. Not one that looks to improve for your customers after every interaction.

Withholding constructive criticism can make agents feel anxious, like you’re keeping them in the dark from your real opinions. Or, it may give off the perception that their job really isn’t very important. Not important enough to warrant improving or coaching, at least.

While you might think negative feedback will crush morale and agent performance, it, in fact, does the opposite.

Sharing constructive criticism empowers your agents to own their roles and performance.

Negative feedback guides empowerment, according to an article from the Harvard Business Review.

“Negative feedback is important when we’re heading over a cliff to warn us that we’d really better stop doing something horrible or start doing something we’re not doing right away.”

Not only that, but some 92% of people think providing negative feedback is a helpful way to improve performance. Plus, some 83% of employees really appreciate receiving feedback – whether good or bad.

Sharing constructive criticism with your team and challenging each of your agents to do their best work is equally as important as praise.

But even the most well-intentioned criticism can destroy a manager-agent relationship if you don’t share it the right way. Handle your negative feedback with care or risk stifling agent confidence and autonomy.

We’re sharing three tips to guide your negative feedback, so you can give agents empowering advice to propel them (and your customers) forward.

Want more proof on why feedback and a better employee experience matter? Get 15 reasons why your agents’ engagement and empowerment matter to customers.

Three Tips for Negative Feedback that Empowers

  1. Focus your feedback. Keep in mind the 5:1 praise-to-criticism ratio and identify the one thing that needs attention when you give feedback. To help, take pulse of your agents’ performance regularly. If you’re only paying attention when you’ve scheduled a last-minute coaching session, (because where did the day/week/month/quarter go?) you’ll only be able to reference a few days’ worth of performance. If that.
  2. Be specific and actionable. Vague feedback isn’t helpful. And, from your agent’s perspective, it’s open to interpretation. Feedback that lacks detail can come across as half-hearted, impersonal, and non-urgent. It’s feedback for the sake of feedback. Instead, focus on helping your agent know exactly where to change their approach. Create a strategy to improve together. And then give actionable tips to boost efficiency or effectiveness. Through collaborative coaching, you’ll build loyalty and amp up your agent’s confidence to do the job you trust them to do.
  3. Emphasize the why, and the bigger picture. (This point goes for positive feedback, as well.) It’s one thing to tell an agent something specific they could improve on—be it a skill, attitude, or behavior. But it’s another to make it clear why the tweak/change is worth the effort. Negative feedback comes across as more collaborative (and less punitive) when paired with a compelling why.

Ask yourself what kind of impact the recommended change can have on your agent and company. Then connect it with something bigger than the manager-employee relationship or metrics/numbers. If you can’t link it to something bigger, like your agent experience, customer experience, or brand reputation, then it may be time to return to tip number one and choose a different (more meaningful) battle.

Turns out, too, your agents are more engaged and perform better on the job (without a nudge from you) when you connect them to a larger cause. See why your employees crave a connection to a bigger purpose.

Your agents can’t grow without a dose of constructive criticism

Negative feedback is a crucial component of agent growth and development. It’s also an essential piece of good management and helps keep agents sharp enough to continue accommodating customers’ ever-rising expectations.

Don’t fear sharing your constructive truths with your team. It’s just part of doing business. And when it’s delivered the right way—when it’s specific, actionable, and clearly connected to something bigger than mere performance metrics—it can be transformative, leading to more empowered, efficient, and effective agents.

Want more detail on how to give actionable and relevant feedback? Head over to your call center manager playbook for better coaching in your contact center.


We originally published this post on June 12, 2018, and we updated it with new insight on August 28, 2019.