Mastering the Art of Feedback
Continuous learning in the contact center relies on constant feedback. Whether this feedback is delivered by trainers during the first weeks on the job, by team leaders on a regular basis, or by quality specialists during call reviews, it is important that feedback be given consistently and effectively. To be most effective, feedback should be delivered in a manner that helps the receiver hear the message while keeping the relationship intact.
To accomplish feedback goals, the person delivering the feedback must keep in mind the Five Feedback Rules.
Rule 1. Show Consideration.
Feedback should consider the needs and feelings of everyone involved. One of the objectives of feedback is to help others, not to hurt them, so it’s important to do it with care. To show consideration when giving feedback, keep in mind these three guidelines:
Monitor Your Behavior. Pay attention to your own behavior while giving feedback. All of your attention should be directed to the communications taking place. Do not answer the phone, don’t fidget, maintain eye contact, and keep posture open.
Practice Active Listening. Listen for the content and the feeling of what the receiver says in response to your feedback. Verify that what you heard is what the other person meant by repeating it back to him or her in your own words. This is always important, but it is especially important during a feedback conversation.
Express Concern and Caring. At times you may want to explicitly express your concern and care for the receiver. “Your success is important to me and I’d like to talk to you about some of the obstacles that may be slowing down your progress.” Communicate with respect for the receiver. Choose your words carefully. Don’t engage in labeling or name-calling and offer feedback in the way you would want to receive it.
Rule 2. Withhold Judgment.
To make the feedback exchange as effective as possible, do not evaluate the behaviors in question, don’t assume intent, but do address the behaviors in a specific way.
Do Not Evaluate. Effective feedback should describe behavior, not evaluate it. For example, do say “The customer may have found it more useful if you had explained the process in more detail” rather than “You did a lousy job interacting with that last customer.” Feedback that evaluates behavior can feel like a personal attack to a receiver. People have a hard time hearing the real message if they feel defensive, angry, or vulnerable.
Do Not Assume Intent. Feedback should never include an interpretation of the behavior. For example, in a statement such as “You ignored the new technique we talked about last week,” it assumes there was a conscious decision not to do something. Instead, the statement of “That call was the perfect time to use the technique we talked about last week. I’m wondering why you didn’t use it” might be a better approach.
Do Describe Specific Behaviors. Feedback should describe specific, observable behavior. This can take the form of actions seen or words heard. Telling someone they did a good job with the customer is not as effective as saying, “That customer really appreciated it when you offered to check other alternatives for him.” Describing specific behaviors lets the receiver know exactly what behavior is being appreciated or discouraged. When offering feedback, describe specific behaviors that should be repeated or changed.
Rule 3. Deliver at an Appropriate Time.
Most of the literature on feedback states that the sender should deliver the message immediately after the behavior takes place or the next time the potential for recurrence exists. Whenever possible, this is the best approach. Immediate feedback means the behavior and the circumstances around it will be fresh. Both parties will have a clearer recollection of the events.
However, sometimes waiting is appropriate. For example, when you feel that either you or the receiver may lose emotional control, it may be best to talk another time. Emotions can cloud a person’s thinking and get in the way of hearing and understanding the message. But be sure that when you decide to postpone feedback, you are not just avoiding it. If you wait too long, you may store up a lot of issues and unload them all at once on the receiver. This can result in the receiver feeling attacked and unable to respond.
Another reason to postpone giving feedback is that the physical setting may not be appropriate. If you are in an open or public area, it may be an inappropriate time to provide feedback. Some people are embarrassed to receive feedback, even if it is positive, in front of others, so be sensitive about timing.
Feedback should be given and received only when both the sender and the receiver are mentally and emotionally ready. Feedback works best when the receiver can clearly hear the message. Some would argue that the receiver should be asked whether they would like to hear feedback. This assumes an ideal situation in which people ask for feedback and are ready to receive it.
Rule 4. Provide Freedom to Change (or Not).
The decision to change behavior rests solely with the receiver. Each individual has a personal style and it is important to acknowledge differences. When you give feedback, the recipient learns how his or her behavior affects you. Acknowledging differences sends the message that sameness is not the goal, but harmony is. The choice to act on the feedback or to ignore it belongs ultimately to the receiver. Therefore, let the person know of the consequences of improving, but also those for not changing.
You can’t demand that someone continue or suspend a behavior. If you do, be prepared for resistance, or permanent damage to the work relationship. It is up to each individual to listen to the feedback and make the decision to make changes or not.
Rule 5. Check for Clarity.
Sometimes the coach should check with the receiver to make sure the intended message matches the one received. This is particularly important when giving negative feedback or when emotions are running high. Remember that people perceive things differently. A receiver’s past experience with corrective feedback may cloud his or her ability to hear your feedback for what it is: you perception of certain behavior(s) and its effects on you. To ensure that the two of you are on the same track, you can ask him or her to repeat the information for you, or you can restate the feedback in a different way. Clarity always helps produce more favorable outcomes.