Agent Motivation

The Praise-Criticism Ratio You Should Be Using With Your Agents

If managing front-line customer service teams were easy, all the major trend lines—morale, performance, and customer satisfaction—would continuously rise.

But most contact centers don’t see results like these.

It’s not for a lack of determination or effort. As a contact center leader, you probably spend your days trying to bridge the gap between what you know you should be doing and what’s actually possible on a daily basis. The more limited your resources, the more that gap seems to widen.

In this post, we’re going to tackle one of those “should do’s” in the contact center: making sure every agent gets positive and negative feedback in the right balance, each and every day. We’ll explain why it’s so important to get feedback ratios right, and how you can make the ideal a daily reality.

Your Praise-to-Criticism Ratio Should Be Your #1 Concern

According to a 2004 performance management study, the single greatest influence on team effectiveness is the ratio of positive to negative feedback given by supervisors. The most successful teams studied averaged 5.6 positive remarks for every critique; the least successful averaged just 0.36 positive for every bit of negative feedback.


A little criticism goes a long way

This outcome makes sense, if you consider how the human brain processes positive and negative reinforcement. The promise of recognition or rewards for a job well done drives us to do more of what works for us. Criticism inhibits us; we do what we can to avoid it, but it doesn’t stimulate the desire to elevate performance.

This isn’t to say that criticism isn’t essential to managing performance in the contact center. If certain behaviors are alienating customers, supervisors need to step in right away to help agents correct course.   

But when agents hear more bad news than anything else, they not only come to fear and loathe the messenger, but also lose heart—along with the desire to help advance larger brand goals.

How to Make the 5:1 Ideal a Reality

The good news is, you don’t need an army of managers and 37 hours in the day to achieve the 5:1 feedback ratio. You just need real-time visibility into your agents’ performance and a few simple feedback mechanisms you may already have in place.

Identify the Right Opportunities

To find enough of the right kind of customer interactions, nothing beats having access to a steady stream of representative, timely performance data, along with the ability to mine the data for opportunities to praise great service and address performance problems.

We’re not talking about managers or QA leaders dropping in on random calls (inefficient), or about platforms that flag key words and phrases (devoid of context).

What you need is your customers’ perspective on service quality, which they’re eager to provide. A front-line, high-response VoC survey platform will allow you to see ratings and comments at a glance and filter the stream for any number of brand-specific or performance criteria.

With this kind of feedback loop in place, you can easily achieve the 5:1 ratio. You can also tailor your approach to individual agents, and keep them engaged and motivated—even when the news is bad.

Deliver Feedback Through Multiple Channels

Once you have all the data you need, and you know exactly when and how to intervene, how are you supposed to pull every agent aside at least six times a day?

The short answer is, you’re not. Few contact centers are equipped to handle this kind of workload. Fortunately, there are easier ways to get agents’ attention and give them the support they need.

  • Send an email. You can either email the agent directly or, if you want to recognize the agent publicly for great customer service, you can send a group email. Some of our clients compile the best of the best feedback their agents receive each day and send out an email blast promoting those winning behaviors.
  • Use an instant messaging channel (e.g., Slack). Slack is terrific for managing customer service teams, and it’s a lifesaver for managing remote teams. Give a quick shout-out for a terrific five-star review, or reach out to agents privately to offer help in solving a customer issue or performance issue.
  • Enlist agents in the effort. By placing leaderboards throughout the contact center, you’ll empower agents to encourage and support each other. You’ll also drive friendly competition. This peer-to-peer influence won’t replace feedback from managers, but it will motivate agents to self-correct and improve over time, thus alleviating the performance management burden.   

Performance Management and Employee Engagement: Winning Brands Excel at Both

An overly negative approach to performance management sinks employee engagement and sabotages business goals. The correlation is direct and profound. To take your brand to the next level, you must have buy-in and enthusiasm on the front line. A 5:1 feedback ratio is a good place to start.

If you want to know more about how to manage performance for better brand health and ROI, here are several related resources we think you’ll find helpful:

Blog post: 29 Customer Service Training and Coaching Tips
Case study: How Williams-Sonoma Leverages Stella Connect to Optimize Coaching and QA and Drive Cost Savings Across Its Contact Center