The Points are Not the Point! It May be Time to Rethink Your Feedback

by Jean Marie Johnson
 

Here's the scene: You’re in a coaching session with Tamara, an agent on your team. You're excited about meeting with her, because you've got some good news to share. It goes something like this:

  • Tamara:  So, how'd I do?
  • You:  Great, in fact, I'm happy to tell you that after listening to the call you submitted, you did great on the Make a Connection Step, Tamara!
  • Tamara: Awesome…so did I get all of the points?
  • You: You sure did.  And in the Act Professionally Step, I gave you….
And so on. You know the drill. If you think this session is going pretty well, or if it sounds like a conversation you have had, we understand. After all, it IS great when we are able to 'give all of the points.' And, everyone wants to be 'exceptional,' to 'get' all 33 of the MAGIC® points.

But, a little reality check: if your coaching has become a conversation about points given and points taken away, we'd like you to pause and reconsider just what those highly-desirable 'points' are really all about…and the value you can add when you begin to see them a little differently….

A Point is Not a Point; It's an Assessment

A 'point,' or a 'point given' is in fact an assessment of a skill demonstrated to standard. In other words, when we use the much sought-after phrase "I gave you the point," what we really mean is this: "You demonstrated this skill in such a way that it meets the MAGIC standard." When we determine whether or not this has happened, we make an informed decision. This informed decision is of course, our perception. Case in point: Gustav. You listen to one of Gustav's call and this is what you hear:

  • Gustav: "Mrs. Larson, that must have been a very nerve-wracking experience for you!"  Empathy words= point given. Empathy tone=point given: 2 Points.

You then listen to another of Gustav's calls and you hear this:

  • Gustav: "Mrs. Larson- that- must- have- been- a- very nerve-wracking- experience for you."  Empathy words= point given. Empathy tone=point not given: 1 Point.

If you met with Gustav and simply imparted your assessment, he wouldn't know anything more than your perception that he earned both points in the first example, and that he did not earn a point for tone in the second. It's pretty clear…as far as it goes, that is. But you might as well tell him that he is batting a 250 on empathy. There is nothing that Gustav can learn or act on in this points-based feedback.


Now, back to your agent, Tamara. She was feeling 'awesome' about hearing that she scored all points in the Make a Connection section of her call. And of course she feels that way, after all, she now knows that you assessed that she demonstrated the Make a Connection skills to standard. What she doesn't know is why. In other words, she doesn't know exactly what she said, what she did, and how those demonstrated skills warranted an 'awesome' assessment from you. Just like Gustav.

There is Another Way: Coach to Skills, Not to Points
By now, you are probably getting the point. As a Coach, it feels great to tell an agent that they are doing a wonderful job. But let's face it, that's the easy part. And if you leave it at that, it's anyone’s guess as to whether or not she can repeat this performance—because an assessment that focuses on points misses the point, because it's not really helpful. On the other hand, an assessment, in the form of feedback that focuses on specific, observable behaviors becomes coaching that Tamara and Gustav can learn from and act on.

So let's regroup a bit, beginning with a definitional check:
  • Behaviors are what people do, what they say, and how
  • Skills are abilities that comes from training or practice

If your goal is to encourage an agent, such as Tamara, to continue to use specific skills, you need to be able to tell her in painstakingly specific terms the behaviors she used—the what, and how she used them. By being clear and specific, Tamara knows what to do next time to earn that coveted 'point.' On the other hand, if your goal is to discourage an agent, Gustav, from using a flat tone, and to help him to express a warm and compassionate tone, you need to be prepared to communicate these three things in your feedback session:

  • Your Gut Impression: "Gustav, my impression is that your tone wasn't really caring.”
  • Observed Behaviors: "I say this because it sounded flat and mechanical to me due to your pacing and lack of inflection."
  • Alternative Behaviors: "One suggestion I would make is to speak at your natural pace instead of speeding up when you empathize. You might also try (yes, 'try' as in 'experiment with') making your voice go up in the syllables of key words. Something like…"(model this for him).

Commit to Coaching and Feedback that Makes a Difference

See the difference? Coaching isn't about doling out points. The points are the starting point, if you will, for a meaningful conversation about behaviors, skills, and expressing the MAGIC Standard. So, if you are serious about supporting, encouraging and developing the ability of your agents to express this standard in their customer interactions, there are four things you can do:

  • Become a master of The 33 Best Practice MAGIC skills (aka 'points')
  • Develop your ability to observe and capture the behaviors your agents express in their customer interactions
  • Practice creating feedback that includes your gut reaction, observed behaviors and alternative behaviors
  • Rethink the MAGIC score, or points you 'give;' remember that they are the tip of the iceberg, the conversation-starter for a meaningful coaching and feedback session.

A Contact Center Moment

Now that you may be thinking somewhat differently about points, and the substance of your feedback, let's take a look at a scene that happens rather frequently in contact centers. A fellow Supervisor or Team Lead—let’s call her Beth—approaches you to tell you about a conversation she overheard between one of your agents, Tracy, and a customer. The scene plays out something like this:

  • Beth: "When you have a minute, I need to talk to you…."
  • You: "Sure, what’s up, Beth?"
  • Beth: "Are you having any problems with Tracy lately?"
  • You: "What do you mean, 'problems?'"
  • Beth: "Well, you should have heard her today. I was walking by her station when I heard her being really rude to a customer."
Now, the points-focused you might respond by saying: "Really? I wonder what’s up with that.  I’ll talk to her…"

But the behaviors-focused you would say: "Really? What did you hear?"

And now you have opened the door to exploring and understanding Beth's perception in a way that can be helpful to Tracy. And after all, isn't that the point?

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
 
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