Praise or Criticism? What Works Best?

It's a classic debate in the world of call center quality assessment (QA). Do you use QA to praise Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) so as to encourage them and build their self-esteem? Do you use QA to be critical and hold CSRs accountable to keep them honest? Is there a happy medium, and if so, where is it?

When giving seminars, I often use the word pictures of the "QA Nazi" (who uses QA as a means of beating CSRs into submission) and the "QA Hippie" (who uses QA to give CSRs smiley faces and make their world a "happier place") to represent the extremes on both sides of the spectrum.

My coworker recently forwarded an article to me from NY Times Magazine about some research that's being done on the power of praise and criticism with children. While the research focuses on parents and their children, I would submit that there are some lessons for us all to learn in the QA, training and coaching arena.

The most recent research is finding that undue praise can actually have a negative effect. Those who are constantly and generally praised tend to become more competitive, less motivated and less willing to put out effort towards improvement.

Does this mean that praise isn't important? Not at all. What the research is discovering is that praise is a powerful force when it is specific and sincere.

I'm sure the debate will never end, and I'm not sure that it should. A professor of mine said, "truth lies at the tension between the two extremes," and I've found it apt in many situations. Finding that right balance between praise and accountability is elusive, but one to which all QA teams should strive. 

I continually come back to a few key tenets:

  • Know what drives your customer's satisfaction, by asking them
  • Define specific, desirable behaviors that will meet & exceed those expectations
  • Measure those specific behaviors
  • Give consistent, honest, data-led feedback to CSRs telling them which behaviors they are consistently performing, and which behaviors theyare inconsistently demonstrating
  • Train and coach CSRs toward improvement
  • Praise CSRs for the specific, documented acheivements and improvements
  • Hold CSRs accountable for specific, documented lack of performance

  2 comments for “Praise or Criticism? What Works Best?

  1. June 18, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Honestly, this is the hardest thing for me. As much as I want to be a cheerleader and just do positive things, I have to really think about the call, how they handled it, and look at it critically.
    I think it’s a bit rougher when you’re in a small call center and you know everybody in it. You can’t think about when you know the CSR is sick or having problems: you have to look at the call from the customers POV. When I call a company, I run them through our QA process and see how they stack up. I’ve asked to speak to supervisors on both good and bad calls. I’ve been tempted a couple of times to ask for the QA supervisor, but have never done so. 🙂

  2. June 19, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for your comments, as always, Ann. It is hard to separate yourself and be objective when you know the CSR – even harder when you like them and consider them friends. But, effective QA requires objectivity and looking at calls from the customer’s POV.
    Thanks for leading by example, Ann!

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