In my experience, many things I have encountered to improve customer service are simple but few are easy. There is, however, one method that I can honestly say is easy: offer recognition and praise to your staff. Compliment them for a job well done. Focus on the positive. Shower them with praise. You, and your customers, will reap the benefits.
Over the years I have heard many leaders give reasons on why they do not give praise or why it is difficult to give praise. Some of these are:
- They are only doing their job.
- They do not do anything worthy of praise.
- If I praise one person everyone else becomes unmotivated.
- In a call center environment, we can never hear how a call went until days later when we listen to a call.
In times past I was naïve enough to use all these excuses, myself. In time, I came to learn ways to overcome each of the issues above and many more. It is always a good time to give praise and it is always easy to do. Below I have Seven Suggestions for Giving Praise. Hopefully these suggestions will jump-start your praise giving.
Suggestion 1 – Start at the beginning
The most basic part of doing one’s job is showing up for work. However, one of the challenges of our world since Covid disrupted the workplace and workforce has been finding enough staff and having enough staff show up for work. I have seen help wanted signs at all sorts of businesses, have heard distressed calls from many business owners, and have read many articles on this exact subject. Perhaps the best response to the dilemma I have seen was a sign in a restaurant window: “instead of complaining to your server about slow service, why don’t you thank them for being one of the few who actually showed up for work today.” What a wonderful way to turn negative energy into a positive experience. We have also had high turnover and serious attendance issues. To address this, we have redoubled our efforts to praise those who do come to work.
Suggestion 2 – Set the bar low
One of the important lessons I learned was a story I once read about how they trained some of the great acts we have seen at Sea World. How do you think they taught the whale to jump so high out of the water? The story I read explained that they put a rope across the bottom of the whale’s pool. Each time the whale swam over the rope the whale received a treat. Before long, the whale learned that swimming over the rope was the cause of receiving the treats. Then they began to raise the rope. The whale continued swimming over the rope and gained more treats. Eventually they were able to raise the rope out of the water and the whale jumped over the rope. Finally, then they no longer needed the rope.
The point is that all who say that staff never do anything worthy of praise are setting the bar/rope too high. Lower the bar/rope. I used to individually thank each of our staff with perfect attendance for an entire month. With all of the issues caused by Covid, I began this same praise with staff for perfect attendance for one week. Recently I lowered the bar again and began thanking those with only one attendance issue in a week. Yes, this is the opposite direction than what I would like to be moving. But I had originally set the bar too high. I think I have the bar right now – at one issue per week. In time I hope to be able to raise the bar. But for now, I have a much larger group of people to praise and thank each week for coming to work and serving our customers.
Suggestion 3 – Praise often
Whether the issue is attendance, job performance, attitude, individual or organizational metrics, it is always possible to lower the bar. That is, it is always possible to find someone to praise. In the current holiday season there are many treats on sale at the locals stores. It is easy to find bags of chocolates at a good price. I recently had the opportunity to pass out a chocolate to each of our staff members who was in their seat and working as I walked around. Certainly that is an extremely low bar, but unfortunately it is a bar that is not always met. The next time I walked around I raised the bar and passed out chocolates only to those who were actively serving our customers at the time. I later learned that my two trips passing out chocolates had increased the energy and enthusiasm of the entire staff for the rest of the day.
Suggestion 4 – Measure praise given
Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured, gets managed”. This quote has frequently been restated as: If it matters it must get measured. Our Executive Team has long measured the number of recognitions given each week. When we first started some years ago someone was concerned that the praise would not be sincere if it were being tracked. We all agreed to work hard to only give sincere praise. It has not ever been a problem. Everyone appreciates a compliment.
To get started, I suggest the penny method. Determine how many “praises” you want to give in a day. My recommendation is to set the bar low to begin. Start off with 3 or 5 pennies in a pocket. Each time you give someone praise that day, simply move a penny from that pocket to another pocket. Do not end your day until you have moved all of the pennies. Once it becomes too easy to move the pennies, add to them. By the time you are moving 10 on a regular basis you probably will not need pennies anymore. Giving praise will have become a habit.
Suggestion 5 – Give Praise in multiple formats or media
There are many ways to give a compliment. All of them are good and while none are wrong, some are better than others. The common ways to give praise in our office are, in order of effectiveness from lowest to highest:
- spoken words over the phone
- group e-mail to several people at a time (for example, a team who successfully completed a project)
- individual e-mails
- mention in a company-wide newsletter or daily/weekly update
- create a short video of you giving the praise and send it to the recipient.
- spoken words face to face or via video call
- hand written thank you note delivered personally
- hand written thank you note mailed to employee’s home address.
Suggestion 6 – Learn from the experts
Obviously many other methods are possible. I once went to an industry conference where the speaker was Sarah McVanel. She gave a fabulous presentation on giving recognition and praise. Her web address is: https://greatnessmagnified.com/
Her presentation inspired me to go out and buy post cards. I bought 15, wrote brief notes to great employees that were back in the office working while I was away at the conference, and mailed them. I think I received a thank you e-mail from 13 of the 15 recipients! It never ceases to amaze me how often I receive a thank you for a thank you. In any case, I highly recommend you visit Sarah McVanel’s site, read her blogs and also read her book “Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness.” It is great fun to FROG someone! She is the best I have ever encountered at motivating people to consistently give praise.
Regarding the best ways to give praise, probably the best tool I ever found was The Power Thank You. This comes from Dr. Mark Goulston’s book: “Just Listen”. His suggestions are:
- Thank the person for something specific that he or she did for you. (It can also be something the person refrained from doing that would have hurt you.)
- Acknowledge the effort it took for the person to help you by saying something like: “I know you didn’t have to do ______” or “I know you went out of your way to do _____.”
- Tell the person the difference that his or her act personally made on you.
It is incredible how powerful and relationship changing this kind of thank you can be. It was my good fortune to discover Dr. Goulston many years ago and to have had the opportunity to offer many Power Thank You's over the years. From my personal experience it works as well with family and friends as it does at work. It truly lets someone know how you feel about them and the effort they made on your behalf.
Suggestion 7 – Make it fun
It has also been great fun on our team to report our praises each week. The highest number wins no prize except enormous bragging rights! It is fun for us to give the praise and fun again as we discuss our successes over the week. It is also fun to see the reaction of the staff to the amount of praise being given. At times it may feel like no one notices. But let me give you one great example.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida this year, our call center became overwhelmed with phone traffic as our customers were unable to manage their own phone calls for a period of days and sometimes weeks. I began to send out a daily update to our staff, highlighting the “superstars” from the previous day, regarding total calls answered and other typical call center stats. I tried to find as many relevant stats as possible, and then would mention the top 3 or 4 operators in each category. I rarely received any feedback on these updates. However, one day I pulled the stats from the wrong date. Within 15 minutes I had received 3 e-mails noting my error. They spotted the problem because either I had missed someone who should have been mentioned, or I mentioned someone who had not been a top performer that day. Clearly they were keeping track of their own stats and watching closely to see their names in the updates. But almost the only time I received any feedback was when I made an error. This feedback, however negative, did inspire me to continue because I knew that many people were paying attention and cared about the recognition being given.
In conclusion, I believe that beginning an effort to give praise throughout your office is the quickest and easiest way to improve customer service. Praise the behaviors that impact customers the most. Praise the behaviors that improve service. You will receive much more consistent behavior of exactly what you praise.