February 12, 2021

Why Average is Inevitable for your Agents

Back in the 1960s, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel award-winning psychologist, gave a lecture on the value of positive vs. negative reinforcement to a team of Israeli Air Force flight instructors.
He proposed that positive reinforcement always produced better results, a proposal to which the instructors naturally scoffed. After all, in their years of experience, the opposite was always true. In fact, the instructors had tried being positive on several occasions without much success.
They reported that when they praised the pilots for exemplary performance, the results got worse. However, when they punished or reprimanded the pilots after a poor performance, they almost always improved on their next task. With such a backdrop to Kahneman’s proposal, you start to understand why the instructors were adamant about the idea that negative reinforcement is better than positive reinforcement.
Who could argue with such conclusive results? Well, Kahneman did, and if he were addressing contact center management today, the following sentiments might very well be reflected.

Regression to the mean

Regression to the mean merely refers to the tendency for things to even out over time. For example, if you hired an agent whose performance was well above average a year ago, chances are, their performance hasn’t stayed the same to date and has deteriorated since their hiring.
On the other hand, if you hired an agent whose performance was sub-par a year ago, chances are their performance has improved over time. But why does this happen, and what does positive reinforcement have to do with any of this?

Planting the seeds of success

Unlike negative feedback, positive feedback creates significantly less stress for humans, which can prove to be a powerful asset in an already stressful environment for your agents.
As a quality manager, you should be careful not to judge your agents’ performance related to a single interaction, especially if it is an intense, challenging, and brief one.
Since there can be variable factors at play that can easily evade your attention, it is essential to measure and monitor your agents’ performance over long periods of time to derive a more accurate performance analysis of your agents and ensure your criticisms are well warranted.

Punish at your own peril

Your beliefs as a quality manager, just like the pilot instructors, may be fuelled by the faulty assumption that rewarding high performance will lead to even better performance and that punishing poor performance will result in improved performance.
However, causation is no correlation, an important realization to keep in mind when evaluating your agents.
Whenever there is a gap between how your agents perform compared to the contact center as a whole, a regression to the mean will poke its head up time after time.


In considering how to coach an agent’s performance, be sure to look at how the short-term trends make up their long term performance patterns.
Moreover, by looking for these patterns across your center as a whole, you can coach your team to meet higher standards and performance trends, effectively raising the mean by which each agent will inevitably return to.
For more information on how to monitor performance trends and carry out in-depth analysis across your agents and contact center(s), give us a call or send us a message today!