Delivering negative feedback shouldn’t dismantle—it should empower. Our guide and examples transform criticism into a tool for growth and collaboration.
You’ve just gotten promoted to manager of your customer support team, and you’re thriving.
You’re great at optimizing processes, devising new programs to improve the customer experience, and you love collaborating and developing your team.
Right up until you have to give them negative feedback.
Suddenly, your confidence wanes.
If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
Negative feedback can be uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for everyone, whether they’re giving it or receiving it.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Feedback, both positive and negative, is essential to our growth as support professionals (and humans).
Five tips to give negative feedback effectively
Let’s start with the bad news:
There’s no single method that will work perfectly for every person in every situation.
But there is some good news: There’s usually a best way for an individual to receive feedback.
Tailor your method to the individual employee.
For example, I don’t mind receiving positive feedback publicly, but I know that the best way for me to receive negative feedback is to get it in writing first. This gives me time to process it and work through my feelings about it privately. Once I’ve absorbed it, I can usually talk the negative feedback through openly and positively. Someone else might hate receiving even positive feedback publicly because the spotlight makes them uncomfortable.
A large team or a very busy queue might get in the way of how deliberate you can be with feedback, but making an effort will have an impact.
These are general tips for giving feedback in all situations. They can’t replace the knowledge and experience you can build by getting to know your team members, but they can give you a starting point.
Imagine walking into a meeting and having your boss talk about a mistake you made in front of your whole team.
No matter how comfortable you are receiving negative feedback, that isn’t a fun situation.
Avoid giving negative feedback without warning or in front of others. That makes feedback feel like an ambush, which immediately derails any meaningful conversation or outcome you were looking for.
Keep feedback recent
Give any feedback as soon as possible after you observe an issue.
Bringing up feedback from the past, especially if it’s something your employee is already working on, can feel frustrating. If you want to highlight a clear pattern of behavior that’s impacting your team, use the most recent examples you can.
Focus on impact
Feedback is only actionable when it’s specific.
Take this statement for example: “You’re always late to meetings.”
Is the agent really always late? To every meeting? That seems unlikely.
An alternative might sound like this, “I noticed that you were late to our last two meetings with Product. These meetings are only about 30 minutes long, and Product’s timeline is tight. As the voice of our customers on this feature, it’s important that you’re on time and prepared so that our Product team can build the best version of this feature.”
This level of detail means you address:
- The behavior: Being late.
- The impact: Product features getting developed without input from the Support team.
- The desired change: Being on time.
The specificity makes it very clear what the problem is and how your team member can improve. It turns vague feedback into constructive negative feedback.
Let’s consider two different scenarios where you might give feedback:
- An agent is repeatedly late to meetings with your Product team.
- An agent has opportunities to improve their presentation and public-speaking skills.
The first scenario is serious, but fixable:
- As long as they correct the behavior, it isn’t a big deal.
- But if it’s the second or third time they’ve received feedback about being late for meetings, then it will get more serious.
- It could eventually have ramifications on their job at the company. They need to know that in order to respond with appropriate urgency.
The second scenario is feedback that you’re giving as a mentor, not as a manager. Maybe you know your agent wants to develop their career into a leadership or executive role. Presentation skills are essential for that, but they aren’t holding them back from being successful in their current position.
Providing context means your agent understands where the feedback is coming from and why. They can choose if, when, and how they act on it when they have the full picture.
Make a plan together
Real growth requires support.
Think about your favorite flower. It needs good soil, water, and sunlight to grow. People need the same kind of help, just in a different form.
Pair your negative feedback with an offer to help the recipient make a plan to improve. If you need to, ask clarifying questions about what might be happening to cause the issue so that you can collaborate on a solution.
Using the above scenario: Is the agent arriving late to the Product meetings because the scheduled time conflicts with school pick-up for their kids? Are they forgetting to join the meeting on time because they get absorbed in other priorities?
The solution is different depending on the cause.
- Perhaps you can help coordinate with the Product team to schedule a new time for the meeting.
- Maybe the two of you can brainstorm strategies for addressing time blindness or for switching contexts more effectively.
Empower your agent to solve the issue and support them in how to get there. That might mean checking in with them regularly to see how they’re improving. Or it might mean switching their responsibilities so the issue doesn’t happen again.
18 negative feedback examples with constructive alternatives
Negative feedback gets easier with some practice. Spending time reflecting on both positive and negative feedback examples can help shape your approach to delivering feedback to your team members.
Use these examples for inspiration when you’re preparing your own feedback.
1) “Your response times are frequently slow.”
Constructive: “Your first response times have gone up in the last few weeks, so customers are waiting longer than normal to hear back about their issues. Are there any bugs or products that you’re having trouble with?
Let’s go over some of your tickets and talk about what aspects might be slowing down your responses.”
2) “You don’t resolve customer issues effectively.”
Constructive: “You’ve had some tickets recently that took more replies than normal to resolve, which can be a frustrating experience for customers.
Let’s review those tickets and see how we can improve your problem-solving skills and product knowledge in those areas. We can also talk about how and when to escalate tickets.”
3) “You rely too heavily on macros / scripted responses.”
Constructive: “While scripts and macros can be helpful in responding to customers faster, we want to give our customers a personalized experience whenever we can.
Let’s answer a few tickets together to see where we can customize the macros. The goal is to make sure they speak to the customer’s issue directly without compromising your efficiency.”
4) “You don’t express enough empathy in tickets.”
Constructive: “I’ve noticed that you sometimes struggle with validating users’ feelings in difficult tickets, which can make customers feel dismissed.
We can come up with some sample phrases you can use in response to these situations. Are there other tools that would make that easier for you?”
5) “You use an inappropriate tone when dealing with upset customers.”
Constructive: “I’ve noticed that your replies stay upbeat and happy even when customers are upset, which makes them feel like you’re not taking their concerns seriously.
Let’s work on adjusting our tone based on context clues from the customer.”
6) “Your tone in written communication can be too formal.”
Constructive: “I know many of us are used to a more formal, corporate communication style when we’re talking to customers. On our team we like to be more conversational so that customers know we’re human and that they can be more relaxed when asking for support.
Let’s review some of your tickets and rewrite them to show more of your personality.”
7) “You often put customers on hold for too long.”
Constructive: “I know you really care about getting your facts right, which I really appreciate. Having said that, long hold times can be frustrating for customers because they feel like we’re not respecting their time. Are there issues you’re struggling to troubleshoot or products you’d like to understand better?
Let’s see how we can reduce hold times while providing accurate information. We can come up with some training to help you feel more comfortable with those topics.”
8) “You often fail to follow up with customers as promised.”
Constructive: “We’ve gotten some complaints from customers that you’re not following up with them when you say you will. It’s really important that we update customers on their issues so that they don’t think we’ve forgotten about them or their issues.
Can we brainstorm some strategies for keeping track of customer issues so that we can get back to them consistently?”
9) “Some of your cases escalate unnecessarily.”
Constructive: “Dealing with upset customers can be tough. When we don’t de-escalate and address their concerns appropriately, they feel like we’re not listening which increases their frustration.
How do you feel about roleplaying some conversations to practice techniques for de-escalation? We can also review our rules regarding customer abuse, because we want you to feel empowered to transfer or end a conversation with a customer who is verbally abusing you.”
10) “Your knowledge of our products and services is lacking.”
Constructive: “It looks like you’ve shared some factual errors / incorrect information about our products with our customers. That caused some confusion for those users and has meant that other teammates had to step in. It’s important that the information we’re giving our customers is correct so that they know they can trust our support teams to provide expert help.
How can we invest time in product training to improve your expertise?”
11) “You’re inconsistent in documenting customer interactions.”
Constructive: “Our Tier 2 / Success teams have shared that you don’t always document bugs and customer issues when you escalate those issues. Accurate and consistent documentation is essential so that customers don’t have to repeat themselves. It also means that other teams can address user issues as quickly and accurately as possible.
Maybe we can create a template that you (and everyone else on the team) can use when they’re escalating issues to another team.”
12) “You tend to make promises we can’t keep.”
Constructive: “Our engineering team reported that you promised a fix to this customer’s bug today without talking to them first. This puts the developers in a tough place because that’s not a realistic timetable for fixing this bug, and they hate to disappoint customers.
Let’s go over our process for escalating bugs to engineering. We can also set up a meeting with them to improve how we communicate time tables to customers.”
13) “You don’t take ownership of customer problems.”
Constructive: “I’ve noticed your customer satisfaction rating has gone down recently because customers feel like you’re not fully addressing their complaints or are sending them to help center articles too quickly. This makes them feel like our team doesn’t care about their problems, and leads to more contacts with our Support team overall.
Are you feeling overwhelmed in the queue or is there product knowledge you’re missing? What would you need to feel more equipped to shepherd customer issues to completion?”
14) “You don’t actively seek feedback from customers.”
Constructive: “I’ve been reviewing cancelation tickets and noticed some where you didn’t ask the customer why they were canceling their subscription with us. Customer feedback is valuable, especially when they’ve had a poor experience because that gives us an opportunity to salvage our relationship with them.
How can we make it easier for you to proactively gather feedback from customers in the future?”
15) “You sometimes struggle to troubleshoot technical issues.”
Constructive: “I’ve noticed you get flustered because you’re struggling to read application debug logs from our customers, and that you’re having to rely on your teammates a lot for help. While I love seeing the teamwork, I think we can get you more comfortable troubleshooting technical issues so that you’re less anxious and more confident.
Would you like to schedule some training to go over our debug logs, common errors we see in our application, and how to troubleshoot or escalate those errors? Would it help to have these documented?”
16) “You struggle to adapt to new policies and procedures.”
Constructive: “It feels like you’ve been resistant to our new refund policy and procedure.
Is that accurate? If so, did I provide adequate training on it? I know you care a lot about our customers’ happiness, so do you have concerns about the new policy that I haven’t addressed?
I’d like to talk about this so you understand why we made the changes and feel more comfortable with implementing the policy.”
17) “Your call handling time is consistently too long.”
Constructive: “You have a wonderful way with customers and they love talking to you, which is great. We also have a busy phone queue and your teammates have to pick up more calls and we have longer wait times for customers as a result.
How can we reduce your call handling time while still providing quality service?”
18) “You’re not effectively using our customer support tools.”
Constructive: “It seems like you’re struggling to use our admin tools when troubleshooting problems with customer accounts, which is leading to longer issue resolution times.
Let’s do some training on our admin tools so you can use them like a pro.”
Cultivate an environment for feedback exchange
Three basic elements are necessary for feedback to be given and received successfully:
- Trust. Your team must believe that you have their best interests at heart, and that you want them to be successful–both in the company and their career overall.
- Psychological safety, “a shared belief held by members of a team that it’s OK to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes — all without fear of negative consequences.”
- A growth mindset to understand that failure and mistakes are a part of the process of growing and learning to be better.
Even the most perfectly delivered feedback won’t land and have the impact you want it to without these elements. How do you incorporate them into your team culture?
Through modeling, repetition, and reinforcement.
Here are some examples of what that looks like:
- Hold regular training.
- Make space in team meetings to talk about what didn’t go well during the previous week, and how the team can help each other through it.
- Decide as a team what skills you’d all like to work on, and then pick a book to read covering those skills.
- Be open when you’re struggling with a skill or task and how you’re working to address it.
- Hold professional development conversations with each agent. What kind of work do they want to do? What do they want to learn? What is the next job title they want to work toward? How can you help them meet those goals?
- When possible, give agents time out of the queue to work on special projects or personal learning.
- After outages, major bugs, or downward trends in customer satisfaction, hold no-fault retros to understand what happened and how it can be improved or avoided in the future.
- Reward growth and milestones on your team, even when they’re small wins.
How to respond to negative feedback
The negative feedback examples above focused on giving feedback to your employees. You’ll regularly need to give negative feedback as a support leader, but you’ll also be on the receiving end of it at times.
To help with that, we’ve included some best practices on how to receive and respond to feedback from your manager and from customers.
Responding to feedback from your manager
Receiving negative feedback from your manager can be even more fraught than giving it.
- Assume good faith. Remember that your manager is giving you this feedback because they’re invested in your career with the company and they want to help you. They want you to succeed!
- Take time to understand the feedback you’ve been given. If you need more time to process, don’t hesitate to ask for it.
- Be curious. Ask questions about the feedback, especially if anything is unclear.
- Make an improvement plan. Ask your manager to help you or to review your plan if you’ve already made one. Plans can keep you on track and your manager can help you refine your strategy and ensure your timeline is realistic and on target.
- Thank them for trusting you with the feedback and for caring about your professional development.
Gratitude can help your brain reframe the feedback so you feel more positive about it. It also helps you build a stronger relationship with your manager and your team.
Responding to feedback from customers
Handling negative feedback from customers is one of the most important skills you can develop as a customer support professional.
Every function in your company benefits from understanding how your customers feel about your product. And listening to customers is key to building long-lasting relationships with them.
When responding to feedback from customers:
- Validate their feelings. Be genuine and empathetic, and avoid rote phrases like “I’m sorry for any inconvenience caused.” Have you ever read that sentence in an email and believed that the agent was actually sorry?
- Practice active listening. If your customer sounds irritated, say, “I’d be irritated by that too,” or if they’re frustrated, “That sounds really frustrating.” This is effective at diffusing tense situations and making the customer feel heard.
- Repeat the customer’s concern to them. This also demonstrates that you’re listening while giving them the opportunity to correct and clarify.
- Tell them what your next steps are. Will you share their feedback with your Product team? If a follow-up is needed, when can they expect it?
Make sure you set realistic expectations. It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver. That’s a surefire way to lose a customer.
Giving truly helpful feedback takes practice
Feedback is an incredibly popular topic because we all recognize its transformative power. It can help you create a culture of openness and growth.
Negative feedback, in particular—for all that it feels deeply uncomfortable—can be a valuable gift. When handled with care and consideration, it can be a catalyst for positive change and personal development.
Take the time to give the best feedback you can and see how it changes your team.