Communication is the heart of all healthy relationships, including those created in work environments. Whether you operate a remote support team or work closely together in a small office space, regular individual meetings help to keep communication flowing in your entire team.
Why 1-on-1s are important for support teams?
One-on-one meetings are an excellent way for customer service teams to facilitate a healthy work environment through direct communication.
Ambitious customer service teams do 1-on-1 meetings to:
- Facilitate coaching and providing feedback that helps agents improve their performance.
- Boost employee engagement (by 3 times, to be exact).
- Build a healthy and trusting relationship between management and employees.
- Keep managers in the loop of what is happening work-wise and with life outside work.
Using a customer service meeting template will help you make the most of your time. However, to keep communication open, don’t force a rigid structure on your 1-on-1s. Quality face-time with your team works best when it comes naturally.
How to have great one-on-ones with your support team
To get the most out of your 1-to-1s you’ll need to prepare for them, which means having a structure you can follow. But at the same time, you don’t want this structure to be too rigid, as you want to leave space for other important topics or conversations to arise.
Instead of a to-do list, your 1-to-1 structure should just be an outline used to guide the conversation and give it direction.
Noting down a few points you want to discuss can help both you and your agents better prepare for these meetings, and help you use this time to get to the topics that matter the most.
Plus it ensures the conversation stays focused and has a clear outcome.
Start on the right foot
The success of your 1-on-1 meetings depends on how well you’re able to encourage your team members to open up. If your team member is unwilling to share anything with you, your meetings are destined to fail.
Here’s what you as a manager can do to set the right atmosphere:
1. Kickstart your meetings with a positive attitude. Be warm and welcoming, and make sure your agents understand that this time is dedicated entirely to them.
If that sounds like something needless to say – good. You’d probably be surprised to know how many managers start whining about their workload and lack of time before they even ask how the employee is doing.
2. Go through what your team and company have been doing. This helps to define the timeframe for your reflections and bring up the topics that you and your employees will probably want to talk about.
For example, “We had two major feature releases and an unfortunate downtime last week. How did you feel about everything that happened?” is a great way to look back at the previous period of time.
3. Share your feelings towards what’s been happening. If you open up about how you’ve been doing, your teammate will feel encouraged to do so, too.
Again, don’t complain about general things like having too much work (well, who doesn’t?) or about other people on the team. Set a productive tone for sharing feelings, rather than venting.
“I was anxious about how the feature releases would affect our conversation volume, especially with 5 team members being on vacation. But I was really happy to see how well you all handled it,” will reassure your teammate that they can share their feelings of worry, too.
If you start your 1-on-1s by looking back at what’s been going on, you’ll give your meetings a timeframe. This helps to stay focused on the things that deserve your attention right now.
Keep in mind that how you interact during the meetings has a huge impact on how well your team members will open up. Sincerely expressing your feelings is one of the easiest ways to encourage others to share their emotions, too.
Review the performance
Some companies prefer to keep performance reviews separate from 1-on-1s to create an informal atmosphere in those individual meetings. This helps to focus specifically on building relationships between management and employees.
Other managers believe in the combination of laid-back communication and coaching conversations. If you prefer to mix these topics in your regular meetings, conversation reviews can provide great input for your one-on-ones.
Here’s a good scheme that will help you highlight your agents’ strengths and point to their areas of improvement in those meetings:
- Start with the conversations that were handled OK. Usually, these make up the largest proportion of all tickets. Reassuring that the agent does everything right 95% of the time is positive feedback.
- Then, look at the conversations that didn’t meet your customers’ expectations or your internal quality standards. Often these two don’t overlap because users can be frustrated with things that are out of agents’ control. Analyzing the conversations that received negative ratings internally, based on your customer service quality criteria, helps agents understand where they need to improve.
- Finally, shift your focus to the conversations that were handled amazingly. Again, look at the tickets that received high ratings from your customers as well as those that scored the highest in internal reviews. This way you’ll end the performance review on a high note.
This particular setup is known as the feedback sandwich and it helps in giving feedback efficiently and tactfully. As part of the feedback loop with each agent, be sure to act on any feedback and follow up. Consider ways you can offer additional online remote support to agents whose performance isn’t up to scratch, then check in to see whether those tools are proving effective.
Set short-term goals
After you’ve done the performance review, you can easily move on to setting goals for the next period. The areas of improvement discovered in conversation reviews are usually a great source of inspiration for that.
For example, if an agent keeps missing the mark in the Product Knowledge category, aim to improve that by the next one-on-one. Set SMART goals that are:
- Specific – e.g. watch a webinar and learn about the users and permissions product area.
- Measurable – e.g. improve Internal Quality Score in Product Knowledge by 20%.
- Achievable – don’t expect the agent to jump from 62% to 100% in a week.
- Relevant – e.g., focus on the Product Knowledge category; don’t mix it with having to nail the Empathy criteria, too, if that’s not relevant.
- Time-bound – e.g., expect to see improvements by the next one-on-one or the meeting after that.
So, instead of setting a goal to “improve product knowledge” you can have a specific target like “Master the users and permissions product area to improve IQS by 20% in the Product Knowledge category by next month.”
It’s important to take notes or write down goals so you can refer back to them before the next team meeting (the 1:1 template above is good for this too!).
Having specific goals to watch in your 1-on-1s helps keep track of your agents’ progress. See how their performance improves week after week.
Check-in on employee development & long-term goals
Your agents are the engine that keeps your customer service machine ticking. And if you want them to stick around, you’ll want to make sure their long-term goals align with the customer service goals of your organization.
This is why it’s essential to periodically check in on their levels of motivation and job satisfaction.
More importantly, spend time during one-on-ones setting personal development goals, including ones that’ll help your agents achieve their full potential.
For example, let’s say you see a member of your team excelling in a certain area, like customer success. You’ll want to make sure they’re working on tasks best suited to these strengths while also charting a plan that’ll help them grow professionally.
Helping your agents follow their career goals is a great way to make them more engaged and prepared for new challenges, ultimately resulting in them becoming more loyal to you and your organization.
Agents’ short-term objectives are usually stepping stones toward their long-term goals, which should align with your overall strategy and vision. Use your customer service one-on-one meetings to check how well agents are achieving them:
Which goals are they progressing with the most? Pay attention to your agents’ favorite goals to understand where their interests lie.
Use these areas to help them develop their customer service superpowers – e.g., technical knowledge, customer success, or marketing. Use these to assign them tickets and tasks based on their strengths. This will keep them motivated and help them grow professionally.
What’s keeping agents from moving forward with other goals? Try to find solutions to their problems as soon as possible, so that their long-term goals remain achievable. Removing obstacles from your team’s paths is one of the most important tasks of a manager.
Checking in on long-term goals every time you hold one-on-one meetings with your support agents helps to make sure your team is constantly progressing towards their targets. Avoid bad surprises in the long run and make adjustments as necessary. And, don’t be afraid to adjust your goals if they are no longer relevant.
Talk about company culture
Successful one-on-one meetings touch upon topics related to the team vibe and culture, too. Usually, this happens naturally during the abovementioned discussions.
However, in case your company culture and team spirit haven’t come up, check on these topics proactively. Try to understand if the atmosphere is both:
- Enjoyable, which can mean anything from crazy fun to polite and formal, depending on the agent’s personal preferences, and
- Productive to make sure work gets done as intended.
Understanding your team’s true feelings towards the general atmosphere in your company is often the most difficult part of one-on-ones. That’s why setting the right mood from the start is so important to have effective team meetings with your employees.
Give plenty of space to talk
1-to-1 meetings aren’t just meant to be a one-sided team meeting to give constructive feedback. They should also include space to receive it.
Use this time to give your team as much space and encouragement as they need to share their thoughts with you candidly.
Here are some things you can do to encourage more effective feedback from your team:
- Ask open-ended questions
- Don’t formulate a response in your head as they’re speaking
- Stay silent and don’t interrupt them until they’re finished talking
- Bring attention to discrepancies in what they’re saying and their body language
- Paraphrase back what they’ve said to make sure you understand their point of view
Actively seeking positive feedback is great. But if you want to continue receiving it, you’ll need to back it up with real action.
This is the only way to show your agents that their negative and positive feedback is valued. And the time spent giving it is going to good use.
Watch out: If you become a “different person” when you receive negative feedback, your team will be reluctant to share it with you in the future. So you need to show you’re comfortable with criticism and not averse to being proven wrong.
Take lots of notes
You’re going to have lots of 1-to-1s with every team member. Combine that with your other day-to-day activities, and it’s easy to forget the things you discuss during these meetings.
This is why it’s essential to take detailed notes and refer back to them.
This helps you maintain a record of everything you discuss with each team member, which can be helpful in performance reviews. Secondly, you can quickly refer back to points in your next team meeting with the team member, so they know you’re listening to everything they’re saying.
This also helps you quickly identify similar topics or themes that come up over time or with different agents.
It may initially seem a bit awkward to take notes in the middle of a conversation. But if you explain why you’re doing it, your team will appreciate you for it.
Spend some time looking at your notes and reflecting on your last performance review before each one-on-one.
Make customer service 1:1s a recurring part of your schedule
The most important element of having effective 1-to-1s with your support team is to do it regularly.
You and your team probably have a packed schedule, and you may think that this time is better spent working on your projects.
But setting aside dedicated time to have 1-to-1s with your team can help you address issues like lack of motivation, burnout, and job dissatisfaction before it’s too late. It also shows your team that they matter to you and that their personal growth is worth setting aside time for.
Now the question arises, how often do you need to have 1-to-1s with your support team?
Most engaged companies have bi-weekly or weekly meetings lasting between 30 to 60 minutes.
But you’ll need to figure out a cadence that works best for your team based on the:
- number of agents reporting to you,
- experience and maturity level of each agent, and
- the pace at which your organization moves.
We recommend meeting regularly, starting with 60-minute meetings every two weeks and then adjusting the duration or frequency depending on how much comes up during the meetings. Agents who have many ongoing projects or require constructive feedback in a more timely manner may need more time than this.
Add 1-to-1s to your calendar on a regular schedule so that they are routine and predictable. If something comes up, reschedule meetings rather than cancel, so your team feels prioritized.
One-on-one: Customer Service Team edition
Dedicated face time with your support team is a great way to know what’s happening in your customer service on many levels. Not only will you be able to gain valuable insights into how your agents are performing and progressing toward their goals, but you will also understand how they are coping with everything that is going on. That’s essential for building strong and successful support teams.
Originally published in September 2019; last updated in January 2024.