Motivating Agents: Respect and Rewards Make a Big Difference
Motivating Agents: Respect and Rewards Make a Big Difference
18 tips for getting the best performance through higher morale.
By Donna Fluss
Contact centers, whether engaged in service, sales, collections, fraud or anything else, are people-intensive organizations that require best practices and systems to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Systems are essential enablers, but because agents interact directly with your customers, their performance is critical for your success.
Motivated agents are highly productive; among the best incentives for agents are respect, recognition, variety and fair compensation for their efforts.
Long-Term Strategic Recommendations
Here are a few strategic recommendations to help motivate your agents.
- Align contact center and enterprise goals. Agents really do want to see the big picture and understand how they contribute to the success of the enterprise and its bottom line. Establish attainable goals and targets on key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure agents. Ensure that the KPIs provide a balanced view of agent performance, addressing productivity, effectiveness, quality, revenue and customer satisfaction.
Clearly and consistently communicate how these KPIs are measured and give agents timely performance feedback. Regularly offer agents support and suggest techniques for improving their scores. (Contact center performance management applications help a great deal in achieving this goal.)
- Build a warm, welcoming and fair operating environment. Contact center leaders set the tone for the contact center. Leaders must create an environment where agents feel they are valued, respected, treated fairly and that their concerns are heard. One of the most respected contact center managers motivated agents simply by learning each agent’s name (even though there were hundreds), walking around the floor to “greet” each shift, acknowledging agents that she passed in the hallway or elevator, and establishing a contact center “break room” with phones and vending machines to help agents maximize their 20-minute break time.
- Involve agents in the decision-making process. Agents are more likely to accept changes if they participate in developing the new processes or systems. Involving agents early on will speed up adoption of the new process and/or system and likely improve the overall success of the initiative.
- Empower agents. Wherever possible, allow agents to make decisions, within set parameters. For example, it is demoralizing for agents (and distressing for the customer) if a call has to be transferred to a “retention” area just to have a fee removed; train the initial agent group to handle these calls. Agents will be happy to be trained to handle transactions that they previously had to transfer, even if the parameters of their authority are limited.
- Coach agents frequently and consistently. In general, agents welcome feedback, particularly if positive behavior is emphasized as much as areas needing improvement. Most people want to do a good job, but sometimes are not sure of the best way to handle challenging situations. Share best practice calls with agents to recognize excellence and encourage the right procedures and performance.
- Reward excellent performers. Contact center morale and agent retention will improve if outstanding performance is recognized and shared with the staff. Establish an incentive program that “pays for performance.”
- Encourage agents to excel by allowing top performers to participate in a variety of contact center initiatives. Invite top performing agents to take an active role in departmental activities, such as coaching new hires, delivering an up-training session, becoming a subject matter expert on a new initiative, or cross-training on a new function.
- Establish an “executive QA” program or “side-by-side” sessions with a contact center executive. It means a great deal to agents and communicates the importance of their job when executives take the time to sit with them and listen to calls. (It’s also a great way for executives to see the impact of their policies.)
- Share success. When an agent or group does an outstanding job, be sure this is communicated to the entire organization. It’s critical to recognize and reward outstanding performance on a timely basis
- Establish an employee satisfaction survey Conduct an annual employee satisfaction survey and share the results with the staff. Be prepared to implement action plans to address areas of employee dissatisfaction and communicate any changes to the staff.
- Promote from within. Whenever possible, promote from within the contact center. Besides retaining excellent performers, this is a great way of showing that management appreciates and respects the expertise of the contact center staff. Establish career development plans for agents and a process to help them acquire the skills they need to be ready for promotions.
Short-Term Tactical Recommendations
It’s critical to build an operating environment where, over the long term, agents are treated as the strategic asset that they are. However, it’s just as important to position your contact center to provide a positive and supportive work environment on a daily basis. Here are a few tactical recommendations to provide a compelling work environment that attracts and retains great agents.
- Encourage agents to share suggestions for improvement. Agents know first-hand what does and does not work for customers. Solicit ideas from agents and try to implement them. Whether the suggestion does or does not work, communicate the reasons and highlight any cost savings or efficiencies gained as a result.
- Allow agents to learn from each other. Hold frequent team meetings and encourage agents to discuss areas of difficulty and share techniques for addressing these issues.
- Ensure that managers/supervisors are accessible to agents. Contact center agents and supervisors need to be visible and accessible to the phone staff. Supervisors and managers should walk around and periodically do live monitoring of agents. If you overhear a great call, compliment the agent. If an agent is struggling with a call, offer to assist and, if need be, take the call. The agent will appreciate the show of support and the opportunity to listen and learn techniques for handling challenging inquiries.
- Establish a “buddy system.” Pair up an agent who is having difficulty with one who consistently achieves. Set up an environment where agents can learn from each other as much as possible.
- Encourage open dialogue with agents. A true story: When a supervisor sat down and spoke with an agent who had an ongoing punctuality issue, the supervisor discovered that the agent knew only one route to travel to work. The supervisor helped the agent plan different routes and the agent’s tardiness issue was resolved.
- Accommodate requests for schedule changes on a fair basis. Shift changes and vacation requests should be based on an agent’s overall performance, not just tenure. Prioritizing these rewards solely on seniority sends the wrong message and discourages agents who have been on board for shorter periods of time.
- Use a variety of motivational tactics. Different things motivate different people. Make sure to use a variety of methods to recognize and reward excellence. If possible, allow agents to choose their own rewards — for example, gift cards (a favorite retailer or restaurant), movie tickets, lunch vouchers, pass for a day off or first choice for a vacation request. Another possibility is to create a contact center “rewards program” where agents can accrue “points” for performance and “redeem” them based on achievement level. If the use of remote agents is a viable option, include working from home as an alternate way to recognize top performers.
Agents have one of the hardest and most important jobs in an enterprise — satisfying customers, who are not always known for being nice or patient. Unfortunately, agents often perceive that their role is not appreciated or respected by senior management or peer organizations, like sales and marketing.
Contact center managers need to create a working environment that addresses strategic and long-term staff-related initiatives as well as day-to-day programs in order to continuously motivate agents. Sometimes it’s little things that don’t cost a cent that matter the most to agents. Allowing agents to choose/change their lunch hour to accommodate an appointment, letting agents choose which headset they prefer, permitting agents to vote on a menu for a recognition day event and similar activities, go a long way in communicating to agents that they are recognized, valued and respected.
DMG Consulting’s Donna Fluss and Deborah Navarra can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively. DMG recently published the “2006 North American Contact Center Outsourcing Market Report,” available at www.dmgconsult.com.