7 Strategies to Motivate Your Contact Center Agents (Aside from Free Food)
Learn how to design an employee engagement program that reduces attrition rates and boosts morale.
The weekly lunch you buy for your team started as a nice morale boost for your agents, but now it’s become a humdrum routine. Worse, you’re the bad guy if you take it away. It used to work so well, what happened? Well, there’s nothing wrong with a pizza party, but that can’t be all. It’s not enough to motivate call center agents and keep them engaged. You need some better incentives if you want to increase performance and customer satisfaction.
Incentive programs are meant to drive motivation and work ethic with your employees. However, incentives that don’t keep people engaged become an expected part of work. When employees expect rewards, it’s no longer something to work toward and creates dissatisfaction when removed. If you want motivating rewards that genuinely work, you can’t just lazily hand out trinkets. You have to carefully plan out a strategy that will stick around and drive results for a long time. It has to push agents in the right direction, and it has to continue to motivate them without going stale.
Guidelines for Choosing an Incentive Strategy
First, think about the four dimensions of employee engagement. These are the questions employees ask themselves concerning what they are getting out of work — What do I get? What do I give? Do I belong? How can we grow? Use these to help guide the construction of your employee engagement program.
To truly motivate your call center agents, make sure your program is clearly defined and attainable. You want to set your agents up for success; otherwise, your incentives could hurt morale and affect the customer experience. Make sure your program has a regular cadence, but don’t let it become repetitive—and don’t design it so that the same five agents win every time. This is your chance to break up the monotony. You don’t want it to simply become part of the daily grind.
Also, focus on the right things. Be sure to connect your rewards system with desired results (i.e., don’t set up something that encourages workers to reach for the bonuses but sacrifice workflow or the customer experience in the process). Incentivize the right results, create target-based initiatives, and choose the correct revenue target. The best employee engagement programs highlight core values and those who live them, involve on-the-spot recognition and are tied to multiple motivating factors.
Types of Strategies and Reward Structures to Include in Your Employee Engagement Program
So what motivators and strategies should you use? There are a lot of different options, so be sure to pick the ones that work best for your team. Take into account your company culture, your office environment, and the different personalities of your team members.
1. Goals and Achievements
It seems obvious—every call center has goals—but giving your agents something to achieve is a great way to keep them engaged. Set daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals for your team. Scale the rewards with the target and its timeline. Team, department, and division goals are a great way to help everyone feel the camaraderie and encourage agents to support each other.
Setting individual agent goals is another way to keep morale up and motivations high. Consider implementing a points system. The better they perform at a chosen metric, the more points they earn, the more rewards they get. Challenge the team to work together to “unlock” specific rewards and use those to generate over-performance.
2. Make it Personal
Tailor your incentive strategies to your organization. Talk to your agents. Their input is critical for building a program that drives engagement. Their feedback about the program should always be welcome, and it’s not meant to be written in stone. Understand their motivations—find out their career aspirations, what’s most important to them, strengths and areas they need to develop, and the forms of recognition they value most.
Regularly conduct a “what makes you stay” interview to assess where your employees are at in terms of happiness at your company. Ask them why they think people join your organization, what brought them to the contact center specifically, what’s keeping them there, and what they would like to see stopped, started, and continued.
When building your strategy, recognize the different skills of your team and do things that allow all members to have their time to shine. Get to know your agents’ different interests, and keep your incentives varied to appeal to everyone at different points. Make sure people have their choice in goals and rewards. The rewards you give out should be specific and personal; have them be customized so that agents know you appreciate them as an individual.
3. Recognition & Praise
Possibly the single most important thing to give your contact center agents is recognition and praise. Employees work much harder if they receive recognition for their work. Knowing that someone appreciates them is a big motivator, so it is critical to employ some form of it in the workplace.
Celebrate non-metrics-driven wins. Some strategies include giving out certificates for goals met and providing outlets for peer-to-peer recognition. Be sure to recognize and celebrate the critical recognition events (day-to-day, above and beyond, career milestones and achievements, and general celebrations). Be sure to give your agents praise, but be sure it’s personal, presented in front of other people, and that it comes from a high-level leader to be most effective.
Customer compliments are a great way to share praise with your agents. Keep a compliments log from your customers to be shared across the whole team, department, or organization. Build an internal ‘thank you’ board in which anyone can post a thank you to anyone else in the office.
Implement a call center stars program. At the beginning of the week, decide on a KPI to challenge your agents to hit. At the end of the week, ask quality assurance or coaches who did the best. Crown the winner star of the week and put photos of winning agents’ or their names on a wall of fame in the office.
Give out a “toughest call” of the day or week award, or use a traveling trophy—create an object (figurine, silly hat, light-up sign) that gets passed around when someone does something noteworthy that is on display for everyone to see. You can also create a wheel of appreciation—make a wheel with prizes on each wedge. When someone gets a customer compliment, they can spin the wheel. You can also adapt the wheel for any measure of achievement you’d like to reward.
4. Reward with Prizes of Convenience and Choice
Allow your contact center agents to win things that will make their work experience more convenient, and allow them to exercise their choice. Offer paid time off, the ability to leave early one day, getting a preferred parking spot or seating location, the choice of their break/lunch times, the opportunity to take calls they prefer, and the first pick on choosing shifts.
When it comes to rewards, consider having a rotating schedule of themes. During the height of football or baseball season, offer tickets to a game. When it’s a hot summer, consider offering day or season passes to a local waterpark. Close to the holidays? Look into bigger gift cards, gift-wrapping services, and family pack tickets to special events.
Your program should also account for the various age groups in your office. A well-established mom might appreciate a spa day, but a twenty-something man might not be as interested in pampering. It’s essential to be inclusive with your reward picks. Otherwise, you risk making agents feel left out and demotivated because rewards don’t interest them.
5. Reward with Physical Prizes
Basket raffles are still widely popular for a reason. Physical items are a good reward, so long as you’re strategic in how you give them out. Consider stocking up on high-value company swag like hoodies and quarter zips, physical tickets and gift certificates, and highly sought-after gadgets. Things like fancy grills, gaming systems, and cell phones are great picks for big-ticket prizes. Reach out to your marketing team to see if you can team up on any of these items for your engagement program and marketing events.
Physical prizes have a secondary benefit as well: personalization. Have swag embroidered with the agent’s name, order something in their favorite color, or give them something so unique, no one else will have it. When budget is a challenge, consider using a raffle to award bigger, more desirable prizes.
6. Bring the Whole Office Together
A little friendly competition in the work environment is a great way to bring everyone together as a team. Build out games that have different shifts, teams, or departments facing off. Things like March Madness brackets of internal teams can generate a massive buzz in the office.
Company-wide incentives are also a great strategy to increase motivation. Ask the entire contact center to come up with a single goal to accomplish together. The reward should be something everyone can enjoy like a big party.
7. Help Advance Your Agents' Careers
It’s really difficult to stay engaged at work if you don’t have opportunities to progress in your role or with the company. One of the best things you can do to reduce turnover and increase agent performance is investing in their professional development.
Talk with your team and figure out their end goals—can you help them get there through your organization? Some things you can do include: providing access to skills development courses online, offering job shadowing opportunities in a department the agent might want to move to, and allowing them to attend a local industry event and then report back on key ideas. Regularly coaching your agents can help you develop them for their desired career path.
The Benefits of Motivated & Happy Agents
Engaged agents perform better. They are more productive, spend more time on the phones, and deliver a better customer experience. When agents feel appreciated at work, they’re more likely to provide top-tier customer service that exceeds expectations.
Motivated customer service agents also help create a positive workplace culture. It’s a lot easier to let tough calls roll off of your back when you’re surrounded by people who are happy to be at work and can help you get back into the right mindset.
Great engagement programs are also beneficial for agent retention. It’s difficult to offer the right combination of agent training, career pathing, and benefits packages to keep people in seat. Having a strong incentive program helps keep employee morale high, even when the going gets tough.
Pizza parties and free food are great, but they aren’t enough to keep your call center agents engaged. The best employee engagement programs focus on short and long term goals, account for personal goals and aspirations, and boost morale and camaraderie.
What unique incentives do you use to drive performance? Share yours below!