Changing the Social Dynamic in your Contact Center

In this guest post Tenacity CEO Ron Davis outlines Tenacity, sets out how Social Physics can change the dynamics in your contact center resulting in healthier, happier and more connected agents. What is more it can reduce attrition, and increase Customer Satisfaction and NPS scores.

Tenacity is an employee engagement application for contact centers, spun off of MIT’s prolific Human Dynamics Group. By combining the new big data science of “social physics” with machine learning and medical science, Tenacity socially engineers a happier, healthier, more meaningful and connected workplace. And unlike gamification or other engagement programs, it actually produces significant results. We are currently piloting with a large, North American telecom company in one of its domestic call centers, and seeing spectacular results. We are reducing attrition by 66% in the intervention group (compared to a control group), producing a 12-15x ROI, and a 4.5%-to-goal increase in transactional Net Promoter Scores.

Tenacity’s overall approach, described below, is complex. But underneath that complexity lies a straightforward thesis: probabilistic social forces, or social physics, drive employee engagement. Managers have traditionally been the ones who artfully shaped those social forces, but when economic forces stretch managerial bandwidth, science and technology can stand in the gap. We use the latest emerging research from social physics and medical science to improve engagement and personal thriving, and this translates to enormous, demonstrable bottom line gains.

Contact Centers

The contact center market is preparing for its next wave of technological change. For some time, technology has augmented managers by expanding employee efficiency through strategic routing, automation, and by generating dozens of objective and subjective KPIs.

But large gaps remain. Because of tight economics, management is spread exceedingly thin. It is financially impracticable for most centers to produce a truly engaging environment—which involves mentorship, team building, and the other means that allow human workers to flourish.

Fortunately, technology can help. Good managers take care of their employees in several technologically reproducible ways: connecting employees to one another and facilitating relationships and the dissemination of best practice across their teams; ensuring that no one is left out of a group, nor that anyone dominates; helping them create sustainable habits that keep them from burning out; instilling a sense of meaning and appreciation into their work; and using social dynamics to increase individual resilience.

Social Physics

A great deal of research focuses on team building, engagement, and organizational effectiveness. This has been greatly enhanced by the exponential growth of relevant data sets. Led by Alex “Sandy” Pentland, our parent lab is at the forefront of the intersection of big data analytics and social engagement. They have discovered ways to utilize social engagement to change behavior, use sensor tracking to provide a real time, actual measurement of engagement (rather than a self-reported one), and to intervene in human social networks to optimize engagement, information flow, and individual and network resilience. They call their discipline, “social physics.”

How Tenacity Works

Tenacity is a practical application of this research. We attack many of the root causes of low engagement in contact centers like poorly managed stress, social isolation, lack of feeling appreciated, lack of meaning in work and lack of general well-being We do this in two key ways:
The first is behavioral. Tenacity uses shapes behavior through a series of social incentives, some of which were developed at MIT itself. Because of underlying cooperative instincts, these incentives are vastly more effective at changing behavior than traditional incentives and comparative social games. We use these to get employees engaged in behaviors that improve their well-being and lower their stress, like guided 5-7-8 deep breathing exercises, or moderate physical activity. We also hope to add biofeedback, resilience training based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, and a sleep hygiene module for night shift workers.

The second involves macro level social engineering, called social network “tuning.” We build social capital, by strengthening relationships and creating new ones. This is extremely important. The degree to which a social network is properly structured is more predictive of team success than IQ or experience on the team.

In its current form, Tenacity offers periodic individual and team based challenges designed specifically to create ties where they are lacking, or to smooth out other structural problems in the social network. As the Tenacity experience becomes richer, we will be able to use data to pinpoint weaknesses in the social network, and through machine learning identify the optimal interventions for network tuning. Because patterns of human interaction are observable with enough data points, we will be able to see where there are social gaps or asymmetries and will use a mix of challenges and social incentives to address them. We also plan to develop a friend-finder as well, that helps employees make new connections.

Our analytics will help senior management diagnose and address problems—such as identifying influencers, finding toxic employees, intervening with ineffective supervisors and identifying flight risks. We are currently rolling out an engine that recommends which employees should have their breaks at the same time. This is inspired by an experiment conducted by our lab at a large US Bank. The results were spectacular, with quarterly savings of $15M.

When properly functioning, social networks are effective in facilitating resilience, engagement and in disseminating best practice efficiently. This shows up dramatically in increased productivity and quality, and decreased absenteeism and attrition.

Evidence from a Commercial Pilot

As mentioned above, it works. Tenacity is piloting an early version of our product with a large, North American Telecom Provider in one of its domestic contact centers. The center handles two call types, and also has a social care operation. Using a statistical method called propensity scoring, we constructed a control group that was as comparable to the intervention group as possible, to eliminate the problem of selection bias (we didn’t want the highly engaged employees to use Tenacity and mislead us into thinking we were responsible for better performance and lower attrition.)

Our primary goal was to reduce the monthly attrition rate in the contact center by one half a percentage point to one full percentage point. Compared to the control group, the intervention group has improved by 4.4 percentage points per month over a three month period. Put another way, we reduced attrition by 2/3rds. Even if the effect declines substantially, this alone is projected to produce a 12-15x ROI over six months.

Our second goal was to improve Net Promoter Scores. All of the key performance indicators are statistically noisier than attrition, but it does appear we are having a strong positive impact on Net Promoter Scores as well. The client measures their employees using a “percent to goal” calculation. Hence, a person with a 100% score hits her goal exactly without exceeding it. Tenacity appears to contribute a 4-5% to goal improvement in Net Promoter Scores.

Third, we hoped to see high engagement with the application itself. This contact center sees low enrollment and meager persistence with wellness and engagement programs. Our host warned us that 20% is the maximum participation rate we could expect, and that after eight weeks, only ¼ of those would remain. We had a very limited enrollment period and just over 50% signed up. At 17 weeks, roughly 55% of those remain. This despite the fact that new users cannot sign up (though several have asked), for the purpose of the pilot.


Tenacity is not the first employee engagement tool and it will not be the last. Engagement programs have proliferated rapidly in recent years, with social recognition and gamification leading the way. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be able to produce much evidence that they improve engagement, change behavior or well-being, reduce attrition, or improve productivity metrics.

But the early evidence strongly suggests that Tenacity is one of the first to have a significant impact on the bottom line. Its ability to do so is because it is rooted in an emerging, big-data driven science, called social physics. That science has yielded significant new discoveries in how to engage people, and Tenacity is the first to market in utilizing those insights in a scalable way.

We believe that effective social engineering, through tools like Tenacity, is the next wave in technological augmentation of management. Like workforce optimization tools, social engineering will largely automate functions that were previously only possible through human action. The results of our experiment are so powerful that our buyers are typically senior operations executives, rather than HR, because the savings are real and they accrue to operations budgets. We are confident that the technology will spread quickly, creating a bottom line and top line source of competitive advantage for the early adopters.

Let us know your thoughts on Social Physics and Tenacity or reach out to Ron directly

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