Incentives in your Centre, What is right for you?

Incentives in your Centre, What is right for you?

How do you motivate your call or contact center agents? I have been asked this question hundreds of times. The questions keep coming up because centers are constantly struggling with how to engage their staff. Engaged staff is more productive, has lower attrition and positively impacts the overall center morale.

Motivation in many centers is a purely tactical activity; Tactical, short term programs and incentives. Other centers take a more strategic approach with over arching incentive, compensation and recognition programs. Tactical programs are generally implemented to drive productivity increases, strategic programs drive productivity, quality and compensation alignment.

There are number tactics and tools employed in both tactical and strategic programs. In this article we examine theses options to provide an overview to what works, what doesn’t and why.

The choices are almost endless: cash, coupons a multitude of gift cards, recognition and rewards schemes and programs. But what are the most effective programs to put into place and what will work best in your center to help you achieve your goals and objectives?

First let’s divide incentives into groups of similar types of incentives: Cash or similar, Travel, recognition and hybrid programs. Cash and similar programs are by far the most popular form of incentives. They are employed both in tactical short term programs as well as on-going and strategic programs. Cash program employ actual money, similar programs employ rewards that are tied to money, but are not cash. These would include gift cards (Amex or Visa cash cards, Retails cards: Best Buy, Sears, Wal-Mart etc., coupons or passes for Restaurants or movie theatres. The most prevalent form of agent incentives is still cash. As the old saying goes “it is always the right size and color”. Cash programs are the easiest to implement, no issues or discussions are required to determine if your staff will be able to use the reward and it is easy to budget and track. Though always welcomed cash incentives can present a number of challenges. These challenges can include the appropriateness of the level of incentive: if the cash level is too low, agents may feel that the incentive is not worth seeking or may even feel insulted by a $0.25 incentive which will actually erode morale in the center and can depress rather than incent improved productivity. In setting a cash program there is instant transparency regarding the value of the incentive a dollar is a dollar, unlike other programs where the value or perceived value may be unknown or variable. So it is critical that the incentives be targeted appropriately to incent the actions or behaviours you wish to reward and not be set too high or too low. At both extremes agents may not be motivated as they perceive the targets to be unattainable or to require too much effort for to little reward. This can be a particular problem with short term tactical programs, strategic programs often are geared to permanent change of behaviour and as such are often commission based or structured on a similar model. These commission models are less incentives and more part of the compensation model.

Gift cards are employed by many centers and this type of incentive often is perceived to be more effective than cash as it the reward doesn’t get frittered away. In the hands or pockets of most agents cash incentives vanish, the money just get spent with no attributable purchase or result. Gift cards and coupons on the other hand generally result in some specific purchase or event being associated with the reward: a book, CD, DVD, dinner out etc. The connection with a tangible purchase or acquisition positively reinforces the value of the incentive each time the agent thinks about what they did with the incentive/reward.

As outlined above caution must be taken in developing the criteria for the reward and specifically with gift cards and coupons the suitability of the incentive to your staff base. For example in a center where the staff earns minimum wage and incentive usable only for electronics may be less well suited to staff that are having trouble buying groceries and cash or grocery gift cards may be better suited to your staff.

Travel incentives are generally employed in long term or on-going strategic programs. Often they are structured to reward the top X performers with a trip to a nice destination (resort or similar). Suitability and appropriateness for your staff is critical in programs of this type. Common in sales call centers travel incentives generally require longer periods of time from start to finish and can be challenged to retain relevance throughout the program. If the trip is for the top sales person and the same person wins each time, other staff will quickly (and sometimes instantly) lose interest in the program as they do not feel they can win. This perception can be a challenge with any ‘all or nothing’ program structure.

Studies regularly inform us that agents value recognition equal to or above cash compensation. As any centre manager will tell you it is important to recognize achievements by agents if you wish to keep your staff motivated. There are too many recognition programs to address all of them individually here but some of the most common programs would include: Employee of the month awards, choice parking privileges, choice of shifts, choice of lunch or break schedules. Some of the most interesting programs can involve contact centre radio stations where the reward is selecting the programming and or coaching the CEO or similar senior executives as they take calls for a day.

Hybrid programs will involve one or more of the above incentive models. These are often structured to reward points for various achievements and performance results. Hybrids can incorporate short term incentives for tactical objectives within the overall point structure. Hybrids can be extremely effective as they can evolve constantly so they are never perceived to be boring or mundane. As they can reward various activities sales, volume, most up-sells, highest customer satisfaction, peer mentoring etc. they hold a broader appeal to agents versus an ‘all of nothing’ incentive. This said Hybrid point systems require more design and management time to build and operate these programs.

So which type of program is right for your centre? Incentive and reward programs can be wonderful tools for centre management to get more from their staff when properly implemented, but they can also increase costs, reduce efficiencies, increase staff turnover and erode employee morale when they are poorly conceived and executed.
While there is no one-size fits all solution, the following checklist can help you to determine what will work best for you in your centre.
Analyze your staff and the suitability of reward types,
Align the objectives of the reward program to centre objectives,
Determine if you should employ a tactical or strategic program,
Identify the behaviours you wish to incent and improve,
Quantify how you will measure these improvements (always employ objective over subjective measurements),
Quantify the impact of the program on the centre, what will we realize as a result of the reward program,
Assess the amount of time it will take to build and manage the program,
Quantify the costs to operate the reward program (hard costs: the rewards themselves and Soft costs: management and reporting),
Develop a Return on Investment (ROI) model for consideration by management.

Whatever programs you choose to implement consult your staff in the development of any program, it the agents after all that you wish to engage through the incentive program.

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