Using Incentives in the Contact Center: Five Tips for Success

By Peggy Carlaw

Employee incentives run the gamut from ballpoint pens to retirement funds. They include bonuses, benefits, perks, and anything else aimed at motivating agents to take a job at your contact center and to stay there. The idea behind these incentives is keeping agents on a track of continuous improvement and rewarding them for succeeding.

Too often, we think that the only perks employees want are more pay – and bonuses on top of that. But that’s not necessarily true. Many contact center employees are motivated to attain additional skills and knowledge so they can look forward to the prospect of promotion or job enhancement. We’ve seen many studies, and they all have different results as to which incentives are most important to agents. Here, without ranking, are the most frequently cited incentives:

  • Opportunities for promotion
  • Additional training and education
  • Recognition for hard work
  • Better pay
  • Better work environment and working conditions
  • Job security
  • Bonus or commission
  • Employer contribution to retirement plan

Here are five tips to keep in mind when you’re creating a new incentive program or overhauling an existing one.

1) Make sure the goals are achievable: Many incentive programs revolve around some goal associated with productivity or quality. In order for a program to be a success, it’s essential for the goal to be within reach of the agents. Set the bar high, but not impossibly high. Remember, you want your agents to win. If the goals are set too high, employees will lose heart and stop trying. What’s worse, they’ll feel like failures, when they actually may have made great progress.

2) Let agents choose their own incentives: The simplest way to make sure your agents will like the perks and rewards offered is to ask them beforehand what they want. You can include a question on an employee satisfaction survey or find some other way to get agents to identify what rewards would be most meaningful to them. Chances are, you’ll get a variety of responses. Keep track of who wants what, and when it’s time, reward them accordingly.

3) Make it enjoyable: To really get agents rallied around a goal, you have to do more than just state the goal and say, “Go out and reach it.”  It’s equally important for the process to be fulfilling for agents. This doesn’t necessarily mean that at every moment the environment has to be jovial, but agents should at least feel that they’re enjoying the challenge.

One way to accomplish this is to celebrate small successes along the way. Another is to continually remind agents of the progress they’re making, the learning they’re accomplishing, the professional or personal growth they’re achieving, and so on.

4) Use incentives at crucial times: Incentives can be used anytime, but there are certain situations in which an incentive program is especially timely in the call center. Following are a few examples:

  • At the end of training, offer incentives to agents to start using their newly acquired skills.
  • When a major change occurs, use an incentive program to encourage agents to embrace the change and make a smooth transition.
  • When morale is low, try an incentive program to inject some renewed energy and enthusiasm into the team.
  • At the launch of a new product or project, use incentives to help rally the team.

5) Avoid overkill: Can you do too much? Yes, overkill is possible. Don’t feel that you have to have an incentive program running every hour of every day. You’ll be exhausted, and your agents will be too. People can’t work at their peak at all times.

Peggy Carlaw is an author, customer service consultant, and principal with Impact Learning Systems, a customer service training company. Peggy regularly blogs at the ILS Customer Service Blog and actively supports socially responsible movements, including the World Harmony Run.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2011]

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