Powering Call Center Performance: Use Noncash Rewards to Motivate

By Christopher Cabrera

For pure motivating power, there’s nothing like cold, hard cash, right? Right and wrong. From season tickets and designer fashions to this year’s must-have toy, there are millions of things that are nothing like cashthey’re better.

Because each of us is an individual, we have our own ideas of what’s worth striving for. Given the correct circumstances, any number of noncash items are more motivating than money to the individuals who work for you. The trick is bringing the prize, the circumstance, and the individual into alignment in order to fuel new levels of call center performance.

Teleservices management is not blind to the possibilities of noncash rewards. But like sales and customer service organizations everywhere, they haven’t been given much to work with. Some operations launch intermittent contests, but they are rarely strategically integrated with the larger compensation picture. In addition, they are generally…well, somewhat boring.

Typically managed in an ad hoc manner via spreadsheets, today’s noncash incentive programs are almost always limited to a handful of fixed prizes or worse gift cards that many people never bother to redeem. And this is a pity, because a creative, consistent, programmatic, precisely targeted, and highly individualized approach to noncash rewards can be an important motivator of agent productivity and loyalty.

Without such an approach, it is impossible to take full advantage of the following opportunities presented by noncash awards:

  • Personalization: When people are able to target a prize they really want, they tend to work harder and stretch further. Cash, or a slim selection of one-size-fits-all noncash prizes, just aren’t as over-the-top compelling. The more prizes you can offer, the more likely you are to spark each individual’s interest and keep them motivated as they strive for future prizes.
  • Attainability: Just as cash comes in increments, so do rewards. Noncash incentives can be tied to a point system. Once earned, points can be banked for future redemption – from a fountain pen to a Caribbean vacation. This means that everyone in the organization can participate.
  • Stickiness: Cash is impersonal. A $100 check is great, but it is soon spent and forgotten. But a new mountain bike, flat-panel TV, or family trip to Disneyland represents a constant reminder of the rewards that can come from stretching to meet a goal, and of the employer who made it possible.
  • Commitment: Similarly, if an agent has an eye on a big-ticket prize and has amassed a reasonable amount of points towards attaining it, he or she is less likely to jump ship before the big payoff – particularly if the agent’s family is also rooting for the big prize.
  • Customization: Inbound, outbound, agent, supervisor – noncash rewards enable you to craft compelling incentive programs for any call center employee, with points for genuinely meaningful prizes tied to any type of desired action and level of performance.

Making It Happen: So how do you go about harnessing this super-motivating force? Not by managing via spreadsheets.  That only leads you down the path to the simplified, one-prize-fits-all rewards programs of the past. In order to run a sophisticated and effective noncash rewards program, you need to take a page from the on-demand CRM playbook and automate the process. Call centers, which are essentially enabled by automation to begin with, can easily dovetail the automated processes they have for CRM and performance management with the automation required for running a successful and flexible noncash rewards initiative.

This needn’t be expensive. As pioneers such as salesforce.com have shown, CRM can be extremely cost-effective when the software functionality behind it is delivered on an on-demand basis. With this in mind, below is a blueprint for implementing a flexible and powerful noncash rewards environment:

1. Start with your CRM implementation: Use your CRM application as the basis for a rewards program. Assign points for each agent action, including up-sell, cross-sell, call duration, issue resolution, successful qualifying of prospects, and positive customer feedback. As the action takes place, it is registered in the CRM program, and the points can be automatically assigned and tracked. Rewards program administrators now have a single, automated, easily consulted, and auditable “system-of-record” for who has won what, for what action, and when.

2. Ensure that participants have visibility into attainment: As points mount up, it’s important that program participants have as much visibility into attainment as program administrators. This is next to impossible to achieve with spreadsheets. But with rewards programs integrated with CRM, it is possible to enable employees to see online, at any time, precisely where they stand regarding points won and points spent via a familiar application interface.

3. Enable anytime points redemption online: Make the online world your program’s redemption catalog for instant gratification. Amazon.com, Best Buy, and others can be your fulfillment mechanism for literally millions of personally meaningful prizes, whether it’s an adventure travel package, a set of diamond earrings, or a gas barbeque. An application mashup (that is, a website that mixes content from multiple sources) can allow participants to check out and select merchandise and prizes, just as easily as they can keep a tab on points earned, all through a familiar CRM application.

4. Get a handle on the back-end housekeeping: Noncash rewards and their redemption have their own set of challenges, including payment and taxability as income. But when the program management process is automated, these challenges can be easily overcome. What about back-end payment for merchandise selected and shipped? Leverage PayPal, just to keep it all online. For tax withholding and reporting, with automating, you can ensure that you have complete and auditable electronic records for accounting, HR, tax management, and compliance purposes.

Take Home the Rewards: Not only are all four of the above steps next to impossible to accomplish using spreadsheets and manual methods, but accomplishing them through automation, on-demand functionality, and easily implemented, cutting-edge technologies means that you can create and enjoy something entirely new and different. By awarding points for performance, you can efficiently run multiple concurrent reward programs tailored to any function within your organization. Through offering personally meaningful rewards, you can tailor your programs right down to each individual, each of whom gets to shoot for their own personal moon. Plus, through electronic, end-to-end visibility, tracking, and auditability, you simplify back office processes and stay compliant.

Cash will never lose its place as the primary incentive. But when you really want to get the motivational fires burning bright, you need the option of throwing noncash incentives on the flames. In doing so, you will motivate certain individuals in ways that money can’t. And you’ll give all your employees something extra to dream about, strive for, and achieve to the betterment of your organization’s performance.

Christopher Cabrera is the founder, president, and CEO of Xactly Corporation. He is a seasoned executive with more than two decades of successful senior management experience at both early-stage and public companies, where he has managed sales, marketing, operations, and business development.

[From Connection Magazine December 2008]