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Ask Derek: Employee Rewards for Call Center Employees?

Recognize This! -In recognition and reward programs for Call Center employees, be sure you are reinforcing desired behaviors and outcomes, not just results.

Occasionally, I receive questions through the “Email Derek” button in the upper-right corner of this blog that have a broader interest to the readers of the blog. One such question came in from Sudan  over the weekend asking:

I work as an HR manager for a call center and HR consulting business. What are your thoughts on:
1. Employee rewards for call center employees?
2. How to minimize unnecessary organization meeting?

Call centers can be tricky as the typical method of motivating employees is through incentives. In answer to Sudan’s first question, I’ll refer to a couple of past posts on the topic.

In 2009, I shared a Dilbert cartoon and commented on poor program structure, “Call centers will often set up reward structures based on call time or number of calls handled within a set amount of time. Yet such practices merely encourage representatives to get callers off the phone as quickly as possible, and not necessarily give the customer the level of service or help they truly require. So the representative is rewarded on essentially poor customer service and potentially a destroyed customer relationship.”

Also in 2009, I explained the difference between incentives and recognition:

I liked very much a client’s definition of incentive as “push the button, get the pellet.” You are told in advance “if you do this, you get that.” You are pre-directing effort in a way that eliminates the need for creativity and can actually discourage innovation and the desire to give additional discretionary effort – often with unintended consequences. Incentives are all about the stuff – the reward.

Recognition, however, is a more intensive effort that delivers the positive results companies are looking for when they think about these programs. Recognition is based on fostering an environment in which employees WANT to perform, then letting managers and even colleagues acknowledge exceptional effort and praise deserving employees for it. It is more intensive because it requires people to actually notice and then demonstrably appreciate the efforts of those around them. But that effort is well worth the result — a true culture of appreciation.

The confusion arises because recognition can include a reward, but it is not about the “stuff.” Recognition is about encouraging, acknowledging and appreciating desired BEHAVIORS. This is a critical difference to understand by any company desiring to influence employee behavior without stifling innovation, action and creativity.

Don’t misunderstand me. Globoforce offers incentives plans as part of our strategic offering. Incentives can have their place in a strategic recognition and reward strategy – for example in a sales incentive campaign or a call center initiative. But such usually short-term, end-goal campaigns cannot be confused with the overarching, long-term and ultimately cultural goals of recognition.

So what’s another option for call centers?

Once your employees clearly understand your core values and what they look like in their daily work as I’ve described above, empowering them to represent your core values in every customer interaction can do wonders. I look to this example from Zappos (discussed in an Inc. magazine article):

I spend a few minutes sitting in the Zappos call center with Grace Hale, a bubbly young woman with dyed black hair and a lip piercing. Unlike most call center operators, Zappos does not keep track of call times or require operators to read from scripts. Hale has a penchant for offering unsolicited commentary on customers’ shoe selections — “They are beautiful,” she coos during one call, as she pulls up a picture of a pair of Dr. Scholl’s Asana heels that a customer found uncomfortable. Not only are reps encouraged to make decisions on their own — for instance, offering a refund on a defective item — they are supposed to send a dozen or so personal notes to customers every day. “It’s all about P-E-C,” Hale explains to me. “Personal Emotional Connection with the customer.” …

[Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO] told a story about a woman whose husband died in a car accident after she had ordered boots for him from Zappos. The day after she called to ask for help with the return, she received a flower delivery. The call center rep had ordered the flowers without checking with a supervisor and billed them to the company. “At the funeral, the widow told her friends and family about the experience,” Hsieh said, his voice cracking and his eyes tearing up ever so slightly. “Not only was she a customer for life, but so were those 30 or 40 people at the funeral.”

As to Sudan’s second question about how to minimize unnecessary meetings, I find one reason too many meetings becomes commonplace is that the meeting becomes a substitute for other, more efficient (and effective) means of communications. So if you can open up more lines of communications, which a truly strategic recognition program that includes social recognition does, you can potentially eliminate some of those meetings.

Help out Sudan. What kind  of employee recognition, incentive or reward programs do you recommend for call centers? What approach have you seen to be most successful?

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