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Agent Appreciation

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Agent Appreciation

/ People, Recognition, People management
Agent Appreciation

15 ideas for showing frontline staff how much you value their contribution.

August is a good time of the year to think about ways to recognize your frontline staff for the important role that they play in the organization’s success. Customer Service Week (Oct. 3-7) is right around the corner, so many contact centers are already planning activities and events to show agents some extra love for their hard work and commitment.

Since it was established over three decades ago, the number of companies participating in CSW festivities has continued to grow. And while the annual appreciation is much anticipated by customer service staff—and well-deserved—most center leaders agree that thanking agents for their valuable contribution should take place frequently and all year long.

It’s the little things that you can do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis that make a huge difference in agents’ job satisfaction levels. There are many types of activities and simple gestures that show agents how much they’re appreciated. The following are 15 ideas for recognizing your agents as unique individuals who bring value to your center.

Surprise Celebrations

Keep your agents on their toes with impromptu appreciation celebrations. Did an agent just hit a performance goal, score a perfect rating on a QM session, save a customer? Break out the kazoos, silly hats and balloons and take a minute to publicly rejoice in their achievements!

Wall of Fame

The Wall of Fame is a long-standing call center practice for publicly displaying agents’ achievements, photos, letters from customers, and praise from peers, supervisors and senior management.

This technique can be adapted to include virtual or work-from-home staff by creating a space on the company intranet to share photos and stories that celebrate your agents’ accomplishments, and where team members can add their comments and kudos.

Practical pointer: Call attention to agents’ accomplishments at team meetings by reading aloud entries from your physical or virtual wall of fame. It’s a positive way to kick off meetings and highlight good deeds that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.

Establish a Recognition Committee

The best way to come up with simple, yet effective ideas for ongoing recognition is to turn the task over to your staff. Select a few frontline agents and leaders to serve on a recognition committee, suggests Todd Marthaler, a contact center consultant at Interactive Intelligence. “Establish some boundaries—budget, frequency, timing, perhaps—but otherwise, put them in a room with a pizza for a half-day and let them brainstorm,” he says. “I’ve seen great ideas emerge from these sessions—like a preferred parking spot for the employee of the month winner and bagels for all nominated team members, a quarterly lunch for all team members if we hit our quality metrics, and an end-of-the-year recognition dinner for all.”

Practical pointer: Make the opportunity to serve on the committee a reward in itself. Rotate the committee members on a quarterly or annual basis.

Peer Recognition

Recognition from peers can be even more powerful than praise from a supervisor or manager. Let frontline staff award those colleagues whose performance they deem deserving of recognition. Pitney Bowes’ support organization’s Rep of the Year award is a nomination program for support representatives by support representatives, according to Jesse Hoobler, global director of Worldwide Software Support. “Our support leadership council, which is made up of support representatives within our global support organization, nominates individuals whom they feel have exemplified the core characteristics of our support organization—which is serving our clients to the best of our abilities.” The award winner receives a $2,000 incentive and runners-up receive iPads.

Practical pointer: A low-effort, yet still effective approach to peer-to-peer recognition is the traveling trophy. Have agents nominate and vote on the agent who provided outstanding internal support or who went out of his way to help a colleague. The winner is awarded the traveling trophy at a departmentwide meeting, and has the honor of displaying the trophy at his workstation for the month. At the end of that time, the agent selects the next recipient, and presents him with the trophy at the next department meeting, along with details on what the agent did to earn his coworker’s praise.

Thank Back-Office Staff

Give back-office staff the credit they deserve for their role in the speed and quality of service the contact center delivers. Have your agents decide on the nomination categories and types of awards.

Practical pointer: Include back-office staff in your Customer Service Week activities. Put together a team of agents to plan a special ceremony at which the awards will be presented to their back-office colleagues. It doesn’t have to be a formal event, and the thought and effort they put into it will go a long way toward strengthening interdepartmental camaraderie.

Let Agents Sit in on Management Meetings

You can recognize top performers and show your support for their ongoing growth and development by allowing career-minded agents to attend management meetings. Have an agent accompany you to the next department head meeting, or send someone to attend in your place when you’re not available.

Show Your Support of Agent Development

The best leaders are those who focus on what’s important to each member of their team and who help each individual to achieve their personal goals. Show your interest in agents’ professional development outside of the annual performance review. Schedule time to meet with individual agents at the office or during an offsite lunch to talk about their goals and offer your guidance on their short- and long-term career plans.

If an agent shows interest in moving into another department or area of the company, review with that individual the skills needed to make the crossover, and work with the department head on ways to increase the agent’s exposure to that function; for instance, by participating in projects in that department.

Invite Senior Execs to the Center

A word of praise from a company executive can have an incredible impact on your team’s focus and motivation. It’s also a great way to kick off Customer Service Week. AllStaff Call Center Recruiting VP Eric Berg suggests hosting an opening keynote event in which senior execs publicly acknowledge the value that the contact center and agents provide to the overall growth and stability of the organization. “Agents will better understand their impact and focus on what they need to do to further help the organization meet its goals,” he says. “Nothing shows appreciation like senior executives taking the time to come to the center and personally thank the frontline staff for everything they do to help the company meet its goals.”

Practical pointer: Prep executives with customer success stories, examples of agents who went above and beyond to deliver outstanding service, and highlights of exceptional performance by individuals, teams and the overall center.

Showcase Your Staff’s Talents

Expand your recognition efforts beyond job-related tasks, skills and goals. Do you have talented artists, musicians and craftspeople among your agent base? Show your staff that you care about their personal lives and what’s important to them by helping to showcase their talents. Create a space in the company break room, cafeteria or conference room where your agents’ artwork or crafts can be displayed on a rotating basis. If you have musicians on staff, play their songs as background music in break rooms and common areas. Publish a story/poem of the month by your center’s creative writers in the company newsletter or on the intranet.

Write a Letter

Thank you cards and notes are always a nice tribute to those agents who have gone above and beyond. However, a formal letter praising the agent’s performance is a more official record of their performance that can be valuable in furthering their career.

Be specific about the individual’s contributions and achievements in the letter. Print a hard copy on company stationery and send it to the employee’s home address. Also, be sure to send a copy to senior management.

Nominate Staff for Industry Awards

Don’t limit your recognition efforts to internal programs. Recognize your agents’ hard work by nominating them for a contact center industry award. Programs like those offered by ICMI (Global Contact Center Awards), IQPC (Call Center Week Excellence Awards) and the American Business Awards (The Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service) include frontline categories for individuals and teams. Being nominated in itself is an honor for agents since they will recognize the time and effort that you put in on their behalf. And if they become a finalist or winner, your contact center and company will share in the positive publicity and prestige.

Find Reasons to Praise

Look for reasons to praise your agents—someone demonstrating the behaviors or skills that you’ve covered in coaching sessions, going above and beyond to help a customer, successfully cross-selling a product. Offering praise on the spot reinforces the positive behaviors and boosts agent morale and motivation.

Remember: Praise should be specific to be effective; for instance, saying “Good job, Jim!” is nice, but it doesn’t tell the agent what he did right. A better approach might be: “Jim, you did a great job calming the customer on during that complaint call. Your tone was respectful, and the phrases you used really demonstrated your empathy for the situation. Thank you for your professionalism!”

Tap the Skills of Your Top Performers

Give your best agents the opportunity to participate in coaching or mentoring those whose performance needs improvement. Peer coaching has been proven to be highly effective since agents can speak to their coworkers in the same “language.”

Agents get the chance to pick up insider tips and best practices that have helped their colleagues to be successful. For top agents, the recognition of their skills and high performance is very motivating and it helps to expand their leadership skills for long-term career development.

Make a Meal… and Serve it

What employee wouldn’t enjoy the chance to be waited on by his or her manager—or even better, senior management? Get the leadership team to make breakfast for the entire center—and then deliver it, white-glove style, to the agents’ desks.

Customer Site Visits

Pair a top agent with a colleague from account management or sales, and send her along on the next customer site visit. The agent gets to see firsthand how customers use your company’s products—valuable insights she can draw on the next time the customer needs assistance. At your next team meeting, have the agent share her impressions of the visit along with ideas for improving the services provided to the customer.

Susan Hash

Susan Hash

Susan Hash is the Editor of Contact Center Pipeline magazine and the Pipeline blog. She is a veteran business journalist with 25 years of specialized experience writing about customer care and contact centers.

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