Today’s multigenerational contact centers employ staff whose ages can potentially span 50 years. Naturally, there are distinct differences in values, work ethics and goals among the generational groups. But while much has been written about each group’s motivational drivers, it can be a frustrating task for a manager to identify rewards that will be enticing enough to improve performance in younger workers who are just beginning their careers and older staff who have decades of experience and very different needs and goals.
What motivates staff across age groups? Offering a combination of financial and non-financial incentives is a highly effective approach for producing lasting change in behaviors and attitudes. Creating an appropriate and optimal mix of incentives can influence the types of behaviors that drive frontline staff to achieve individual goals, which ultimately helps the center hit its customer-centric targets and positively impact the bottom line.
Editor’s note: There are a wide variety of financial and non-financial incentives that are in use in contact centers across the country. This article is not meant to provide a comprehensive view of rewards or incentives programs, but to highlight a few approaches that have proven successful in motiving an age-diverse workforce.
Financial Incentives Drive Performance Goals
Motivating frontline staff by providing them with the means to increase their income is a compelling approach in a contact center environment. Financial incentives provide center leadership with a way to reward agents for hitting performance targets, and if properly structured, deliver a solid return through improved business results.
At Pitney Bowes, a global technology company that provides innovative products and solutions that power commerce, the support organization is staffed by a highly technical workforce. Attracting and retaining talent that has both technical capabilities as well as the soft skills needed to communicate with a wide variety of clients is a top priority for center leadership. A key component of the support organization’s strong customer-centric culture is its focus on rewarding and recognizing high performance.
“When we develop incentives, rewards and recognition, we want to make sure that it is serving the right purpose,” says Jesse Hoobler, Director, Office of the President at Pitney Bowes, and former Director of Worldwide Software Support. “For us, that means making sure that it aligns with our value proposition of serving our clients and serving our shareholders to the best of our ability, as well as retaining our top talent. Everything we do ties back into those two main drivers.”
Support organization leadership at Pitney Bowes have found that a variable pay plan provides an effective incentive for improved performance. Support center representatives can earn 3% in variable compensation on top of their base salary for meeting customer-centric goals.
The variable compensation is tied to organization’s voice of the customer surveying program, which is based on the Net Promoter Score methodology. Each support interaction triggers a survey, which asks clients the NPS relationship question (How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?), and ties that feedback to the support case or reason for their call by asking them about their support experience.
Customer feedback is analyzed on a micro and macro level to determine a support rep’s variable compensation payout, Hoobler explains. On a micro level, each support rep’s annual VoC scores are reviewed for consistent performance throughout the year. On a macro level, “we also tie in a percentage of the variable compensation to the global NPS to ensure that our individual reps are not only making sure that our clients are being taken care of at the micro level, but that they’re also working together as a cohesive team to serve the client as a single, unified Pitney Bowes support center.”
Prepaid Debit & Gift Cards
Gift cards for popular restaurants and retailers have been a popular reward in call centers for years. They offer employees a little bit of variety in how they redeem the reward. Staff can use them to help with daily expenses (e.g., food and beverage cards like Starbucks or Chipotle) or apply them toward more expensive items or holiday expenses (e.g., retail cards, such as Ikea, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Walmart).
Even more popular than store-specific cards are spend-anywhere Mastercard or Visa debit cards, says Robert Cowen of Snowfly, a full-service employee incentives and recognition company. In fact, Snowfly’s most recent survey into the types of rewards that employers offer to their staff showed that 82.7% of the dollar value for tangible rewards among their clients worldwide was spent on spend-anywhere debit cards. The Snowfly research also revealed that the majority of those cards were cashed in from September through December. Cowen hypothesizes that employees are using these debit cards as “Christmas club accounts” to help with holiday shopping expenses.
For incentive and reward programs, Cowen recommends company-branded reloadable debit cards versus fixed-value. “If it’s reloadable, it gives you a more frequent opportunity to put money on it, which is a reinforcing factor for the employee,” he says. “It reinforces the event, such as a good quality score, upselling percentages or customer saves,” and encourages repeat behavior.
He adds that Mastercard and Visa prepaid cards are more universal in their appeal than store-specific gift cards, and they relieve the manager of having to decide which store or restaurant to select. Amazon and PayPal gift cards are also popular. Amazon offers a product line that is wide enough to appeal to any age group, and their prices are competitive enough to be on par with a Mastercard or Visa debit card, Cowen says, and there are a wide variety of stores that now accept PayPal. “It’s nice to be personal and try to tailor the reward to the individual, but this is the age of empowerment. You’re allowing the employee to make it personal by enabling them to buy what they want from whom they want when they want,” he says.
Managers often ask Cowen how much they should spend on employee rewards and incentives. “I have found that 2% of payroll moves the needle significantly—more than enough to get an extremely good return on investment that would make your CFO happy,” he says.
Awards & Prizes
In addition to variable compensation for individual and team performance, Pitney Bowes reinforces the behaviors that contribute to individual and organizational success by providing a financial incentive for peer-nominated awards.
The support organization’s Rep of the Year award is “a nomination program for support representatives by support representatives,” Hoobler states. “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 Rep of the Year award program is open to Pitney Bowes staff in support centers worldwide “to ensure that we’re fostering collaboration and diversity through the program,” he adds. The award winner receives a $2,000 incentive, and runners-up receive iPads.
Paid & Non-Paid Time Off
Many contact centers offer rewards in the form of time—specifically, paid time off and unpaid time off that can be accumulated and added to vacation time or used throughout the year.
“A contact center agent may be able to build up an extra day or two of time off, which can pay off in savings,” says Cowen. For instance, an agent may be able to save on airline tickets because he or she can be more flexible with flight times by leaving for vacation or coming back a day early or late.
Nonfinancial Motivators That Influence Behaviors
Pay is a critical consideration for most contact center employees in whether they stay or leave, and how they view their role—and many managers have witnessed what a strong demotivator low pay can be. But once employees feel that they’re being fairly compensated for their contributions, daily motivation can be further encouraged by positive feedback and genuine appreciation, and recognition of the value that the individual brings to the team, contact center and organization.
All age groups respond positively to recognition that is sincere and focused on individual contributions and achievements. In the contact center, linking recognition to customer experience also provides an ideal way to highlight behavior that drives organizational strategies or goals.
“Employees need to know what is expected of them and why a change in behavior is important and worthy of a reward above and beyond salary-based compensation,” says customer experience management expert Janet LeBlanc of Janet LeBlanc + Associates Inc. “Employees also need to know what to do differently to be rewarded. Customer experience reward and recognition programs must be anchored directly to the criteria related to the ideal customer experience with measurable goals in place.” She points to The Walt Disney Co. as an example, which has three primary criteria related to its themepark customer experience: providing a magical experience, attention to every detail, and making every child feel special.
“By linking an employee recognition program to the criteria used to form the ideal experience, organizations emphasize the chosen behaviors needed to create memorable experiences. Doing so also prevents employees from over-exerting their talents in ways that are not aligned with the desired process and therefore potentially inefficient, unproductive or costly to the organization, LeBlanc states. “An effective employee recognition program not only recognizes top performers, but also motivates all employees to reinforce and achieve the desired customer-focused behaviors.” (For more on how to positively influence agent behavior and cultivate a customer-centric culture, see “Make Employee Recognition Part of Your CEM Strategy,” Pipeline, October 2013).
Hoobler agrees. “It’s easy to give kudos, praise and recognition to employees who are burning the candle at both ends or swooping in to be a hero when they could have done something upstream to prohibit the issue or escalation that took place downstream,” he says. “When developing a reward and recognition program, you need to identify the core characteristics and behaviors that you expect your team to be able to emulate, and then assess how to recognize both individuals and teams that are exhibiting those types of behaviors.”
It’s important to develop the behavioral characteristics before you start rewarding and recognizing employees, Hoobler stresses. “If it’s reactive, your employees will notice that their colleagues are being recognized for super-heroics that could have been prohibited in another way, or they are reinforcing a disjointed work-life balance. That will disincent people from wanting to do things the right way for their customers.”
As a technology company, Pitney Bowes utilizes a variety of tools within the support organization to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in serving clients. One such tool that has been remarkably beneficial in sharing kudos and recognition internally is Chatter, Salesforce’s social collaboration software solution.
The management team is highly active in posting positive feedback from clients on the Chatter site. It allows the entire organization to instantly to see the kudos, and it enables other reps to “like” the comment to show their support for their peers, as well as pick up successful techniques and practices for serving clients.
“It allows for a very dynamic conversation for our geographically diverse organization,” Hoobler says. “We utilize this technology very effectively to communicate what people are doing well, what behaviors are helping our clients to be successful and what we need to continue doing to reinforce that type of behavior.”
The contact center may be the most visible touchpoint between a business and its customers, but what about the other functions that contribute to the customer experience? At Pitney Bowes, recognizing the collaborative effort to serve clients is key.
The company’s “Make a Difference” campaign is a global program that recognizes efforts that require teaming and collaboration across different departments. “It’s very short-sighted to think about recognition programs as only being within one department or silo. That supports an ‘It’s just about me’ mentality,” Hoobler says. “In today’s unique, dynamic environment, it’s incredibly important to recognize the cohesiveness and collaboration that takes place across the departments to serve our clients.”
Learning & Development Opportunities
Providing contact center staff with the opportunity to grow and be successful is a key performance motivator that not only increases engagement, but delivers an ROI to the business from improved skill sets and higher performance. Learning and development is one area that can—and should—be tailored to meet the specific needs and learning preferences of the individual agents.
“Employees want more than just financial compensation from a business,” Hoobler says. “We are very focused on the personal development and mentorship of our employees. All of our representatives are encouraged to develop their own personal development plans based on what they feel their strengths and weaknesses are, a 360-degree analysis and working with their managers. It’s all very unique and it’s employee-driven. Then it’s up to the leadership team in the support center to do whatever they can to support those personal development plans.”
Hoobler believes that the best way to learn and develop is by doing. High-performing reps can participate on stretch projects where they learn project management skills, develop communication with senior leadership and learn how to work cohesively across multiple geographies to reach a goal. For instance, a recent project involved the rollout of a global knowledge base within Pitney Bowes’ worldwide software support team. While most organizations would put together a team of senior leaders and experienced project managers to develop and implement a large-scale technology solution, “we decided to flip the funnel,” Hoobler says. A group of highly engaged support reps were assigned to the project. “They ran the program, interviewed their colleagues around the globe to ensure that we understood the features, functionalities and utilities that we needed to build into this knowledge program,” he says.
The payoff was multifold. In addition to the learning and development benefits for the reps who were involved, having the frontline employees who would be using the tool every day build, develop, train and rollout the technology created immediate buy-in from the staff. “It wasn’t a system that was built by someone who has no skin in the game,” Hoobler points out. “It was developed by peers who were thinking of the support rep when they’re building this program.”
Reinforce What You Value
Pitney Bowes support organization’s approach to rewards and recognition has been remarkably effective. In an industry known for high turnover, the average tenure of its support reps is 10 years.
What is the secret sauce that makes it successful? “It’s important to tie rewards and recognition techniques to business outcomes,” Hoobler says. “Our clients are incredibly important to us, so we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that they are successful. All of the rewards and recognition techniques that we have developed within the support organization at Pitney Bowes are focused on reinforcing that fundamental behavior of ensuring that our clients are successful.”
He adds: “You can create a flavor-of-the-month recognition program, but is it going to reinforce what is important to the business and to the employees? Probably not. If you have that strong tie into the business outcomes, you’re showing employees how they are changing the business and making a difference for their customers.”