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Inside Outsourced: Lights Out!

Last week, Todd’s agents had to explain their holiday of Diwali to him. This week, he gets to return the favor by explaining Thanksgiving. Part of that lesson includes preparing the team for the onslaught of calls the Mid America Novelties center will receive on Black Friday.

Later on, Rajiv pulls out a memo from corporate that he found in Todd’s garbage can. When being confronted about this, Rajiv replies “I had no choice, you keep changing your email password.” Oh, Rajiv! Anyway, the memo was about an incentive program for the call center to reach a sales goal. If they reach the goal, Todd will win a trip to Hawaii, Rajiv will win a new TV, and the agent with the most sales would get health insurance. Despite the spoils of victory, Todd thinks the goal is impossible to reach and doesn’t give the incentive a second thought.

On Thanksgiving, Todd gets a video phone call from his family. He learns that his successful businessman of a brother won a skiing trip to Colorado, which he gave to their parents. The sibling rivalry kicks in, and Todd lies and says that he won a trip to Hawaii for breaking the sales record at his company. So, back at the office, he tells the agents that they’re going to try to break the record. However, no one think they’ll be able to reach the necessary number of sales. Just after Todd gives an encouraging pep talk and gets everyone onboard, the power goes out due to the monsoon going on outside.

But a little power outage isn’t going to stop Todd from trying to outdo his brother. He makes the agents stay in their seats, just so they can be plugged in and ready to go once the power returns. Since he won’t let them go on breaks or to get food, Asha points out that he’s acting just like Rajiv. As you can imagine, Rajiv takes this as a compliment.

During the outage, Todd gets another call from his parents. He introduces the team to his mother, who tells Rajiv he looks like Tom Selleck. Though confused at first, Rajiv looks up a picture of Tom Selleck and is flattered. As he put it, “It’s rare to see another man with a moustache on this level.” When Todd’s father gets on the phone, Todd accidentally slips that he didn’t actually win the trip to Hawaii yet. This causes his father to lecture Todd about how he needs to grow up and find a real job. Todd rightly defends himself and says how he manages the whole office and has people working for him. Still, his father is unimpressed.

While the agents try to cheer Todd up, the power comes back on and everyone gets back to work. Still, their efforts aren’t enough to break the sales record. Though Manmeet, Asha and Madhuri volunteer to buy some products to get closer to the goal, Todd tells them not to bother – he realizes he doesn’t have to prove anything to his father. Just then, the power goes out again. While the agents are prepared to wait it out, Todd, against Rajiv’s wishes, lets everyone go home.

A lot went on in this episode, and I didn’t even mention the side plot involving Charlie, Manmeet and Gupta playing an intense game of laser tag. But to shed some light on everything else, here is ICMI’s Executive Director of Consulting, Macklin Martin.

Q. We saw the agents light up after hearing about the incentive of insurance coverage. How effective are incentives at motivating agents? What kind of incentives would you suggest contact centers offer their agents?

A. Well designed incentive programs are an excellent tool to focus employees on specific behaviors while also fostering deeper employee engagement. Incentives should be distinguished from other company programs such as employee benefit plans, recognition programs and performance management programs. This distinction provides nimbleness, which is important for incentives. Because incentives drive specific behaviors deemed beneficial to the organization at a point in time, they should not be linked to the more static employee programs previously mentioned. Typically, we do not want to incent any behavior forever. To design an effective incentive program, start with the following:

-Define your program objectives or goals: For example we want to increase our post transaction CSAT level by 4% over the coming calendar year.

-Specify the impact that goal is expected to have on the organization: By improving transaction CSAT by 4%, customer lifetime value is expected to increase, increased self service automation will decrease operating expenses, upsell and cross-sell rates improvement will add to revenues, etc.

-Identify the metric drivers of the objectives: Transactional CSAT is driven by First Contact Resolution, Convenience, Accessibility, CSR desire to assist.

-Identify the behaviors required to achieve those objectives: Target behaviors include: Use of Knowledge, effectiveness in problem solving, desire to help.

-Assess the gap between the current level of performance within that target behavior versus what is needed to achieve the goal.

-Analyze the costs and benefits associated with the incentive plan; plans must deliver a positive ROI. Key outputs should be an incentive budget.

-Collaboratively design the incentive program with key stakeholders, including those groups the incentive is targeted at. Gain consensus on program structure and governance. Take care to document the program structure and governance. Design an actionable communications plan!

-Communicate, Communicate , Communicate!!! Share the whole story; transparency improves trust which is essential for the incentive program to work.

-Reward target behaviors with relevant incentives.

-Continuously review the plan for effectiveness. Can we stop the incentive and still achieve the desired level of performance in the target behavior? Is this target behavior still a priority?

For more on incentives visit http://www.siop.org/ The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Q. During the power outage, the call center was essentially shut down, and Todd made the agents just sit around until the power came back. How should call centers handle unforeseen events like blackouts or system failures?

A. Plan for them. Call centers are the hub of an organization. Loss of service can impact thousands, evens millions of customer for some companies. For this reason, contact centers must develop a sound business continuity and disaster recovery strategy.

Search this topic here for best practices on developing your BCP/DR plan.

Q. After Todd’s father insults him about his job, Todd talks about how important his role as a call center manager is. How would you respond to Todd’s father, regarding the role of a call center manager?

A. I remember a similar conversation with my father in law. The Customer Management profession is one that offers the all the basic attributes of more common business support professions like marketing, procurement or accounting, such as hierarchical and lateral career paths, a unique profession specific body of knowledge, professional development opportunities such as events and education, operational research. Though biased, I most enjoy the fact that we are an active community of professionals united by our vision to deliver great service encounters. One unique thing about this profession that I’ve discovered over the years is the unfettered altruistic intention of customer management professionals. I would wager that you’ll find no greater group of “do gooders” elsewhere in the organization, especially at the C –Level.