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Engaging Call Center Agents Through Recognition

Agents are arguably the most valuable assets to any call center. Each day, our agents communicate with hundreds of customers, acting as – what ICMI trainers have described as- the ambassadors of the organization. Doesn’t it make sense that these agents should be both engaged and satisfied to be doing their job?

"Better to lead with a carrot than a stick!" speaker and author Adrian Gostick proclaimed in his keynote speech at ICMI's Call Center Demo. The lesson behind this popular saying served as the basis for Gostick's popular book, The Carrot Principle. The message here is simple: Providing employees with an incentive will encourage them to work more efficiently.

So, as a call center manager or supervisor, when was the last time you praised an individual agent for a job well done? If you’re having a bit of a tough time remembering, you’re not alone. However, it is important to realize the immense value behind recognizing and praising your agents and even more important that it can be done with little or no need for monetary resources.

The Top Three Drivers of Engagement

The Carrot Principle provides a statistical cross-section of the corporate world, focusing on how employees feel about their workplace and how they are interacting with their managers. The statistics within the book are based on a 10-year study of 200,000 employees and managers. For the book’s second edition, an additional 10,000 people in 13 countries were added to the results.

From the study data, Gostick and co-author Chester Elton discovered that by simply recognizing an employee’s everyday achievements, in addition to major milestones will increase in their overall engagement, retention and performance in the workplace.

What drives employee engagement? Gostick and Elton concluded that the top three worldwide drivers of employee engagement are:

  • Opportunity and Well Being: Feeling appreciated and taken care of by an employer
  • Pride: Being proud of the products and services that you are behind
  • Trust: Trusting the company you work for, as well as managers and colleagues

In his keynote presentation, Gostick shared that of all the employees surveyed for The Carrot Principle, only 40 percent admitted to being highly engaged and satisfied with his or her job - which boils down to roughly 4 out of 10 people! In comparison, the study also found that 14 percent were counted with high engagement but low satisfaction, 26 percent experienced both low engagement and low satisfaction while 20 percent had low engagement but high satisfaction.

These statistics indicate that even though many corporate employers are not properly engaging their employees, the majority of these employees are able to maintain high levels of satisfaction. This seems like a positive until you consider that the employees who are not engaged, but highly satisfied, may not be offering the high quality of service that is expected of them.

By regularly recognizing and showing appreciation for agents in the call center, we are not only boosting their morale and personal pride, we are also cultivating and encouraging pride in the organization and motivating them toward positive interaction with its customers.

Tools for Agent Recognition and Motivation

Implementing a system for recognition shouldn’t be a difficult task. ICMI’s recent Customer Service Week webinar, Celebrate the Spirit of Service, offers some great ideas for ways to boost morale in the call center.

Adrian Gostick shared the advice that columnists Jack and Suzy Welch provided their Businessweek article,Keeping Your People Pumped, on how to motivate employees. The Welches identify four nonmonetary motivational tools that all employers – including supervisors and managers – can use to bolster morale and engagement workplace. These four tools are:

1. Recognition. Publicly acknowledge the accomplishments of an individual employee, possibly with award or announcement. For example, when an agent at the American Heart Association's National Service Center is recognized, the agent’s photo and description of his or her accomplishment is displayed near the agent’s group area. The Welches stress that employers should not be afraid to recognize an agent’s work in lieu of hurting someone else's feelings.

2. Celebration. Share an individual or team accomplishment with everyone. These celebrations do not need to be particularly fancy or over-the-top. Doing something as simple as surprising the team with breakfast or providing tickets to a local game or event is a great way to keep employees satisfied and eager to meet their next goal.

3. Clearly Identify Your Mission. When employees have a clear understanding of the organization's mission, it makes it easier for them to see their personal role in its future – a unified sense of purpose. It is important for employees to know what the organization stands for and what it is working for. The reasoning behind this agrees with Gostick's drivers of trusting and taking pride in your organization’s products and services. In his keynote, Gostick shared a true story of a hotel maid who found a large sum of money in a pillowcase and reported it to management as soon as possible. The maid's supervisor rewarded this behavior by praising the employee in front of her peers and pointing out that she upheld the hotel’s values through her actions.

4. Balancing Achievement and Challenge. This is where employee engagement and satisfaction both come into play. The Welches say, "People are motivated when they feel as if they are on the top of the mountain and as if they are still climbing it." The goal here is to satisfy your employees so much that they continually strive to perform better.

Agent Recognition Basics

In a recent ICMI QuickPoll, 51 percent of those who responded said that there is a formal and consistent program for recognizing and rewarding agents. A very close 41 percent responded that there was not.

If your call center is among the 41 percent that does not have a formal program, what is the reason? If you do recognize agents regularly, what are some of the ways that you acknowledge and celebrate?

Recognition doesn’t have to be planned or formal. Adrian Gostick recommends that agent praise should be: Frequent, Specific and Timely. As a manager or supervisor, tell your agents how well they are doing at least once a week. Be specific about what you are praising the agent for and most of all, you don’t have to wait for an appointed time. Recognize the agent on the spot for the good work that he or she has completed and be enthusiastic about it!

Recognizing your employees on a regular basis will increase their engagement and benefit your organization in the long run.

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.