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Strategies to Improve Agent Engagement

The benefits of the engaged workforce are well known. According to the Gallup organization, engaged employees produce more, turnover less, and help their companies achieve greater financial returns than employees who aren’t. Yet, the rate of employee engagement has stagnated and disaffected employees have a disproportionate negative effect.

So, who wouldn’t want more engaged employees? The problem lies not in desire, but in execution. It takes more than the periodic “employee engagement” survey. It takes a keen understanding of employee motivation.

Maslow's Hierarchy

The foundation of employee engagement – and how to foster it – in the contact center can be traced in two well-known precepts of modern psychology. When thoughtfully implemented in concert, these can yield powerful and significant results that benefit the company, its employees, and especially its customers alike. Yet, many practitioners in our market often fail to connect the dots, yielding uneven or even undesirable results.

Importance of Needs in Engagement

Noted American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously postulated his “Hierarchy of Needs” as a way to explain certain traits in human behavior. Without reconstructing an entire semester of college psychology, the Hierarchy of Needs describes a continuum of human motivations ranging from the most basic, that are shared by just about everyone, to the most advanced that are generally specific and highly personal to the individual. Many organizations cater to the “lowest common denominator,” ignoring important drivers that can yield the most significant engagement results.

His model can act as the foundation to develop and maintain an engaged workforce as well. Using Maslow’s model, employers provide their employees with safety: a source of employment and income to provide for basic physiological needs. Few employers go beyond that in part because, as one moves up the Maslow hierarchy, satisfying those needs becomes more personal and individualized and it’s hard to do. But it’s not impossible.

To effectively propagate an environment that supports agent engagement, employers should be able to provide meaningful answers to four basic questions, which roughly approximates the Maslow Hierarchy: what do I get; what do I give; do I belong; and how can I grow? Let’s explore each of these.

What do I Get?

This is the most basic level of engagement. The employee knows what’s expected of him or her, understands how performance will be measured, has the tools to do the job properly and well, and is paid a fair wage.  

What do I Give?

Someone encourages development through formal training and coaching and there is someone charged with ensuring high-quality work. At this level, the employee also expects to receive regular, personalized recognition.

Do I Belong?

The employee feels like he or she is a part of a team committed to doing high-quality work and that his or her opinions count. He or she understands the mission and purpose of the company and comprehends how he or she contributes to how the company can achieve its goals.

How can I Grow?

In this highest level, the employee believes he or she has some opportunity for advancement, either through promotion or increasing levels of responsibility. While this often requires attaining higher levels of knowledge, just as often it is dependent on demonstrated leadership and organizational skills. In this stage, the employee’s management has also defined a development path for the employee to follow with associated success criteria.

The Proper Role of Gamification

Another noted psychologist, B. F. Skinner developed a theory that human behavior was not grounded in free will, but on the likelihood of receiving a reward for proscribed behavior. Known as operant conditioning, Skinner’s experiments involved displaying a stimulus (usually a light), then providing a reward (usually food) if the subject completed a simple task (usually pressing a bar).

Many of today’s gamification implementations follow a similar model – providing the agent a reward for correctly responding to a proscribed stimulus. However, these are more often that not geared toward facilitating acquired knowledge as determined by the company. It is not normally used to link to specific engagement behaviors which the employee.

Therefore any gamification tactic that merely rewards rote knowledge acquisition and ignores its importance in employee needs (engagement) will be viewed only as a gimmick and will be doomed to failure.

Your customers can detect which agents are engaged and which aren’t. It takes only a cursory examination of CSAT scores to see that. Dispense with the annual “are you an engaged employee” survey and find out what motivates your agents. Gamification is fine as a delivery device, but make sure it’s well-grounded in what your agents actually care about. By doing so, you will be rewarded with greater customer retention, reduced agent turnover, and greater profitability.