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Put Your Agent Goals to the Good Goals Test

The incentive plan was simple.

Contact center agents who earned a 95 percent customer satisfaction score on post-call surveys got a $100 bonus at the end of the month. It was designed to focus agents on customer satisfaction.

The incentive created a big problem instead.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 agents were placed on the same plan. This gave Tier 1 agents a perverse incentive to immediately transfer angry callers to their Tier 2 colleagues.

The practice made sure nearly every Tier 1 agent consistently earned the bonus, while Tier 2 agents never did. Even worse, Tier 1 agents were no longer interested in a career path that promoted them to Tier 2 because they knew what happened.

It might be obvious in hindsight, but contact centers everywhere face similar problems caused by the way goals are used.

These problems are preventable if you put metrics to the three-part good goals test before rolling them out to the team and holding agents accountable.

Put your goals to the good goals test

Test 1: Good Goals Focus Attention

A good goal should focus agents' attention on the right things.

Bad goals divert attention. Let's go back to the example at the start of this post. The 95 percent customer satisfaction metric focused Tier 1 agents on earning a top survey score at all costs. This became their end-game, rather than ensuring customers were truly satisfied.

One contact center changed its agents' productivity goal from average handle time (AHT) to first contact resolution (FCR). FCR rapidly improved, but what about AHT?

It stayed exactly the same. The only difference was there was greater variability in call lengths because agents were now trying to fully resolve the customer's issue rather than hitting a certain time for each call.

Do your goals focus attention on the right things?

Test 2: Good Goals Promote Teamwork

A good goal should be shared by the largest group possible, so people are encouraged to work together.

Bad goals reward selfishness. The Tier 1 agents were rewarded for unnecessarily transferring angry callers to the Tier 2 team because it helped them secure a $100 bonus. That bonus would be in jeopardy if they attempted to help the customer themselves.

Another contact center promoted teamwork by setting a single customer satisfaction goal for all support tiers combined. In this contact center, Tier 1 and Tier 2 agents frequently discussed the top reasons for calls to be transferred and collectively created solutions to reduce the number of transfers required.

Do your goals promote teamwork?

Test 3: Good Goals Rely on Intrinsic Motivation

I've worked with thousands of contact center agents over the past 20 years. Nearly all of them have a genuine desire to help their customers. This doesn't come from an incentive. The just want to do it.

Research shows that once you introduce an incentive, people will now believe that's how much the activity is worth. If you don't believe me, invest 11 minutes in watching this video that summarizes years of research on motivation and incentives.

When the Tier 1 manager introduced the $100 monthly customer satisfaction survey to his team, he ensured that $100 would now be the minimum price for his agents to work hard to get good survey results.

Another contact center leader offered no incentives for customer satisfaction. What she did instead was discuss relevant metrics with her team every single day.

Her agents were hungry to make a difference and they appreciated having a manager who worked tirelessly to make it easier for them to serve their customers, so their service constantly improved.

Do your goals rely on internal motivation?


Goals can be an important part of focusing your team's effort. The key is to make sure your goals pass the good goals test:

  • Do they focus attention on the right things?
  • Do they promote teamwork?
  • Do they rely on internal motivation?

A goal that scores a "Yes" to all three questions has a much better chance of promoting the type of performance you're looking for.

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