7 Principle of Contact Centre Reward and Recognition
My first encounter with the concept of “Reward and Recognition” coincided with my first Contact Centre role with Brisbane City Council back in 1996.
Prior to this, I’d escaped relatively unscathed from any notion that productivity, staff engagement, customer satisfaction, increased organizational performance and much more could be so heavily influenced and rolled up into the powerful but simple (some might say obvious!) concept of being appropriately recognised for your efforts and achievements at work.
With a focus on delivering the optimal customer experience via the heady combination of people and technology, the Contact Centre is perfectly placed to take advantage of both formal and informal recognition of frontline staff’s behaviour in the delivery of an excellent customer experience.
Add to this the Contact Centre’s unprecedented ability to accurately measure and report against such a comprehensive range of metrics and it becomes apparent why reward and recognition programmes are such a commonplace feature in centres across the globe.
There’s even a physiological benefit for agents associated with effective and meaningful recognition programmes.
The well-known substance oxytocin, also known as the “feel-good hormone”, is created by the body when we feel loved or appreciated.
Even a friendly, warm handshake can trigger increased levels in the brain (this may explain why politicians do so much handshaking and baby kissing!).
Recent research has demonstrated that people who experience increased levels of oxytocin also perform better at work and are more trustworthy.
I stress the word “meaningful” in relation to recognition, however.
Any hint of insincerity or fake acknowledgement would undoubtedly fail to generate the desired effect (this probably takes politicians back to square one in the handshaking and baby-kissing stakes!).
I recall reading a research paper published a few years ago, (“The Science of Happiness” – Globoforce) which found that 78% of employees reported they would work harder if they were better recognized and appreciated, with 67% stating that praise and motivation from managers was their top motivator for performance.
The wealth of available academic and other research supporting the value of both formal and informal reward and recognition for employees leaves little doubt about its effectiveness.
The secret, however, is ensuring that the design process and implementation maximises the potential benefits for both employees and the business.
While the majority of the many Contact Centres I’ve visited over the years have had some kind of reward and recognition programme in place, they haven’t always reached their full potential.
Often, some of the simple, but critical underlying best-practice principles required for an effective programme were missed.
I’ve found the following 7 x key elements to be of particular importance in generating the best outcomes:
1. Focus on strategy and build a dazzling business plan
2. Understand that Recognition is more important than Reward
3. Keep it simple and keep it local
4. Include an “On-The-Spot!” element
5. Get staff involved from day one
6. Create an organisation-wide foundation
7. Have fun!
Seven Contact Centre Reward and Recognition Principles
1. Focus on Strategy and Build a Dazzling Business Plan
Like any important project or initiative, time spent planning and crystallizing desired outcomes is the first critical step.
Spending time thoughtfully identifying the areas of your operation that need to improve, whether that be staff attrition and retention, customer service metrics, sales or NPS will pay big dividends and help guide the design of an effective programme.
But don’t stop there!
Take the next step of calculating the cost of these deficiencies and then develop a business case that details where savings and improvements could be made with a more engaged and focused team.
I’ve often found that a critical part of my role as Contact Centre Manager, regardless of the organization, has been the education of executive management in the dark arts and complexities of Contact Centre metrics and operations.
The process of developing a compelling business case for reward and recognition provides a great opportunity to involve, educate and coach a sponsor from the executive-level team in the basics of Contact Centre management.
This may hopefully also provide an executive “champion” to help advocate and promote the programme across the wider organization.
2. Recognition Is More Important Than Reward
I’ve always found that recognition is more important than the reward part of the equation.
I’ve often heard the argument that “We can’t afford a reward and recognition programme!”, particularly from government and smaller organisations.
However, I would argue that the demonstrated benefits of increased performance, highly engaged staff, reduced attrition and ultimately, significantly reduced costs means you can’t afford to not have a reward and recognition programme.
This is great news for those many smaller centres that may have limited budgets since some of the better and more creative programmes I’ve observed are run at almost no cost.
The focus on recognition above rewards also bodes well for government Contact Centres, who unfortunately suffer sensitivity to unwarranted media accusations of a perceived misuse of public funds.
Sadly, this gross misunderstanding of the value and potential ROI of reward and recognition persists in many government organizations.
While managing a state government Contact Centre, I once (outrageously!) proposed that a line item be included for a very modest amount in my Contact Centre operational budget for reward and recognition.
The financial controller (whose surname ironically was “Cash”… yes, really!) was completely bemused and slumped back in his chair saying, “Well that’s a novel idea!”.
He was however supportive and acknowledged the benefits but couldn’t bring himself to include the words “Reward and Recognition” against the line item.
Instead, it became, “Sundries.” I took that as a win!
We went on to apply our very modest budget wisely using balloons and streamers to decorate the desks of monthly winners, a couple of movie tickets here and there, a home-made trophy and opportunities for early finishes on quieter days.
3. Keep it Simple and Keep it Local
Keeping it simple (and local) is a second concept that I’ve found provides very positive outcomes.
Complicated programmes that are far removed from frontline agents, regardless of the value of the reward, often fail to be effective in driving the required behaviours.
A large multisite insurance company with several thousand employees used an annual awards ceremony as their only reward and recognition Programme.
A complicated process of points for various criteria was used to select a relatively few number of winners from several thousand agents.
The rewards included $2,000 travel vouchers, iPads and personal DVD players.
On the lavish gala awards night, I congratulated one of the winners and asked what they’d done to be awarded one of these big prizes.
Their response, “Actually, I have no idea!” was perhaps not a surprise.
If the purpose of an employee reward and recognition programme is to recognize and reward work and behaviours that support and further the mission, goals and values of the organization, the programme had, in spite of the generous prizes, failed.
The remoteness and complexity of the process meant it was not clearly understood by employees and I suggest the significant cost and effort invested in administering the program could have been applied to drive much better outcomes.
4. Get Staff Involved from Day One
Involving a diverse group of staff in the early stages of the programme design process is important, i.e., establishing an “R&R” committee to gather input from peers provides both an outlet for their creativity and ensures buy-in to the programme.
Get them to run a competition to come up with a name for the programme that resonates and reflects the character of your organization.
Publish the names of the committee via posters in the lunchroom or on the staff website, encourage staff to share their ideas with team members and “talk it up” at team meetings.
Placing a management representative on the committee to help guide the process is important to ensure that business outcomes described in the original strategy document are also being met.
(Recognition for “Best Dressed Agent of the Week” may be great fun, but probably doesn’t contribute significantly to performance targets or customer satisfaction).
The immediacy of recognizing great performance or effort is important. Informal and accessible “On the Spot” rewards or acknowledgement can take place every day, all-year-round and are an incredibly effective way to drive the right behaviours.
In my current organisation, we have a formal web-based mechanism (“Perkbox”) to share compliments, customer commendations or a simple “Thank you” to a helpful colleague across the broader organisation.
The most important aspects of the on-the-spot recognition concept were not any prizes that might be awarded, but rather its immediacy, simplicity and specificity.
6. Create an Organisation-wide Foundation
“What are you crazy Contact Centre people up to now?” is a question I’ve often been asked by colleagues from other departments.
Regardless of what outcomes you’re seeking from your reward and recognition programmes, there are potentially significant benefits in looking outside of the
Contact Centre itself and generating genuine interest in your goals by creating at least one award or recognition opportunity for other parts of the business.
Whilst managing the Customer Service Branch of a large Australian local government organization, we initiated a programme to recognize and encourage staff from other departments who went the extra mile in supporting the Customer Service and Contact Centre teams to help our customers.
I like to refer to this type of initiative as a “Dob-in-a-Do-Gooder” peer recognition programme. (Just to translate this quaint Aussie idiom for those not familiar with the term, to “Dob somebody in” is literally to inform against them… It just sounds a lot less sinister!).
The context here was obviously not of a criminal nature, but rather to allow frontline staff to catch-out a colleague in another part of the business “doing the right thing.”
Small, perforated cards with a tear-off stub were issued to Customer Service staff on which agents (the “Dobbers”) recorded a brief but specific explanation of the observed helpful behaviour including a “Thank you!” to the “Dobbee” (these details were also included on the tear-off stub).
The card was then sent to the colleague via internal mail (more tangible and meaningful than email) and the stub placed in a draw for a monthly prize.
Each month a photo of the winner receiving their reward was published on the intranet.
It caused quite a stir but sent a clear message that Customer Service was everyone’s responsibility, not just those in the Contact Centre or at the face-to-face front counters.
7. Above All, Have Fun!
Reward and recognition programmes have long been a part of Contact Centre culture and frequently provide that sparkle (and even a little dash of weirdness!) which helps to balance the often challenging and difficult job faced each and every day by frontline agents.
So don’t be afraid to unleash creativity, humour and the “inner child” of both staff and management to generate a reward and recognition programme that really makes a difference.
Be those “Crazy people in the Contact Centre!“
More great links:
- Read: How to design a reward and recognition program for contact centres
- Read: 3 call centre games to boost performance
- Learn: View all the upcoming industry events & training courses