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Motivate call center agents: Eight tips for success

Learn advice for motivating and rewarding call center agents in this expert tip from Donna Fluss.

As a call center manager, how can I motivate agents and provide variety and growth opportunities in a call center

where quantitative load and pace are of grave concern? Most call center agents are suffering from exhaustion and most are unmotivated.

Call center agents are motivated by respect, recognition, variety and fair compensation for their efforts. Productivity is clearly an important goal in your company, as it is in many call centers. You can make the best of the situation by ensuring that your call center agents understand their productivity goals and exactly what is expected of them. I suggest that the productivity goals be communicated during new hire training so that agents who are not comfortable can leave before they invest a significant amount of their time with your company.

Productivity goals should complement other call center goals in the areas of quality and customer service and satisfaction. Otherwise, you may find that the emphasis on productivity is costing you customers. Too often, call center agents who are motivated solely on productivity find ways to be highly productive at the expense of quality and customer satisfaction. They may do hang-ups or transfers, for example, to improve their call handling rates.

Most call center agents can be trained to meet fair productivity goals. I suggest that you use a variety of training courses, including basic and advanced communications skills and dispute handling to teach your agents to be as productive as possible. They will appreciate the training and realize that you are helping them achieve their goals. These courses will also give them skills that they can use outside of your contact center.

You can reward agents who meet their goals with a variety of internal and external growth opportunities. Make arrangements for your top performers to be considered for job openings in other parts of your company. Many organizations now realize that contact center agents have a great deal of knowledge and welcome them into other departments. Of course, you will want to set your program so that agents know they have to stay with the call center for 18 to 24 months before they can transfer to another part of the company.

Here are a few additional best practices to motivate call center agents and provide growth opportunities:

1. Build a warm, welcoming and fair operating environment. Contact center leaders set the tone of for the contact center. They need to create an operating environment where agents feel valued, respected, treated fairly and appreciate that their concerns are being addressed on a timely basis. One of the most respected (and successful) contact center managers motivated her staff simply by learning each agent's name (even though there were hundreds), walking around the floor to "greet" each shift, acknowledging agents who she passed in the hallway or elevator, and establishing a contact center "break room" with phones and vending machines to help agents maximize their 20-minute break time.
2. Establish an employee satisfaction survey. Conduct an annual employee satisfaction survey and share the results with your staff. Be prepared to implement action plans to address areas of employee dissatisfaction and communicate changes to your staff. (You won't be able to change everything, such as the productivity goals, but you can address many other areas of concern.)
3. Train call center agents frequently and consistently. In general, agents welcome feedback, particularly if positive behavior is emphasized as much as areas needing improvement. Most people want to do a good job, but are sometimes unsure about the best way to handle challenging situations. Share best practice calls with agents to recognize excellence and encourage the right behavior and performance. Give your agents tips to help them improve productivity, quality and customer satisfaction.
4. Encourage agents to excel by allowing top performers to participate in a variety of contact center initiatives. Invite your top performing agents to take an active role in departmental activities, such as coaching new hires, delivering an up-training session, becoming a subject matter expert on a new initiative, or cross-training on a new function.
5. Encourage your agents to share suggestions for improvements. Agents know first-hand what does and does not work for customers. Solicit ideas from your agents and try to implement them. In any case, communicate why the suggestion did or did not work and explain any cost savings or efficiencies gained as a result of their idea.
6. Promote from within. Whenever possible, promote from within the contact center. Besides retaining excellent performers, this is a great way of showing that management appreciates and respects the expertise of the contact center staff. Clearly define job descriptions, experience and skill proficiency requirements for all positions within the contact center. Identify skill set deficiencies and identify areas of performance opportunities. Establish career development plans for agents and a process to help them acquire the skills they need to be ready for promotions.
7. Use a variety of motivational tactics. Different things motivate different people. Make sure that you use a variety of methods to recognize and reward excellence. If possible, allow agents to choose their own rewards – for example, gift cards, movie tickets, lunch vouchers, pass for a day off or first choice for a vacation request. Another possibility is to create a contact center "rewards program" where agents can accrue rewards based on performance and "redeem" them based on achievement level. If the use of remote agents is a viable option, include working from home as a way to recognize and reward top performers.
8. Share success. When an agent or group does an outstanding job, be sure this is communicated with the entire organization. It's critical to recognize and reward outstanding performance on a timely basis.

This was first published in December 2006

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