Building a Successful Incentive Program for Call Center Agents

How should you incentivize call center agents to show up, work productively and stay with the company? Some think bigger paychecks will do the trick, but a recent study by Earnest found that money may not be the most important incentive. More than 40% of respondents would trade a tenth of their salary for more flexibility in their schedules. Others think that team competitions, reward raffles, walks-of-fame, and monthly barbeques will motivate agents and keep them happy.

The truth is, any number and mix of incentives can work. What’s the right incentive program for your call center? Well, that depends on exactly what you want to achieve, who you’re targeting, and the size of your budget.

Step 1: Define the goals of your Incentive Program

While it sounds trivial, many incentive programs fall short because the objectives aren’t clearly defined, or too many objectives are being pursued at once. Call center productivity and efficiency is influenced by many factors, including absenteeism, lack of expertise, turnover, employee behavior, and employee morale – just to name a few. Which factors are having the biggest effect on your call center?

If the primary goals are to reduce absenteeism and nurture a team-player culture at work, your incentive program must be structured to reward those behaviors. On the other hand, if your main goal is to maximize efficiency and increase orders taken during a holiday season, a different set of incentives are needed.

Step 2: Identify the target(s) of your Incentive Program

Call center agents are diverse crew of personalities, ages, backgrounds, and experience. Not every employee is motivated in the same way. For example, an incentive program that aims to reduce absenteeism must reward employees who start taking fewer sick days, as well as faithful employees who’ve never missed a shift. Of course the rewards may be different. Perhaps the latter will appreciate special CEO recognition and scheduling perks, while the former will be motivated by tangible prizes or bonuses. Likewise, teams or departments who achieve one week or one month of zero absenteeism could be awarded a group bonus or the choice of an individual prize for each member of the group. Knowing your audience is critical to achieving your goals.

Step 3: Involve employees in Incentive Program planning

How do you know what will motivate call center agents? Ask them. Involve them in your plans and goals. Maybe there are unseen barriers to achieving your goals that employees know about but management doesn’t. When you invite their input on rules and rewards, employees are naturally more engaged in the program, and can make sure you steer clear of rewards that you value more than they do, or rewards that they perceive as patronizing.

Step 4: Let budget determine your Incentive Program structure

Don’t have budget for Incentive Programs? Incentives don’t have to be expensive and the Internet is full of creative ideas. For example, employees value flexible scheduling. You have to forecast and create a work schedule anyway – that’s already built into the call center budget. If you can make the work schedule more flexible, with the ability for employees to change and trade shifts independently, you will have created a great incentive that keeps employees engaged and happy. As you design your program, identify fixed and variable costs and whether the rewards will be open-ended (any number of winners) or closed-ended (a fixed number of winners).

Step 5: Let budget and employee input determine Incentive Program rewards

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Rewards must fit your budget constraints, and should reflect the values and culture of your company. Solicit advice from employees on the kinds of rewards they would appreciate to make sure your incentives achieve their purpose.

Step 6: Communicate your Incentive Program and clarify the rules

Your incentive program should not be the best kept secret in the company. Make sure everyone in the call center knows about it, and knows how they can qualify for incentive rewards. You should be able to tie every incentive metric to company goals, and if you can’t, then it’s best to rethink the plan.

Step 7: Track, measure, analyze

To know whether incentives are working, you need to track, measure, and analyze the relevant agent activity (e.g., attendance, customer service metrics, sales metrics, team-player behavior, etc.). Measures should be transparent and understood by all employees. If your incentive program has clear winners (and yet-to-be-winners) the criteria must be based on fair and accurate metrics.

Read more about NICE’s Performance management solutions that will help you with creating the right incentive program for your business needs in our NICE Performance management webpage.