Most people don’t grow up dreaming about being a front-line customer service rep. It’s hard work. And, handling complaint after complaint is just plain exhausting.
Gallup reported that globally 13 to 16% of the workforce is actively disengaged at work. And another 70% are pushing the line to become actively disengaged, too. With agent attrition ringing in as the top contact center challenge in 2020, it seems clear that contact center agents contribute to such high disengagement statistics.
As a manager, these statistics can feel discouraging. Take a deep breath. You can’t fix the fact that your agents have to handle high-stress moments and angry customers. But you do have influence over making your contact center the best it can be, in spite of the nature of the job – mollifying customer frustrations.
Customer service work isn’t all bad. In fact, being a contact center agent is incredibly rewarding. This task-oriented job keeps agents busy and offers worthwhile opportunities to showcase interpersonal skills few people have – all while building positive relationships with people.
The hard work is worth it when you win back a customer or solve a problem that gets met with tears of joy. As a manager, you get the opportunity to highlight the beauty of this powerful career. And, it starts with motivation.
Finding the right motivation for each call center agent can get tricky and time intensive, but let me lay out some ways to motivate your employees so they’ll stick around and enjoy their job.
First, understand how motivation works.
Your employees won’t be truly engaged with only the promise of material rewards. Studies show that extrinsic motivators aren’t better for engagement (or empowerment). Extrinsic motivators actually reduce a person’s creativity and problem-solving ability. They remind us that we’re obligated to perform just to get a momentary reward, not because we love what we do. Then, the consistency of a promised reward takes away the special effect of rewarding any above-and-beyond efforts, too. Your agents won’t have any incentive, and no internal motivation, to go the extra mile.
Our motivation is actually driven by our primal human needs. First and foremost, this means your agents are driven to do their jobs when they feel supported and cared for at work. They want to feel comfortable, productive, have sufficient breaks, and feel stable and secure in their job. But, don’t stop there. Motivation needs to support three psychological and human needs: autonomy, relatedness and competence. People need to feel they have choices, that they care and are cared for by others, and that they can feel a sense of growth and flourish.
So, with those essential needs in mind, here are some ways to increase motivation in your contact center agents.
Start with the basics: Create the right workplace environment by giving autonomy.
1. Build a positive call center environment to boost motivation:
- Keep your office clean and decluttered and decorate the space with plants and warm colors so it’s calm and inviting.
- Allow your agents to make their workspace their own with personal photos, notes and decorations.
- Decorate for the seasons and create a comfortable environment so your agents don’t feel drained walking in each day.
2. Provide your agents with the right tools:
- Start with coaching and training. Create a strategy that sets your agents up for success, and coach them to always improve and reach their personal goals. Use interaction-based in-line training paired with automation to cut down on the time you spend searching for coaching moments. And, to give your agents actionable feedback backed by context.When you use in-line training and timely feedback, your agents learn as they go. They learn how to use the right tones and phrases with customers at every point in a conversation. Your agents learn fast with in-the-moment feedback and context to help them improve on the very next interaction.
- Give your agents the best tools to do their work. It can be draining to switch to different windows, search for information and use a bunch of disjointed systems. Make it easier for your agents with a contact center platform that connects all your channels and customer information.
3. Encourage downtime and eliminate red tape:
- Your customer service reps need breaks from your customers. And they need breaks from being on the phone or in front of the computer. Give your agents the freedom to create their work schedule with you. Let them choose their days off or pick the shift they’d prefer, when capacity allows for it. This shows you value their happiness and gives them some autonomy, raising call center motivation all around.
- Get creative with your own policies and ditch the archaic scripts and expectations of a call center. With the right tools, your agents can make the job their own, without you standing over their shoulder.
- Create a strategy for your team that allows every agent to have downtime. It’s healthy to get up and walk around or take a breather after a hard customer interaction. And, it improves productivity. Relieve stress and maintain energy in your contact center with a healthy work-life balance during each shift.
Care for others and feel cared for: Building friendships.
4. Be social!:
- Creating a desirable work culture starts with fostering relationships. Have team lunches, or pick a night you all go out for a drink or play board games. Get involved in a local community sports league with your own team of employees. Throw celebrations when you reach team goals or when an agent exceeds expectations. Use the community you have around you to drive satisfaction and motivation.
5. Give opportunities for peer-to-peer kudos:
- Create an internal email system, or put a cardboard box in the office, and let your agents write anonymous praise or kudos for their peers. Deliver kudos at the end of each week. Once they get comfortable lifting their peers up, encourage them to give kudos that aren’t anonymous, too. Create a #kudos Slack channel where employees can show thanks and dish out a little motivation to their call center peers. It feels so good to be recognized by your peers and know that you’re valued. Your employees will appreciate the warm and fuzzy feelings it gives them and likely work harder to be recognized.
6. Treat employee engagement with the same care as customer engagement:
- The truth is, your employees are more valuable than your customers. Without them, you wouldn’t have any customers. Remember this! Treat your employees just like you would treat your customers. Build better relationships with your own people by providing them the same level of service and attention you give your customers. Praise them and make them feel special. This makes them feel important to the team and to the company as a whole. Plus, it will lead to higher motivation.
Learn how to engage your agents and ramp up call center motivation for a better customer experience. Improve engagement through better coaching: Jump to Your (free!) Call Center Manager Playbook to sharpen tools in your coaching toolbox.
Build your agents’ self-esteem: Feedback and rewards.
7. Feedback matters:
- Use customer feedback to give your employees tactical ways they can improve. You want them to perform better, and your agents want to succeed in their roles. Use customer satisfaction surveys to learn ways your team can make customers happier.
- Give your agents constructive feedback. Listen to their call recordings and read their chat messages to find specific cases when they did well, and when they struggled. Then, give them actionable and relevant tips to improve.
Feel stuck? Use some of these tips about how to develop your team and give praise to motivate your employees.
- Encourage your employees to give you feedback and be honest about how you are doing as a manager. They might need you to motivate them differently, or they might feel frustrated about something you do. Welcome this kind of information, and invite them to have a voice in the future of your contact center.
8. Create well-defined expectations to track performance:
- Your agents want to know their goals, KPIs and how they’re tracking towards those targeted numbers. Define metrics to track agent performance and set attainable goals for each employee. Be sure to include agent-focused metrics, like Average Training Investment per agent and qualitative employee engagement sentiment, in addition to your standard contact center metrics.
A Sense of growth and flourishing: Self-improvement and career guidance.
9. Invest in your employees’ futures:
- This is a big one. Acknowledge that your agent’s job may only be the kicking-off point in their career. You want to make it an incredible experience so they can improve, grow, and go on to bigger and better things, within your company walls or beyond them. When you hire an agent, ask them what their career goals are. Then work with them to create a growth path. When you coach them or have 1:1s, reference these goals and come up with ways to align those goals with their day-to-day tasks.
- Help your employees realize their potential by creating ways for agents to take on more responsibility. Give agents the task of training new hires or allow for loyal team members to plan or interpret metrics.
10. Start with yourself.
- If you expect your employees to go above and beyond, you too need to go above and beyond. Go all out with encouraging your employees. When it comes to the motivation your call center agents need, be the first person to acknowledge their hard work and encourage them. Affirm them when you can and keep pushing them to be their best. Be genuine and specific in the ways they’re improving or how you’re proud of them.
Boosting morale and increasing motivation can reduce attrition, increase customer retention, and drive performance. When organizations engage their workforce, they can outperform peers by 147% in earnings per share. Plus, it makes your employees (and customers) happier. Motivate your agents, encourage them to stick around, and they’ll be more invested in their work.
Need motivational posters for your contact center that don’t feature flying eagles and cuddly kittens? We’ve got you covered.
We originally published this post on February 9, 2017, and we updated it for new insight on April 30, 2020.