Most people don’t grow up dreaming about being a frontline customer service agent. It’s hard work. And, handling complaint after complaint is just plain exhausting.
Unfortunately, even the best call center leaders can’t get rid of the high-stress moments and angry customers agents have to face on the job. But you do have influence over making your contact center a great place to work and motivating your team.
Customer service isn’t a bad gig, but it does come with its stresses. So you, manager, have to highlight the good and acknowledge the bad. In fact, being a contact center agent is incredibly rewarding. This task-oriented job keeps agents busy and helps them showcase interpersonal skills few people have – all while helping people. Which for many, is the best part of working in a call center.
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 all starts with motivation.
Finding the right intrinsic motivation for each call center agent can get tricky and time intensive, but let me map out how to motivate your employees so they’ll stick around and enjoy their jobs.
First, understand how motivation works.
Your employees won’t be truly engaged with only the promise of material rewards. Studies show extrinsic motivators – like more money – aren’t better for engagement or empowerment.
Extrinsic motivators actually strip people of their 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 (like a paycheck) takes away the special effect of rewarding above-and-beyond efforts. Agents start to think: “my paycheck stays the same no matter how hard I work, so why put in more effort and go the extra mile?”.
When you focus only on extrinsic motivators, your agents lose the incentive to do more for your customers. 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.
Important Note: Tugging on intrinsic motivators only works as long as your agents are paid fairly for their work. If you don’t pay your people more than the bare minimum, no amount of motivation is going to make them feel valued and engaged in their roles.
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 with autonomy
1. Build a positive call center environment to boost motivation.
- Encourage team camaraderie no matter where your agents are working – from their house, their mom’s house, or on the call center floor.
- Create a flexible work environment where agents feel comfortable taking their earned PTO, asking to swap shifts when their kid gets sick, or working flex hours.
- Foster psychological safety so your agents feel like they can be themselves and enjoy showing up to work each day. Even if showing up now looks like logging into a computer from a home office.
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 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. Plus, they get feedback fast, so they can 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 (don’t we all?). Give your agents the freedom to create their work schedules 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 autonomy, raising call center motivation all around.
- Get creative with your 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 that boosts motivation in your call center starts with fostering relationships. Have team lunches in-office or virtual lunch and learns via video. Or, pick a night to meet up and play board games or host a virtual trivia competition. 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 newsletter for recognition, put a cardboard box in the office, or have a Kudos channel on Microsoft Teams. Encourage your agents to shout out praise for their peers in the way that works best for them.
Build it into your team’s weekly routine with dedicated time for kudos in team meetings. Or, have a quick check in every Friday where you ask team members to recognize one of their peers’ accomplishments so you can include it in the email newsletter. It feels so good to be recognized by your peers and know that you’re valued. Your call center employees will appreciate recognition and be motivated to work harder when they get more of it.
“…Effective digital recognition programs can help scale organic praise, have a high ROI, and lead to significantly higher levels of employee performance and engagement, as well as increased customer loyalty, as measured by net promoter scores.”Shawn Achor, New York Times bestselling author, for HBR
6. Treat agents like you treat your customers.
- 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 people and give them the same level of service and attention you give your customers. This makes them feel important to the team and to the company as a whole. Plus, it leads to higher motivation.
Build your agents’ self-esteem: Feedback and rewards.
7. Feedback matters.
- Use customer feedback (from your customer satisfaction surveys and the behavioral data you collect) to give your employees tactical ways they can improve. You want your agents to perform better and improve customer satisfaction, and you also want them to excel in their roles and grow their careers. So, give them the data and the tangible proof they need to get there.
- 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.
- Feedback goes both ways. Encourage your employees to give you feedback and be honest about how you are doing as a manager, too. 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 toward those goals. Define metrics to track agent performance and set attainable goals for each employee. Then, make sure your agents have visibility into those key metrics and how their interactions impact each one. (Pssst. Sharpen Performance Tiles, a core component of our contact center platform, can help you do just that).
- While you’re at it, keep track of agent-focused metrics, like Average Training Investment per agent and Transfer Rate, too. These metrics don’t look directly at customer outcomes but instead look at how much you invest in your teams and how empowered they feel in their roles. Both of which impact your customer outcomes in the long run.
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 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 more motivation for your call center? We’ve got you covered, here too.
We originally published this post on February 9, 2017, and we updated it for new insight on June 28, 2022.