Call centre motivation – Lessons from the front line

Mary Sloan was thrown in at the deep end in her job but rather than sinking – she swam and managed to turn the job to her advantage. This story tells about Mary’s steep learning curve and about how she was able to use call centre games and even goldfish to motivate her team.
I joined my company a year ago as the Director of Student Services for Online Programs, which translates into the role of call centre manager. While my professional background is in education and customer service I was not completely prepared for the steep learning curve I would encounter as I took over call centre administration.

While hustling to learn the numerous acronyms and jargon I came to my senses and remembered that a lot of reps were depending on me for sound leadership. Steep learning curve or not, there was no time to waste in assessing the strengths and challenges of the call centre. It soon occurred to me that staff motivation is the pivotal point in call centre operations where efficiency, effectiveness and quality intersect. With my new epiphany, the matter of staff motivation consumed my mind on numerous sleepless nights.

I learned a lot about motivation by trial and error during my first year. I identified several interesting and fun ways to motivate my call centre staff:

  • Cross training
  • Expanding individual skill sets
  • Fun score sheets
  • Desk pets

Cross Training

As company growth was anticipated I elected to take a proactive leadership approach. I implemented a training design that blended two distinct, but similar roles. As new employees were brought in to the group for training, existing employees joined them for cross training. When needed, I simply transitioned qualified employees into their new roles.

Task diversity was eagerly embraced, especially by reps that had been in their same role within the company one year or more. Having mastered their basic responsibilities, the experienced reps appreciated the opportunity for professional development. Having learned new tasks, the reps reinforced their existing skills, expanded their knowledge base, increased their value to the company, improved their confidence, increased their loyalty to the company, and increased the likelihood that our customers would receive quality service by highly qualified reps.

Expanding Individual Skills Sets

In determining ways to motivate my reps I sought to find areas in which I could make a positive contribution to their professional lives. I began doing this by addressing what I perceived to be the root of their fears regarding their own employment.

One of the issues causing great concern among my reps was whether or not they have a viable career path beyond their stint of answering a telephone in a call centre. Eventually, some or all of them would be seeking other internal or external employment opportunities.

While a call centre rep knows the strategies for good customer service (a valuable skill that is applicable to many jobs), in a competitive job market someone who spends their day on the telephone may have a limited skill set and a very short resume.

It was my hypothesis that the motivation and productivity of my reps would increase if I created an authentic connection to their own professional development and the required tasks. Based on my hypothesis, I implemented an “Individualized Marketability Plan” for each representative. I explained what I intended to do to assist them while meeting company expectations. (Since I could not offer pecuniary incentives, I connected the value of each project to their own professional marketability.) To accomplish this objective, I did the following:

  • Assess strengths of the individual rep
  • Assign additional tasks according to interests and/or strengths
  • Provide informal documentation supporting additional tasks
    1. Email, “Thank you for ……”
    2. Certificate of Completion,
    3. Other
  • Assist each rep in updating his/her resume
  • Optional – Electronic portfolio (scanned documentation supporting skills and abilities)

Upon implementation of this plan, I became fearful that reps would seek other employment opportunities with their new resumes in hand. Conversely, there was an immediate improvement in individual attitudesand the climate of the call centre; reps volunteered for additional tasks while company loyalty increased.

Fun Score Sheets

Early on in the development of our call centre our data collection was marginally sophisticated; we kept the basic statistics for each representative. To avoid micromanagement while still maintaining acceptable levels of accountability, I designed weekly score sheets for reps to keep track of their own progress. The score sheets, while completely optional, were humorous (and sometimes bizarre) tracking tools used by reps to assist in the self monitoring of their targets.

One score sheet, entitled “Rescue the Dog!” had a picture of a sinking oil tanker. Over the tanker were five empty boxes, each positioned in a descending location from the top of the page to the tanker. Next to each box was a picture of a helicopter. Reps were to write their daily score in the empty box until their helicopter reached the dog on the sinking tanker.

Another score sheet was entitled “Ant Hill Destruction!” The objective was to record the target score in a blast point from a tactical missile to the giant ant hill.

Other fun score sheets included, “Post Alien Abduction Syndrome Rehabilitation Game”, “Spring Break”, “Volcano Game”, “Golf Challenge”, and “Wheel of Contact”.

Desk Pets

I permitted my reps to bring goldfish to their desk. The fish are quiet and do not interfere with individuals who may have allergies. Goldfish desk pets have increased accountability and attendance. Reps who are absent exhibit concern for the care of their fish by contacting their colleagues to “fish-sit”. Since customers on the other end of the telephone are often unkind and irate, the fish reportedly have a calming affect on the reps.

Mary E. Sloan, Ed.S.,
is Director, Student Services Online Programs at ITT Educational
Services, in Carmel, Indiana.


Published On: 10th Nov 2005 - Last modified: 25th Mar 2020
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