Using Bonus Schemes to Motivate Agents


Many organisations use bonus schemes to promote the right behaviours in their agents. Whether it is making more sales; improving customer satisfaction, or simply taking more calls, staff bonuses can help those companies to achieve their business objectives.  Here Paul Weald shares his thoughts with us.

Bonus schemes take many forms – from individual commissions through to team-based prizes – indeed there are now many incentive scheme companies that market their products and services to the call centre industry. But regardless of the structure of the scheme, the common factor of success only occurs when agents are both motivated and engaged to raise their own performance.

Employee engagement

Let’s start by understanding why some, but not all, employees want to do a good job for their employers. Curt Coffman is an American guru who has pioneered the concept of Employee Engagement. In his book “Follow This Path: How the World’s Greatest Organisations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human Potential” he identified that when employees join a company, they are usually enthusiastic, committed, and ready to be advocates for their new employer. In essence they are highly engaged. But often, that first year on the job is their best. Coffman’s research reveals that the longer an employee stays with a company, the less engaged he or she becomes.

What is interesting about this research are the attributes of the engaged employee:
• They want to know the desired expectations for their role so they can meet and exceed them.
• They’re naturally curious about their company and their place in it.
• They perform at consistently high levels.
• They want to use their talents and strengths at work every day.
• They work with passion, and they have a visceral connection to their company.

As a result, they drive innovation and move their organisation forward.

Agent catching coins

So how can bonus schemes help to reinforce these high levels of employee engagement?
Well the answer here lies in behavioural science. Behaviour is controlled or influenced most by immediate consequences. A pay rise is immediate. Your boss praising you is immediate. But when that immediacy is lost, there is nothing new or additional to compel that behaviour any longer. The scientists tell us that the absence of continual immediate consequences is usually the first and the biggest breakdown in an employee’s self-motivating behaviour.

For many call centre agents, making calls and processing orders can soon become monotonous and unrewarding. If the company incentive scheme is no more than a promise of a “bonus” at the end of the year if an agent’s performance meets pre-set goals and all the financial numbers in the company line up, then this is what is known in behavioural science as an “uncertain consequence.” A year-end bonus is therefore too remote to drive daily behaviour effectively all year long. Daily immediate consequences are necessary, in smaller more relevant bites, to condition the heart and minds of staff.

Agents therefore need to be informed throughout the day how they are performing against what is expected of them. It doesn’t have to change their salaries, but it does need to have some form of immediate reward and recognition.

Bonus schemes that work

The mechanics of the bonus scheme can take several different forms.
• Individual cash bonuses tied to individual performance
• Prize-based incentives schemes where agents earn points which can be turned into a prize of their choosing
• Team-based competitions where the outcome is related to the performance of the team as a whole
• Non-cash-based prizes – which may be particularly relevant if the organisation is not in a position to fund a bonus scheme – for example in the public sector.

From clients that we have worked with we have seen good examples of how each of these schemes has worked.

xmas-bonus

For example, in the run-up to Christmas, one of our retail clients wanted to maximize the efficiency of their call centre at the same time as incentivising agents to sell. Good agents could earn an extra £2 per hour through individual orders taken but only if they achieved threshold targets for availability and schedule adherence. The scheme ran cumulatively for a month and each day the ‘scores’ for each agent were produced. The whole bonus would be paid at the end of the month, but only if the agent achieved their cumulative thresholds. The results for the centre were astonishing. Not Ready time was halved; sickness was negligible and orders per hour were up across the board…and most agents had a nice Christmas as a result!

Now this scheme work brilliantly for our client as a one-off campaign at that particular time of year, but could it be used every month? The behavioural science suggests that it would need to maintain the immediacy of the consequence. So perhaps changing the focus of the incentive will be required to keep it fresh in the eyes of the agents.

Rewards that have significance

We all know that money is not necessarily a motivator for all employees. Also for many public sector call centres the governance rules do not allow significant financial payments. Yet I know from my role as a judge of the European Contact Centre Awards that some of the organisations who have the most engaged employees that I have ever seen are public sector call centres. So how do they do it?

Well they apply the principles of immediate consequences that are meaningful to the agent. One excellent example is a centre that asked each employee to answer the question “If I gave you £5 as a special treat, how would you spend it?” All agents had to take part and write down their individual requests. What the manager did then was to set a series of different challenges that, if the agent exceeded them through their performance, resulted in their ‘prize’ being purchased and presented to them. This indeed generated high levels of employee engagement, whilst keeping within the financial rules of the organisation!

Another alternative to cash is to grant time off instead. An agent or team who achieves the best performance gets the opportunity to take one hour off.  You can still apply rules as to when this prize can be taken and also don’t forget to keep it immediate – why not go home early today to start later tomorrow? Now there’s a nice idea!


Thumbnail Image of Paul Weald

Paul Weald

Paul Weald is director of the consultancy RXPerience Limited

Published On: 28th Feb 2010 - Last modified: 12th Feb 2019
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7 Comments
  1. Paul has put his finger right on the pulse here!!

    When behavioural science is applied in the call centre environment and agents can see “immediate consequences” of their activity – in terms of rewards – the impact is substantial and sustained.

    The application of “Agent00” software in major US call centres – aimed to deliver rewards based around immediate concequences – saw attrition rates fall by up to 75% and productivity increase by over 25% while improving customer satisfaction. It works!!

    David Brown 15 Jul at 2:46 pm
  2. Sales-driven centres – you know what you want – pay people commission – don’t dress it up, and don’t make it too complicated

    Service centres – much more complex!

    It’s all about the customer experience – so make the day-to-day employee experience into something outstanding – it’s not about pay, it’s about making them feel valued. Care for them as people. Any incentives should be of token or symbolic value rather than any significant financial value.

    If you incentivise short term performance, that’s what you’ll get, and when you remove the short term incentive, performance will drop.

    So in a service centre – don’t ever introduce short term financial rewards! Manage people as people, not as part of a large scale Pavlovian experiment.

    Building/maintaining a reputation for excellent customer service is a long term objective – so base your financial rewards (salary increments and quarterly/annual bonuses) on long term results and consistent performance delivery by an individual.

    If you need anything more than a simple excel spreadsheet to explain how any incentive scheme works, it’s too complicated!

    And beware software salesmen in sheeps clothing bearing promises of immediate improvements in attrition – ask for data showing five-year trends 🙂

    MikeB 17 Jul at 5:54 pm
  3. the non-financial reward-time off is laudable. Could you suggest others?

    Bernard Q. Adjaison 11 Apr at 10:12 pm
  4. This was a really great ad i applied some of the knowledge and it really help to better my agents ability.

    Donte Hawthorne 2 Nov at 2:31 pm
  5. what more can i say but this is a great way to move people and inspire them to do what they know best thats why i took the time to read and share with my co-workers

    Donte Hawthorne 2 Nov at 2:45 pm
  6. Incentives based on company profit is a very simple system.
    People know if they maximise profit through productivity or cost reduction then their bonus is maximised.
    People work hard in good times and inbad to do the best forthe company.
    Performance to target may not be the best method because if corporate targets are unrealistic then the incentive to achieve is lost.

    David Wood 25 Nov at 9:59 pm
  7. incentives is motivational base tool, it serve the most effective and efficient empowerment in improving employees productivity in any organization that aimed at it.

    (Jauros)

    Jauros 18 Apr at 11:44 am
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