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.
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.
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.
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!
Paul Weald is director of the consultancy RXPerience Limited