Staff Incentive Schemes

Is it all about the money? – Paul Weald talks us through what he thinks works when it comes to contact centre incentives.

Many years ago, a former boss of mine, who was a commercial manager, told me that you condition people by how you pay them. He had a simple philosophy regarding incentives schemes – for him it was “all about the money”.

Some 10 years later, and with many call centre projects now under my belt, I would beg to differ. For me, incentives schemes that work are a combination of reward, recognition and real-time feedback.

  • Yes, reward is about the financial element – but encompasses more than just cash
  • Then recognition is about staff knowing that they are doing a good job and feeling valued as a result
  • And finally, real-time feedback provides information to agents and teams so that they know how they are performing and what good things will happen to them if they raise their game – right here, right now!

So for an incentive scheme to be successful it needs to address all three factors. Let’s look at some real-life examples.

Balancing Effectiveness and Efficiency

In a sales environment, how do you ensure that the right behaviours are reinforced? It is about having some “stick” as well as “carrot”. For example, be prepared to withdraw the incentive scheme payments from those that don’t achieve the minimum standards you expect.

“How do you ensure that the right behaviours are reinforced? It is about having some “stick” as well as “carrot”. Paul Weald

In the run-up to Christmas, one of our retail clients wanted to maximise 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!

Think of Alternatives to Cash

Commission payments worked well in this situation as the money had meaning because of the time of year, but how do you sustain this type of performance uplift across an entire period? Think of alternatives to just paying cash.

There are many incentives and motivation companies that administer different types of scheme where your agents earn ‘points’ which then qualify them for prizes. Remember that your agents have different motivations for wanting to work – for some younger members of the team it might be about having the latest technical gizmo – iPods and Xboxes, etc.

For other members that run a house and raise a family then the ability to use the scheme as gift vouchers for certain stores or even a discount off the weekly shopping bill could be important.

One of our clients has just passed all of their commission budget over to an incentives company and hopes to see a 10% uplift in performance as a result.

Recognition Schemes

One company, ComXo, is running a scheme that is all about the recognition of staff. Borrowing from the Cadbury’s Heroes theme, they have branded a ‘Thank You’ board. Each month anyone in the company can post on it a personal thank you to another member of staff – the nomination can be for anything, however large or small.

At the end of the month a winner is drawn from those people nominated throughout the month. All winners are displayed on the wall next to the board in the rest room, and – yes, you guessed it – they win a box of Cadbury’s Heroes.

To make this more fun, all agents have a superhero alias and all nominations are delivered under these aliases. To get everyone’s involvement they even had a charity dress-down day – or more to the point, dress-up day – all wearing their superhero costumes!

Creating a Buzz

Sometimes it is the simple ideas that are the most effective. One sales team manager I know has young kids and saw the enjoyment that they got at a party playing ‘pass the parcel’. So the following week she introduced the scheme into the call centre!

The idea was that every time an order was taken, a layer of the parcel could be unwrapped by that specific agent. The incentive aspect was that the parcel was only available for one hour. No one knew how many layers there were: would enough sales be made in that period to get to the prize? It worked brilliantly at energising the whole sales team!

This is a good example of mixing incentives with motivational games in the contact centre. More of these examples can be found in our article: Motivational Games for Call Centres

Real-time Information Is Key

One company that we know well is Gem, a leading outsourced service provider based in Belfast. They have focused their incentive programmes on making sure that agents know exactly what their performance is. They have produced highly creative real-time wallboard displays and their requirement is to analyse key targets by contract and to create innovative and visual media that drives motivation on the floor.

The wallboard application displays real-time data and telephony statistics that allow the manager to performance manage without having to constantly browse through various reports to check agent status, lead totals or KPIs.

The development approach they use is very much bottom up – getting agent buy-in through involvement in the design stage as much as possible. Focus groups are used to develop ideas – this is a great way to work because when the final product is rolled out, everyone involved feels proud of what has been achieved.

One example is a game of ‘snakes and ladders‘.

The game is used for an appointment-making project. Each time the agent makes a lead, they can roll an electronic dice and move themselves around the board. The wallboard displays mini characters of all the agents.

The goal is to reach the finish line and receive a prize. This incentive creates a great sense of interactivity, motivation and participation; all the ingredients that make incentives schemes work.


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