Incentives that Work

I was reading a post by Wayne at Business Performance Coaching and I really liked two comments he made:

  1. Incentives are the lightening bolts that fire your team and business building activities into effective action.
  2. For incentives to work, they have to be simple, understandable, and tied to performance.

Everyone likes to be rewarded for a job well done. Giving your agents an incentive for doing well on their Quality Assessment (QA) or other performance management metrics can add some fun to the process. It also adds a little challenge and a motivation to perform well. The question that plagues most managers is what incentive is going to motivate my team?

Working with call centers around the country, I’m always intrigued at the incentives that work…and sometimes the ones that don’t.

Here are some examples:

  • Incentives with little or no cost. Premiere parking spots go over well (especially in the cold of winter), as do “jeans day” for those centers with business casual dress codes. One team got to have lunch in the corporate board room. I’m always surprised how well simple award certificates go over with some agents. A traveling trophy can be a lot of fun because it creates a little fun competition and comes with bragging rights. One group of willing supervisors allowed top performers to throw pies at them during the lunch hour.
  • Incentives with moderate cost. Gift certificates for lunch, movie tickets, CDs, DVDs can be real winners. Some centers will reward top performers with lunch out with the call center manager or another executive. I watched one executive hand out, in cash, shares of the money the company had saved in insurance by making safety and wellness goals (that went over really well!).
  • Big ticket incentives. One company we work with went this route and it created quite a buzz in the ranks. Agents who reached a challenging QA performance goal got their name put in a hat. If they made the goal at the mid-year review their name went in and then they had another chance at the year-end review (so some agents had their name in the hat twice). At the end of the year one name was pulled from the hat and the winner took home an expensive riding lawn tractor.

What about you? What incentives have motivated your team members? What incentives have bombed? Please post a comment and share your own experience.

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Filling the Well: Great Links for Your Monday Morning Coffee

Cwg_coffee_cup_lr_1 It’s Monday morning. Get the sleep out of your eyes. Grab that cup o’ joe. It’s time to "fill the well":

  • Do you want positive behaviors in your call center repeated and replicated? Joyce Wycoff discusses the link between rewarding behavior and innovation.
  • Is your service slipping? Courtesy of Customer Service Reader is an article about what United Airlines is doing to try and shore up their customer service challenges.
  • Is accuracy of answer part of your QA scorecard? According to another article posted at the Customer Service Reader the government’s call centers have been remiss in measuring accuracy in their quality assessments (surprised?).
  • Do you know what a "wirernia" is? How about "schoogle"? Thanks to and article posted by Starbucker, you can be the first in your office to know all the latest and greatest technology nomenclature
  • Who are you going to promote this week? Will it be the air-head who you like and is enjoyable to be around or the amazingly talented person who acts like a total jerk? Mike McLaughlin talks about a HBS study on the subject.
  • Are you bragging about how your service is better than the next guy while both of you are going down the tubes? That subject is addressed in an interesting post by Evil Genius Marketing

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“Red Carpet” Service

Red_carpetYesterday, I spent the day at ShopNBC‘s Customer Service call center. A few years ago, their company did a branding campaign. Now, usually I leave branding related issues to folks like Mark True, Jennifer Rice and Mary Schmidt – people who really know their stuff. In addition, I’ll admit that I’ve often found branding campaigns to be off-target, over the top, and a bit silly.

The customer contact center at ShopNBC, however, embraced the idea of "red carpet service" that came out of the branding campaign. I think it’s a metaphor that fits perfectly with NBC’s entertainment brand. The Quality team there built their QA program around the metaphor of delivering "red carpet" service and treating their customers like "stars." Most importantly, if you asked a CSR to describe "red carpet service" they could.

I’m a firm believer in metaphor. Wrap your thought in a good metaphor and it sticks with people. Metaphors help people get their heads around concepts they might otherwise have a hard time verbalizing. I think ShopNBC has done a nice job of wrapping their quality program in a metaphor that fits their brand, resonates with CSRs and effectively communicates the way they want to treat their customers.

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Flickr photo courtesy of TinCanOrange

Upselling Basics for Customer Service

Guy Kawasaki recently created a lot of buzz with his Art of Customer Service post. I found a couple of people responding with the same thoughts I did, including Starbucker, who shared my concerns with Guy’s admonition to nev er upsell on customer service calls.

I mentioned in a previous post my concerns with companies who are pushing the upsell too hard. Nevertheless, upselling can be done well and done successfully in a customer service call. You should follow a few basic rules:

  • Find out how willing your customers are to hearing upsells. A focused customer survey can give you quantifiable data regarding your customer’s willingness to hear upsells. This data can help you make tactical decisions about how hard you can push the sale without creating a drop in customer satisfaction. In research we’ve conducted through the years, we’ve found customer’s in certain markets to be surprisingly willing to hear upsells. The important thing is to know your customers and how upsells are going to impact their satisfaction with your company.
  • Never offer an upsell before you’ve resolved the customer’s issue. Too many call centers try to push the upsell before the customer’s question has been answered or the issue resolved. This only aggravates customers who feel that you’re holding them hostage, forcing them to hear your pitch before you’ll help them. Some companies train their CSRs to use typical call downtime (e.g. while pulling up the customer’s account information) to make a pitch. While it may make sense to ask a few probing questions during these common periods of dead air, the actual offer should be reserved until after the customer’s problem has been solved.
  • Make relevant upsell offers. Upsells work best when the upsell you’re offering is a natural fit with the product or service the customer is already purchasing from your company. I remember years ago when an electronics liquidator specializing in computers started upselling memberships to a buying club for gourmet cooks [scratching head].
  • Train your CSRs on the product or service you’re upselling. Your upselling efforts will be much more successful if your CSRs feel comfortable with their knowledge of the product and are trained how to make natural segues from resolving the issue to entering the upsell. In addition, they should be able to mention the benefits of the product or service in their opening statement and answer customer’s FAQs.
  • Make allowances for NOT offering the upsell. Unfortunately, there are companies who push their CSRs to make a pitch on every call with no exceptions. This is a lose-lose-lose business practice. The customer loses because they are getting an upsell forced down their throat, even when it’s inappropriate. The CSR loses because they are put in the position of further aggravating customers who may already be ticked off. The company loses because they customers will walk away dissatisfied and the turnover rate in their call centers will rise. Do the math: you’ll have to upsell ALOT to cover the cost of replacing angry customers and finding/training a revolving CSR staff.

With a knowledgable, balanced approach to upselling you can generate revenue with your Customer Service contact center. Just make sure you do your homework, count the cost and prepare before diving in.

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“Would You Like Some Fries with That?” Goes Long Distance

Call Centers are becoming a larger and larger part of business and our everyday lives. Alert reader, David Eick, sent me an article from the New York Times which reports that fast food restaurants are now beginning to take drive-thru orders in contact centers hundreds, even thousands of miles away. It’s more evidence that the service skills employed by Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) in call centers will play an increasing part of our everyday service experience. I firmly believe that companies who understand how to effectively measure customer satisfaction, analyze service delivered in calls, and train their agents accordingly are going to be a step ahead of the competition. Technorati Tags: , , , Flickr photo courtesy of Little Hobbit Feet

Where Do You Invest Your Research Dollars?

I was at a conference a few weeks ago and struck up a pleasant conversation with an insurance company’s Customer Service manager. In the course of conversation, I found out that our group had proposed doing some customer satisfaction research for his company. He explained to me that his superiors chose to spend their money on some different research, not because it would give him meaningful data about his customers, but because it would rank them against other call centers across the nation. The end result, by his admission, was that he doesn’t know any more about what will help him satisfy his customers and make tactical decisions to drive their loyalty – but he does have a nicely framed certificate in his office telling him his call center ranks 44th in the country.

I understand the temptation. It’s nice to be able to have some bragging rights and prove to your superiors how you compare to the call center down the street. The problem is, it doesn’t ultimately matter how you compare to the call center down the street. What is ultimately going to impact your company and your bottom line is how you measure up against the expectations of the customers who are calling you each day. If you’re going to spend money on research, invest in something that’s going to give you ROI in the form of valid, actionable data. Get results you can use to make strategic decisions about where you will invest your time, energy and resources. Where does your customer rank you? That’s the only profitable ranking there is for long-term success.

Generating Sales at the Expense of Service, Satisfaction & Loyalty

There was a post in the Customer Service Reader that discussed declining Customer Satisfaction in the retail sector. Claes Fornell of the National Quality Research Center attributes the decline to companies pushing their staff to generate sales at the expense of service: “Too much pressure on staff to generate sales can have a detrimental effect on the quality of service that the staff is able to provide, which, in turn, has a negative effect on repeat buying. Since many retailers measure and manage productivity, but don’t usually have good measures of the quality of customer service [emphasis added], it seems possible that some companies put too much emphasis on productivity at the expense of service.”

We have been seeing this trend in call centers recently. We’ve seen a manager alter the weighting of his team’s QA scale so that the upselling component counted for over one-third of the CSR’s Overall Service score. The push for cross-selling and up-selling is on the rise, and companies are not always weighing the long-term effects that this can have on customer satisfaction and loyalty. Up-selling and cross-selling can be tremendous tools for revenue generation, but it is critical that companies measure their customer’s willingness to hear these offers. Even with customers who are open to hearing these offers, it is important that a customer’s issues and questions be resolved with exemplary soft skills before the offer is made. Without the resolution and soft skill components delivered prior to the sales pitch, the sales efforts will not be as effective and may serve to erode customer satisfaction and loyalty.

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Blogging Basics in a Snowstorm

I braved a midwest snowstorm yesterday in order to attend a blogging seminar. The introduction to blogging was led by Mike Sansone. His company is called Copywriting Solutions and Mike did a nice job of giving everyone an overview of blogging. Having already started this blog, I entered the class locked and loaded with questions. I felt that I was consistently jumping ahead, but Mike was patient with me. I was so anxious to try what he was showing us, I think I missed half of it because my head was buried behind the laptop clicking away. I liked that Mike made the class a group conversation between the 10 or so people in attendance. You can tell that he has a gift for conversation and networking. In addition, I loved all of the free solutions Mike shared. I am Dutch, you know. To top it all off, by the time the class was over the sun was shining and most of the morning snow had melted. Of course, I can’t give Mike credit for that!

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