Call Center Week – Reviews and Interviews Part III

Keeping employees engaged and motivated are the most important factors in establishing and maintaining a productive, effective contact center workforce.  Intelligent onboarding and consistent leadership are critical elements in the process. Some people in the industry also think of gamification as a powerful set of solutions to decrease turnover and improve productivity while others remain skeptical. In the next in our series of reports from Call Center Week, we offer perspectives from a pioneer of gamification and an authoritative resource in talent retention.

 What do you believe are the most important factors in improving the engagement, motivation and loyalty of contact center personnel?

Rajat Paharia, Founder and Chief Product Officer, Bunchball Let’s look at why call centers are notorious for low employee engagement, poor morale and high churn. For starters, call center agents are usually dealing with customers who are disgruntled or upset. It’s difficult to stay upbeat and engaged when your workday is devoted to managing other people’s problems and angst. Second, call center agents know they are being measured, judged and rated on everything they do. The pressure of constant assessment can be detrimental if not handled correctly.

There are several ways that call center managers can mitigate these challenges:

  • Use data to motivate. Call centers collect lots of data about their agents. Instead of using this data to intimidate and/or spy (as if “Big Brother” is watching), call center managers must use this data to encourage and inspire. That’s exactly what gamification can do. Gamification leverages big data analytics, fundamental design principles and new research about universal human motivators to influence employee actions. In short, gamification is about motivating people through data –and it has been proven to work extremely well in call centers.
  • Reframe call agents’ perceptions of their jobs and goals. Changing a call center agent’s point of view can have a tremendous positive impact. For example, collection agents can think about themselves as “bad guys” who nag people about overdue bills or they can see themselves as “good guys” who help people work their way out of financial difficulties. Which group do you think would have the better morale? Reframing the way call center agents perceive their jobs makes a difference; the lens matters.

Christopher Mulligan, CEO, TalentKeepers    A growing number of major studies, including our 10th annual report Workplace America, reinforce what savvy executives have long understood: Engaged workers perform better, stay longer and deliver greater results. We have moved well beyond HR solely owning these initiatives. It is now accepted that employee engagement is a business imperative and should be prioritized, managed, measured and reported like many other KPIs, such as customer satisfaction. 

In our work with centers in the US and around the world, we find that leaders, particularly front-line leaders, remain the most important resource in motivating and retaining agents and other call center employees. Leaders shape the experience, opinions, and aspirations of their agents. Leaders set the tone for their team, choose what information to share, interpret company rules and decide how to apply them. We expect them to reinforce and coach high performers.

Surprisingly, meaningful and relevant training for leaders on engagement and retention skills is inadequate and under-funded at best. Strategically focusing energy and resources on leaders will yield strong returns on the investment and deliver better KPIs, higher agent retention and improved performance. 

While a new generation of workers is creating opportunities to rethink existing norms, leaders will need training and tools to help engage them. Personal and professional growth are among the keys to energizing your workplace.  Career conversations that create optimism in agents without setting unachievable expectations will make a big impact on Generation Y.

What metrics do you see as being most valuable in determining progress in these areas?

Rajat Paharia, Bunchball   Call centers don’t usually measure things like employee motivation, engagement and loyalty. However, there are other call center metrics that are typically well-defined: AHT (average handle time), FCR (first call resolution), agent customer satisfaction scores, etc. Call center managers don’t need new metrics to gauge improvements in motivation, engagement and loyalty. All they need are the metrics they’re already using. When employee motivation, engagement and loyalty improve, these other metrics—and overall business performance– will improve as well.

Gamification enhances transparency around whichever behaviors a call center deems most important and then inspires agents to become more self-driven to achieve those specific metrics. By tracking activities and responses to incentives, gamification helps call center agents make real, measurable improvements to key performance indicators (KPIs). The potential benefits offered by gamification include:

  • Reducing call times and boosting first call resolution (FCR) rates
  • Raising customer satisfaction rates and Net Promoter Scores (NPS)
  • Speeding onboarding time and increasing product mastery
  • Increasing upsell and cross-sell
  • Driving customer self-service to deflect call volume

By changing “have to do” behaviors into “want to do” behaviors, service performance improves.

Christopher Mulligan, TalentKeepers   Every call center today should minimally be capturing, tracking and reporting retention data down to the front-line leader level. Significant variability in the retention and engagement of agents will be apparent among leaders in a typical center, and executives need to know where to focus their coaching and development.

Another fundamental metric is the cost of turnover. Only 23% of U.S. companies have calculated the direct cost of turnover, and only 10% have gone the extra step to quantify indirect costs such as the impact on the customer experience and “willingness to recommend” scores

Using employee surveys, a number of additional metrics become not only useful but very influential in formulating talent strategies, prioritizing talent management budgets, and targeting areas of greatest opportunity for improvement. For example, the Leader Engagement Index measures how effective a leader it in retaining and motivating their team members. Similarly, the Job Engagement Index provides specific data on ways to structure the job that increases the likelihood a high performing agent will stay longer. Issues from scheduling and training to decision-making authority and skill utilization can be very useful.

Another metric we recommend is the Employee Net Promoter Score that quantifies an agent’s willingness to recommend their employer as a good place to work.

All of these metrics should become essential in making leadership promotion decisions, structuring incentive plans, and be factored into succession planning and more. The contact center industry is metrics-driven, but far too little weight is placed on employee engagement metrics as a driver of center performance compared to traditional call center KPIs. This will need to change as competition for talent increases and a new generation of workers enters the workplace.

What specific advantages does your solution offer that differentiates it from others in your space?

Rajat Paharia Bunchball  We are the leading provider of pre-built gamification integrations,  which enables companies to have their solution up and running without introducing new technology.  Program administrators can easily create, measure and deploy a gamification strategy and individual or team challenges directly from a desktop or iPad. Nitro is the most widely used gamification engine available and can be used to amplify a wide range of existing enterprise apps, websites and social networks. By applying gamification strategically within these existing systems, Nitro motivates customers, employees and partners to engage in high-value activities that benefit the bottom line. It’s also the gamification engine behind NICE’s Workforce Optimization solutions, including NICE Performance Management. BMC Remedyforce and Salesforce Service Cloud also have integrated Nitro into the platform to help maximize service employee performance.

Christopher Mulligan, TalentKeepers   We offer clients a truly integrated strategy that can include the entire employee lifecycle, from onboarding tools to employee exit surveys. TalentWatch is a structured employee engagement system that includes a standard or customizable engagement survey, detailed analysis including free responses, comprehensive tiered, user-defined reporting, an executive dashboard, and online action planning and alerts for accountability and tracking. 

The survey measures the four key drivers of engagement: Leader, Organization, Job, and Co-Worker factors that together promote employee engagement and retention. Standard metrics include a Leadership Engagement Index, Employee Engagement Index, Job/Organization Engagement Index, Employee Net Promoter Score and more.

Leaders are a critical resource in shaping a climate of enthusiasm and engagement. Based on extensive research, we have developed learning programs focused specifically on retention and engagement competencies. The benefit of this training is the immediate applicability of the skill to interactions with agents.

What else would you like CRMXchange readers to know about your company?

Rajat Paharia, Bunchball  We helped to create the gamification industry in 2007, and have been at the forefront ever since. We offer the broadest expertise and the most widely-used platform. . .  even a New York Times best-selling book. Our customer roster consists of numerous Fortune 2000 companies, including Adobe, Cisco, HP, T-Mobile and VMware, which all use our gamification platform to motivate employees and drive meaningful business outcomes every day. We help our clients’ customers, employees, online communities and partners do more, learn more, and share more in ways that matter to their business.

Christopher Mulligan, TalentKeepers. We were founded in 2000, and largely created the employee retention and engagement solutions market, introducing new and innovative strategies and products. Our products have been recognized as “Best in Show” at the annual ICMI call center conference. We offer extensive knowledge and experience in call center agent retention and engagement.

Through original research and pioneering products, we have helped shape new knowledge and understanding of why workers choose to stay, what drives them away, and what can energize people to work harder and perform better. We’ve produced results for in-house corporate centers, outsourced centers and every type of inbound and outbound call center operation.

Retaining and engaging contributing agents is no longer an option. Your competition demands that you focus on it. An evolving workplace requires it and a new generation of talent expects it. The future of your organization is fueled by your people.

What types of incentives and rewards in gamification programs do employees respond to most favorably?

Rajat Paharia: Employees respond to rewards that have meaningful value. While it’s often thought that means rewards must be cash or have cash-value, that’s not necessarily true. Cash is only one of many different kinds of rewards –and it’s not always the most motivating. People value status (as indicated by job title, military rank, etc.). They also value recognition and appreciation . . . and perks like early and exclusive access . . . and power. The key is to determine which incentive and rewards are important in your call center –what do your agents value? When you’re thinking about how to apply gamification, you have to understand what’s in it for your end users and what meaningful value you’re providing to them.



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