A very insightful study conducted by Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, found that 80% of American workers don’t feel appreciated for their work. This says a lot about the working conditions in these companies and their approach to employee satisfaction. Importantly, the employees surveyed didn’t receive any feedback or positive reinforcement for their contributions at work. Their outstanding achievements went, well, unnoticed.
The rule is simple: Happy customer service employees create happy customers. These employees are the ones who shield your business from large backlogs, deal with angry customers, or handle the most complex cases. But what about unhappy employees? Will they degrade the quality of your service? I get mixed signals on this issue.
On the one hand, Gallup points out that dissatisfied employees express that their needs aren’t being met and openly voice it. Also, such employees question the performance of their colleagues. They sound frustrated, being unable to vent their misery. On the other hand, the #WorkHappier report shows that employees, even if they aren’t happy, have no intention of slowing down and letting their customers feel it when serving them. After all, they can get recognition and a positive boost from customers, which is a great alternative to recognition from an employer.
There’s no point in taking any chances. If you want your employees to do their best work, they should feel respected and appreciated. In the following paragraphs, I’ll show you exactly why you should be interested in creating an employee value proposition and delivering the best possible experience through your employee recognition program.
Customer service is the root of every business, regardless of the industry. Customer service personnel take care of many essential metrics from a business perspective, such as customer loyalty, retention, and brand reputation. If you’re wondering how to keep them motivated at a high level, appreciation is undoubtedly the way to go.
Appreciation is one of the main factors that drives more effective work. Being on the first or second line of customer support and dealing with daily customer issues is demanding. Data shows that 37% of employees surveyed agree that more personal recognition would encourage them to perform better at work.
I’ll start with the cost of poor morale in the workplace as it’s responsible for the $350 billion in lost productivity every year. This amount isn’t just due to neglecting customer satisfaction and happiness. It’s a broader problem involving a more holistic approach to work. Underappreciated employees aren’t incentivized to be creative. They don’t care about innovating and improving performance. Instead, they use outdated and ineffective solutions because they lack the stimulus that would make them want to try something new.
In addition, unappreciated employees are easily bored or distracted. They can’t be at their best if they don’t get clear confirmation from their supervisors that they’re doing their work well. With this attitude, the business owner will face high employee turnover rates. I want to add here that hiring a new employee is not trivial when it comes to cost, and the average cost-per-hire is $4,129.
Instead of kicking off another hiring and onboarding process, use that money for a well-tailored employee incentive program. This program could include:
Employee incentive programs make customer service agents more productive. The agents will treat every chat, email, or other conversation with a customer as an opportunity to deliver the best experience in the knowledge that the customer will fully appreciate this. In short, recognized customer service agents are more likely to provide top-notch customer support that exceeds everyone’s expectations, and this is your aim, isn’t it?
Incentives and other benefits can be one tool in your employer branding toolbox. However, the truth is that even the fanciest rewards can’t replace a strong company culture and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means doing something without obvious external rewards, simply because it gives us pleasure and satisfaction.
Creating a company culture is a long, if not endless, process. It requires the commitment of all employees, including customer support agents. Upon hiring a new person, it’s essential to incorporate specific values and help them understand the mindset of the workplace. Companies and managers try to keep up with their employees and meet their individual needs, including the need for self-fulfillment or being appreciated. All of this is key to strengthening the organizational culture.
Before I move on to the next section, I think there’s one more thing to note. Incentives are different from bonuses earned for achieving certain goals, such as sales. So let’s not confuse the terms here because both have different business objectives.
Now you know that the best-performing employee engagement programs will be true to their core values and, more importantly, the people associated with them. To wrap up, companies with strong employee recognition programs enjoy higher productivity, lower turnover rates, and greater return on investment (ROI) than other companies in the same industries.
Employee recognition programs implement many kinds of initiatives to reward employees for:
In addition, they aim to reduce employee attrition and turnover rates and keep the team spirit up and alive.
So if you want to lift the morale of your customer support staff, you can do so with a well-designed employee recognition program. Recognize your support team members' unique commitment to making customers happy and ensure they can excel at their jobs.
When creating an employee recognition program, consider the four dimensions of employee engagement provided by Gallup.
In the infographic, you can see the questions employees ask themselves about work. You can use them to build a suitable employee appreciation program. The questions are:
Get answers from each of your employees. Then, find out if your company meets all of these conditions and if you have the necessary information to move on.
Create a space for discussion and open employee communication. It can be a suggestion box, a dedicated channel on Slack, or an anonymous online forum where employees can share their insights. At LiveChat, we use Teammood to express our feelings and advise others on their problems daily.
Ask customer service employees “What makes you stay?” In doing so you’ll be better placed to attend to their well-being and gauge their state of happiness. You can use employee interviews to find out what motivates them and what keeps them going. Also, you can identify what they’re afraid of and what they’re looking forward to. Based on this, you can plan recruitment activities, assess measures to prevent employee turnover, or choose the direction of team development.
Next, make sure that your employee recognition program is clearly defined and achievable for every team member. Employees hope that recognition awards will be granted regularly as they break up the monotony and introduce an attractive gamification element to the team. If you stick to these simple rules, you’ll see customer service employees driven to succeed, and they will have a much more positive experience at work.
Try to focus on the right things, especially when designing your employee appreciation program. Correctly align your new reward strategy with your daily work. Make sure you don’t make unreasonable demands on your agents. You’ll see that your support agents will start to achieve results at the expense of the customer experience or the overall workflow when you overdo it. So, it’s all about incentivizing the right results, creating goal-based rewards, and choosing the right revenue target for your customer support agents.
Since you know the basics, think about the metrics you collect as part of your customer service work. A good employee recognition program and incentive criteria should include these performance targets. The goals must make sense to team members and be relevant to their daily work. They must also align with the overarching goals of the company. To do this, you must be a reasonable observer and have managerial skills. Look around you, dig into the business data, and see what targets and metrics you can pick up, such as:
Every company is different, and only you and your team know what to consider when creating an employee recognition program. Keep in mind that some metrics may not work for you.
For example, by selecting Average Handling Time or Average Resolution Time as an evaluation metric, your agents may choose customer cases that give them the best results. This leads to agents cherry-picking the easiest customer cases while leaving the most difficult ones for later or, worse, assigning them to other team members. I recommend mixing several metrics so that it’s not as tempting to cheat during the ticket resolution process, and agents will have balanced scorecards.
Don’t forget to make your goals trackable, both for you and for others involved. Give access to the system where you collect records so that every customer service agent can conveniently see how close they’re to meeting their goals and make adjustments.
From a business owner’s perspective, implementing seasonal evaluations, individual goals, reward policies, and more allows you to assess the well-being of your team. You might discover that you need someone new on the team because too many customer tickets requiring human intervention are backlogged. Or maybe you’ll find out that an agent needs additional training in order to benefit from your employee recognition program. Help your team grow stronger and support agents on their journey.
In customer service, it’s not possible to easily win a customer’s case every time. Simply put, it’s impossible to predict what the next issue will be. That’s why, when setting goals for your customer service team, you need to be fair. Some cases drag on for days and weeks, making it impossible for an agent to change the filing status to “Solved.” One agent may get ten easy customer cases that can be resolved in minutes, while someone else may get three cases that are more complex and require greater focus. Be aware of what a customer service agent’s job is like and that things are more complicated than they seem on the surface.
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Tailor incentives to your team and the individuals on it. Talk to your customer service agents and adapt the employee recognition program to their needs, motivations, strengths, fears, or career aspirations. At this point, remember that you’re doing this for them. It makes sense to incorporate their point of view from the design stage. As a result, you can develop a program with forms of recognition that are valued, engaging, and warmly welcomed.
In addition, when building an employee recognition program, you can also consider the skill sets that every customer service agent has. This way, you can fully immerse yourself in their world, and the rewards will work in their favor. Explore their different areas of specialization, interests, or even hobbies and ensure that incentives are varied. Provide a wide range of both goals and rewards for achieving them. Recognition rewards should make someone feel special, that they stand out from the crowd. This is possible if you keep rewards specific and highly personalized.
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Move away from the traditional “team morale-building” approach and using higher salaries or other cash perks as rewards. I truly hope that the payment terms with employees at your company are sorted out. I can show you different, non-financial ways to appreciate the efforts of your customer service staff.
If you create an effective employee appreciation program, you’ll see improvements in productivity and profit margins. Plus, you’ll have no problem retaining your employees and, in turn, your customers, who will stay with you because of the great service. The following employee recognition ideas can be part of your overall employee appreciation program. We use them and highly recommend them in order to keep customer service agents, and other employees, on board and motivated.
I bet you’re used to working remotely by now, but if you still get the chance to meet your teammates in person, use it to celebrate your accomplishments. There’s nothing like indulging in some delicious cake, flavored coffee, or cold drinks in the office that usually serves as your workspace. But now the office has turned into a meeting place and a networking opportunity.
Give a big round of applause, share positive feedback, and publicly reward your employees for quality work. It’ll make them feel appreciated and valued. For example, when I experienced public praise because we ranked #1 on Google for the keyword “help desk software,” it gave me the boost I needed. I immediately started thinking about what my next goal would be to, so I’d feel distinguished one more time. This is the true power of feedback.
Let’s have some fun in the office, too. Do something big, spectacular, and out-of-the-box. With an outstanding achievement under your belt, you deserve it. Just stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and say, “We did it.” Enjoy this bonding time together.
I’m sure you have an instant messaging tool in your company for quick information exchange. I’m thinking of Slack, Google Chat, Chanty, Microsoft Teams, Discord, or Flock. They can be used to publicly acknowledge and express gratitude for outstanding work, for being a great co-worker, or for other things that helped the company make a profit.
At LiveChat, we have a dedicated channel on Slack called #shout-outs. Here we recognize people who helped us on a project or stood out with their attitude. The channel is available for the whole company, so anyone can give their colleague a good pat on the back and express their joy.
From my observation, when posting a short but sweet message such as the one above, you should highlight individuals and the whole team for their specific metrics and non-metrics achievements. Show you’re paying attention and genuinely value the work they’re doing. The employee reward program is all about creating an eventful and highly anticipated social experience.
Gifts and other “congratulations” cards can also serve as employee incentives, and they’re always welcome. You can use cards not only to say “Thank you” but you can also include a voucher to a fine restaurant or a cinema ticket.
Aside from cards, I mentioned gifts. We all love gifts. As I said, personalized rewards are the best ones, and the final choice is a matter of imagination. And now you’re probably picturing yourself scrolling the internet for hours looking for a gift. Nothing could be further from the truth as I have a simple solution for that.
Ask other teammates to help you out and make sure the gift will be truly enjoyable for that person. Will they enjoy a new board game, a bobblehead figure from their favorite TV show, or maybe a poster with their favorite meme? It’s about recognizing that person as an individual with their own dreams and hopes and making sure that their interests come first when making reward decisions.
A shared meal is one of the most bonding and team-building initiatives. First, there’s no talking all at once because while one person tells the story, others have delicious food in their mouths and listen intently. Second, for achievement celebrations, the food is usually on the house, and I think you’ll agree that there’s nothing tastier than free pizza or sushi.
Publicly collect evidence of your great work in one highly visible place in your office. That way, you’ll never lose sight of what you’ve accomplished. You can create a “wall” with the life of your company or of any particular team. One look at such a wall, and all the memories and emotions will come back to you in a flash.
This kind of wall can come in different formats. Give it the personal touch and adjust it to your needs. It can be a corkboard or an entire surface in the office on which you can paint, chalk, or put up stickers. If you work online, you can use a Miro board or another collaborative tool. Keep this wall alive and constantly updated with new achievements.
Your agents guide your customers and take care of their customer journey. It’s time for you to do the same. Get your agents on a trip somewhere that fosters team building. It could be kayaking, rock climbing, cooking lessons, biking, ax throwing, or any other fun initiative designed to be a memorable group experience.
If you have the funds, you could take your teammates out of town for a weekend so that you can spend more than eight hours together. From my experience, I can say that I’ve made many true friendships during such corporate retreats. So, if you’re opting for this form of employee incentive, definitely think about team-building workshops. If you Google this, you’ll find many activities and games that reveal people’s true colors. I hope the results don’t leave you surprised in a bad way.
When a customer service agent is battling to win case after case, and you see that they are growing weary after such a long and exhausting challenge, give them a well-deserved break. One day off from all the hustle and bustle helps you recharge your batteries and regain your strength.
If your organization follows the practice of giving days off, save them for special situations. The opportunity to get an extra paid day off is something extraordinary to look out for, especially for the top performers on your team.
An employee recognition program is meant to drive motivation and doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive to serve its purpose. Incentives keep people engaged and appreciated. It’s a sign that you remember them and that they stand out. Pay attention to how your employees respond to your appreciation program and update it accordingly so that it’s always on point. Finally, let’s wrap up this lesson on how to track and reward agent performance:
In the next lesson
Key Metrics for Measuring Customer Support
Join me in the next lesson in which I'll be learning how to verify support work and draw appropriate conclusions. I'll show you how to use support performance reports and how to identify areas for improvement. I'll also focus on common customer support metrics, such as monthly ticket volume, average response time, and customer effort score.Go to lesson 9
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