Engaging the Frontline


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Extract from Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008, new research by The Ascent Group, Inc.

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Engaging the Frontline

  1. 1. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 Engaging the Frontline Companies in all industries are recognizing the strategic importance of customer satisfaction and how the quality of frontline customer service employees can make or break a company. A recent survey conducted by Maritz found that 43 percent of customers who stopped doing business with a company made their decision based on poor customer service. Engaged employees are the key to excellent customer service. Engaged employees are employees that feel as though they are truly valued at work; that their efforts directly contribute towards the mission and success of the company. Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to look outside of the company for employment. A recent study by Harvard Business School found that every 1% increase in staff loyalty resulted in a ½% increase in customer loyalty. Additionally, Gallop’s 2006 research to better understand the linkage between employee satisfaction and return on investment (ROI) found that companies with higher levels of employee engagement enjoyed higher ROI. It is becoming more and more difficult to find and engage the right employees. Tight labor markets are making companies think twice about compensation packages, benefits, and incentives. Turnover and competition are pushing companies to focus on ways to keep qualified employees happy and motivated. Customer service management’s top priority is attracting and engaging top-performing customer service employees. Reward and recognition programs factor greatly in this challenge. A recent Maritz poll found that 55 percent of employees agree or agree strongly that the quality of their company’s recognition efforts impacts their job performance. At the same time, only 43 percent of employees felt they were consistently recognized for their performance in ways that were meaningful to them. Recognition is like anything else, it requires time, attention, and a consistent approach. Management must have a process in place so that managers and supervisors are actively looking at employees to identify those opportunities to recognize and reward good performance. If you’re not looking, or you don’t have the time, you’ll never notice or praise, and employees will feel neglected. It’s a simple matter of showing respect. The key to a well-designed, effective reward and recognition program is employee involvement. At a minimum, management should ask employees, via surveys, focus groups, group meetings, or team involvement, what they value most, in terms of recognition, rewards. The best organizations use a combination of these approaches when designing or refining their programs. This will form a baseline of employee expectations and value. Management can then align rewards with employee expectations to focus employees on behaviors to be rewarded. Administration and communication also play critical roles in the reward and recognition process. A highly valued set of rewards is worth little without a consistent way to track and recognize superior employee performance. Poor or untimely communication devalues rewards and recognition, because other employees have not been informed or are not sure what was ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc.
  2. 2. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 actually done to earn the reward. Companies need to make the process of employee recognition as easy as possible for managers, supervisors, and employees. Recognition is about acknowledgement and appreciation for a contribution, improvement, innovation, or excellence—a message to employees that they are valued. The act of recognizing an employee affirms the values and spirit underlying the achievement. It’s also about reinforcing desired behaviors and increasing their occurrence. Attitude and performance are closely linked; the appropriate recognition at the appropriate moment will create a positive attitude that, in turn, will lead to improved performance. Recognition and rewards can be formal and informal. Informal recognition, meaning, spontaneous or immediate—simple thank you’s or expressions for a job well done. In fact, most of a company’s recognition activity should be informal. It indicates a culture or atmosphere that acknowledges good behavior when it happens. Informal recognition is a critical component in human nature and the social structure—it’s a major motivator and results in people feeling good about themselves and their achievements. This should be carried over into the workplace, as a sign of respect and acknowledgement. While peer-to-peer recognition is important, supervisor to employee informal recognition is critical to the success of the organization. Recognition signifies to the individual that someone noticed and cared. Communicating this to the rest of the organization creates role models and sets the standards of desired performance. Not everyone is good at this, and like everything, some are better than others. In fact, a recent poll by Maritz found that there is a gap in how employees are recognized and how they want to be recognized. Employees are motivated in vastly different ways. In order for a program to be truly effective, managers and supervisors have to be able to distinguish what motivates a particular employee and reward accordingly. Managers and supervisors should have the skills to recognize desired behavior and performance, and praise accordingly. The Maritz Poll also found that employees who are completely satisfied with their company’s reward and recognition program are significantly more satisfied with their jobs, more likely to remain with the company, and more likely to recommend their workplace to others. Benchmark Study of Employee and Supervisory Reward & Recognition Programs With this in mind, Ascent Group conducted research during the second and third quarter of 2008 to better understand reward and recognition programs offered to front-line customer service employees and supervisors. The main objective of the current study was to identify “best practices” in reward and recognition for frontline customer service employees and supervisors. In particular, focus was given to understanding how customer service organizations of all industries determine, design, and deploy reward and recognition programs to motivate and retain front-line, customer facing employees as well as encourage desired customer service behaviors and attitudes. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 2
  3. 3. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 Secondary objectives included understanding: Reward and recognition programs goals and objectives • Successful reward and recognition program design approaches • Techniques to measure employee and supervisory satisfaction with programs • Reward and recognition program costs • Approaches to determining program success and performance • Technologies that enhance reward program administration and communication • Characteristics of best and worst programs • Other motivating techniques for frontline employees • We asked companies to describe and define the reward and recognition programs for their front-line customer service employees and supervisors. Other items surveyed included: Annual turnover, internal and external • Average tenure • Starting wages for frontline employees and supervisors • Reward and Recognition Program cost (per employee) • Impact of Reward & Recognition Programs on: • − Employee Satisfaction Attrition − − Productivity Absenteeism − − Quality Performance Sales & Profitability − − Employee Involvement Customer Satisfaction − Participants were asked to share management tactics and strategies, as well as identify any improvement in performance. The study also asked companies to include considerations, successes, and plans moving forward. The result of this effort is captured in the report, Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008. More information about this report can be found on our website, www.ascentgroup.com ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 3
  4. 4. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 Reinforce behaviors and reward results. Recognize the right behaviors and communicate such that the employee’s behavior becomes a model within the work group. Sharing information on expected behaviors and rewards will establish trust. Employees will be able to understand what they need to do to be similarly recognized. Reward these behaviors so other employees are inclined to follow suit. Rewards are a better reinforcement of learning and risk-taking than punishment is for failure. Our study participants favor ad-hoc rewards and top performer programs. On-the- spot recognition and reward programs are preferred by 29 percent of participants while “Top Performer” programs are favored by 21 percent. Performance contests, team events, and peer recognition figure less prominently. Be timely, specific, and communicate! Make sure you recognize behavior and reward results in a timely manner so that employees know exactly why they are being recognized. Be specific, clear, and communicate the event so that others will take notice. Match the reward to the person and the achievement. Do your homework. Talk to employees at all levels, in all job categories, to understand expectations and drivers of performance. Identify meaningful rewards for each employee. Overwhelmingly, time off, is ranked as the top motivator by our participants. Not far behind, money and praise. But every employee is unique. One size does not fit all in employee rewards and recognition. Provide a choice of rewards to accommodate all employees. Also make sure the reward is appropriate for the deed that the evaluation process is fair and objective. Involve employees in the design and refinement of your reward and recognition programs. Employee participation will strengthen your program. Not only will employees be ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 2
  5. 5. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 able to provide ideas and feedback, they will also become a proponent of the program among peers. One key way to involve employees is to actively seek their feedback, opinions, and ideas regarding the program. Sixteen percent of participants do not gather feedback from employees about their reward and recognition programs. Involve managers and executives in the reward and recognition process. Make sure you have buy in and interest from the management and executive team. Encourage them take an active role in the recognition process. Employees deeply value recognition and praise from management and senior management. A simple, “thank you” can go a long way. Look to technology to facilitate program administration and tracking. Online, web-based applications are available to help companies track employee performance and administer reward and recognition programs. From employee scorecards to gift selection, vendors are offering more and more products and services to help companies reward and recognize employees. In addition, other products like email “thank you” cards and digital certificate awards are making it easier to deliver spontaneous recognition. Review your programs and rewards frequently to keep them aligned with corporate goals as well as employee expectations. Employee expectations and corporate objectives change over time. Make sure your programs keep up. Reward programs can become stale. Look for ways to keep the program fresh by changing rewards and metrics as the business changes. Design reward and recognition programs for supervisors and staff support groups so the entire departmental team is working towards the same goals and appropriately recognized. Don’t just offer rewards and recognition for front-line employees—extend the program to cover all employees in the department so the entire group is working towards the same goals. Make sure your supervisors have the appropriate rewards and recognition opportunities to motivate leadership, teamwork, and employee development. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 3
  6. 6. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 Train supervisors and managers so they are skilled in recognizing and rewarding employees. One of the main responsibilities of a manager or supervisor is motivating employees to higher levels of performance. Not everyone is good at delivering praise and recognition. Provide training so supervisors have tools and techniques to make the process easy and fun. Make sure they set aside the appropriate time in their schedule to recognize employees and hold them accountable. Measure the effectiveness and impact of your reward and recognition programs. Create a performance measurement framework so you can measure the impact of your reward and recognition program. Track the performance metrics that form the basis of your reward structure and conduct surveys to gain qualitative feedback from employees and supervisors. Nearly one-quarter of participants do not measure reward and recognition program success (24 percent). Of the companies that do, most routinely survey employees regarding programs and employee satisfaction to gauge the performance of the reward and recognition programs (55 percent) or review program performance results (52 percent). Fewer conduct focus groups or employee feedback sessions or review budget and payout information (41 percent and 21 percent respectively). Measure your reward and recognition program impact and improve based on your results. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 4
  7. 7. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 Characteristics of the “Worst Programs” Companies reported several characteristics that can render a reward and recognition program useless or ineffective: Inconsistency • Untimely recognition / reward delivery • Unclear program qualifications or criteria • Perceived unattainable goals or uncontrollable goals • Rewards don’t match employee; limited choice or unvalued rewards • Programs that don’t include support staff • Programs with few winners • Catalog award selection is limited • Participants relayed the following experiences when discussing their “worst” reward and recognition programs: The monthly contests—they are time consuming to create and administer. • $10 movie card. • Pie in the Face, a peer recognition program. Encourages favoritism among peers. • Circle of Excellence is very selective and difficult to achieve. Many CSRs still don't • understand the concept of it or what is needed to win. Incentive type contests are often met with bad feelings. • Rewards based on corporate wide achievements. Many employees do not perceive they • have a chance to get recognized. Those that pay people for doing what they should do anyway. It encourages inertia and • people don't really make the effort. Attendance bonus for collectors only. Separates the employees (outbound vs. inbound). • Peer recognition, to only get recognition from the people you work with and not also • from management. You get the feeling that only your colleagues appreciate you but management does not see your effort. We tried a monthly incentive to reduce Average Handle Time on the phone by 2% • month over month and would receive $50 - results were not very good. Attendance...rewarding someone for what is a basic job expectation, just awarding them • for showing up, doesn't make much sense to me. Team efforts are not on code for US culture. 80% of performance by 20% of • participants rewards the highest and lowest contributors equally. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 5
  8. 8. Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices 2008 About The Ascent Group The Ascent Group, Inc. is a management-consulting firm that specializes in customer service operations and improvement, performance benchmarking, competitive benchmarking, work management, and industry research. Publications: Credit & Collection Practices Improving Field Services Reward & Recognition Program Profiles & Best Practices Improving Front-line Training Improving Front-line Recruitment & Hiring Improving Front-line Performance Meter Reading Profiles & Best Practices IVR Improvement Strategies Billing & Payment Profiles & Best Practices Call Quality Improvement Achieving First Call Resolution Call Center Strategies The Ascent Group offers other opportunities for your company to participate in benchmarking and best practice discovery through its online benchmarking services: Call Center Operations Credit & Collection • • First Call Resolution Billing & Payment Services • • Call Quality Monitoring Remittance Processing • • IVR Technology Business Office Operations • • Outage Call Handling Field Services • • If you are interested in participating in our research, please contact Christine Kozlosky at ckk@ascentgroup.com or (888) 749-0001. The Ascent Group, Inc. 120 River Oak Way Athens, GA 30605 www.ascentgroup.com ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 6