Monday, March 12, 2012

Maintaining A Healthy Environment Through Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards

   To many people the words "call center" conjure up all kinds of negative imagery.   Whether it be a temporary revolving door where employees are hired and quit on an almost daily basis, or long hours crammed inside a tiny cubicle with little pay and an angry supervisor ready to snap at any moment, it is safe to say that call centers have gotten a bad rap.  Though unfortunately places like this do exist that have earned call centers this negative reputation, this certainly doesn't have to be the case.  Maintaining a healthy and  positive environment at your call center is possible and beneficial, both to the employees and to your business.  Let's take a few minutes to talk about why.

   The ways to compensate workers fall into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.  Extrinsic rewards are tangible rewards, like a sustainable salary or a year-end bonus.  Intrinsic rewards are psychological, like a sense of purpose or meaningfulness.   Consciously making a point to reward your workers in each way has its own benefits.

 Extrinsic Rewards

    There is a difference between simply reading a script, and having a meaningful interaction with a customer.  According to Wikipedia, one of the top criticisms of call centers practice is "obsequious behavior by operators".  If a worker feels unappreciated they will resent this feeling, and this resentment will show through in the quality of their work.  The "they're not paying me enough for this" mentality is detrimental to any field, but especially troublesome when it comes to customer service.  Naturally,  it goes without saying that it is hard for people to be positive and focused on a task if they are constantly worrying about how they are going to eat or whether or not their electricity will be cut off.  As talked about in the previous article, we are just beginning to be understand the positive psychological effects of a comforting voice   If a worker feels negative, this negativity will come through in their voice, and a negative reaction from the recipient (or in our case customer) is almost guaranteed.  On the flip side, when a worker feels justly compensated they will put positive energy back into their interactions.  Lets look at an example of how "paying for quality" has worked in another field.  Chef Thomas Keller made it a point of "going to extraordinary lengths to get the best ingredients, for paying suppliers more and for paying restaurant staff well".  This train of thought caused his restaurants to earn 3 Michelin stars, the highest honor a restaurant can receive. We should never think that call centers are exempt from the universal truths of good business.

Intrinsic Rewards

   Beyond tangibility lie the four intrinsic rewards: a sense of meaningfulness, sense of choice, sense of competence, and sense of progress.  In many ways these rewards are more important than the extrinsic ones (albeit they do not put food on the table).  When you add them all up these intrinsic rewards give a worker a sense of purpose; that they are doing an important job that they and they alone can accomplish.  This sense of purpose leads to a much higher work quality and a higher quality of life.  Lets take a closer look at each reward individually..

SENSE OF MEANINGFULNESS.  When workers have a strong sense of meaningfulness, they feel as though they are doing something valuable with their time.  Instead of simply performing a task to earn a paycheck, they feel as though they are making an important and beneficial contribution to society at large.

SENSE OF CHOICE.  When workers are given a sense of choice it shows that you consider them intelligent enough to make choices.  When people feel as though they are viewed as intelligent and capable, they are much more likely to behave intelligently on the job.

SENSE OF COMPETENCE.  When they have a sense of competence, workers feel like they are handling their responsibilities well.  This is accomplished by giving workers a fair amount of work to accomplish in a reasonable amount of time and never overburdening them with unrealistic goals, requirements, or restrictions. Logically, when workers do not feel stressed and overburdened their quality of work increases.

SENSE OF PROGRESS.  If workers feel as if they are moving forward in their work, they will feel a sense of prosperity and future, both in their own prospects and in your company.

   Customer service is a people business, and if you want to be successful people should be given top priority.  When workers feel that both their financial and psychological needs are met (or exceeded) they will view themselves as a valuable asset and behave as such.  Through the use of both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, your call center will be guaranteed maximum performance and efficiency.  The quality of interactions between customers and workers will increase and become more meaningful, thereby unlocking the door to untold benefits for your business. 

Citations:  "Star Chef: Pay People What They Are Worth", Richard Gallant, CNN Opinion.  "The Four Intrinsic Rewards That Drive Employee Engagement", Kenneth Thomas, Ivey Business Journal.
"Call Centre"  Wikipedia article

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