7 Tips for Motivating Your Contact Center Team

As a leader, you have to be able to motivate your team members. In fact, you probably need to be able to motivate others well beyond those who formally report to you. There is probably no responsibility that's more important to getting great results.

Some of the stats around motivation and (more broadly) employee engagement are eye-popping. Here are just a few:

  • 51 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged, while 17.5 percent are actively disengaged. (Source: Gallup)
  • There is a 55 percent difference in Net Promoter Scores for companies with highly engaged employees vs. actively disengaged employees. (Source: Aon Hewitt)
  • Compared with disengaged employees, highly engaged employees are 4.7 times more likely to do something good for the company, even if it is not expected of them. (Source: Temkin Group)
  • Customer service employees are among the least engaged at work, falling behind human resources, sales, marketing, engineering, R&D, operations, finance and IT, in that order. (Source: Quantum Workplace)

We don't all view work the same way. In his book Why We Work, Barry Schwartz summarizes three ways employees can relate to work:

  • Work as a job;
  • Work as a career; or
  • Work as a calling.

Those who view work as a job mainly see it as a paycheck. They don't receive any kind of reward or fulfillment beyond salary and benefits. Those who view work as a career want to get better at what they do and maybe take on new responsibilities and move up in the organization. As you can guess, they have a higher level of motivation. Those who view work as a calling understand how the work they do makes a positive difference for others. Their work is fulfilling because they understand its importance and feel they're doing the right thing. This is intrinsic motivation; it comes from within.

I've found that one of the most important enablers to intrinsic motivation is identifying and removing the barriers, getting the dumb stuff out of the way! Incentives, rewards, and other motivational tactics rarely work for long. But you can implement strategies that knock down barriers to great work and significantly improve your team's performance.

Here are seven common demotivators in customer service settings:

  1. Lack of needed training. There's nothing more stressful and frustrating than not knowing what to do in real, live customer service situations. And, no, some customers aren't very patient. This is something you can fix! When I asked an employee about her company's improved training program, she put it this way: "I went from dreading my day to looking forward to it; I love being a problem solver!"
  2. Lack of appreciation. When a large organization recently transitioned to a new healthcare provider, thousands of employees were incorrectly denied access. An internal service team worked night and day for weeks to fix the problems. In a focus group afterwards, they said "We just wanted a thank you." Don't make that mistake. Show your appreciation; it costs nothing and means the world to your team.
  3. Being unnecessarily overwhelmed. Without good resource management, work backlogs lengthen, customers get unhappy, and things fall through the cracks. And, your employees could easily lose motivation if they're feeling overworked. The solution? Revisit forecasts and schedules to make sure they're reasonably accurate and working well.
  4. Not being equipped to deal with difficult customers. Yes, in customer service, we tend to see and hear it all, and some customers can be very difficult. But knowing how to approach any situation makes all the difference. Be sure to provide the specific training and coaching your agents need and include practicing tough scenarios to build confidence.
  5. Being afraid to make a mistake. Make sure that employees feel prepared and comfortable to make good decisions and take action. Mistakes will happen, and that's OK as long as we're learning from them.
  6. Conflicting objectives. Ask your team if there's ever a time they feel they have to choose between acting in the best interest of a customer and hitting a performance target. If so, revisit and revise your objectives so that they complement each other.
  7. Lack of development opportunities. This is especially true for younger generations who want to learn and grow. And it's an unnecessary problem, because customer service requires such diverse skills and knowledge. Think about it: in contact centers, there are the products and services we support, customer needs, communication, technology, processes, reports and so much more. Don't let your best employees get bored! Find ways to develop their skills and expand their responsibilities.

There are likely other demotivators in your environment. I've seen inconsistent feedback, horribly cumbersome tools, and others. My recommendation: Have candid conversations with members of your team and work hard to identify and address any demotivators.

Get the impediments (the dumb stuff) out of the way. Then watch the level of motivation and engagement take off!


Brad Cleveland is a customer service consultant specializing in contact centers, support desks, and other customer-facing environments. One of the two original partners in the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), Brad acquired ICMI outright in 1996 and served as its president and CEO from 1996-2008. Today, Brad consults and speaks to a broad range of organizations and associations and serves as a senior advisor to ICMI. He is author/editor of eight books, including Call Center Management on Fast Forward. His current research is focused on the future of customer access management and the impact of social media; his blog can be followed at www.bradcleveland.com/blog.