Using accountability and incentives to manage agents effectively

Written by Ian Barker Small headshot image of Ian Barker, Managing Partner at BFY Group.
13 Jul 2023
Customer Service People and Culture Debt
Leaves and tree branches with sunlight shining through.

You may feel like you’ve empowered your agents to be accountable for great customer outcomes, but you still don’t feel like you’re getting the results you need.

Sometimes when we empower our teams without the right training and guardrails, it can be like taking the stabilisers (or ‘training wheels’ for our American colleagues) off a child’s bike and saying: “There you go, go for a ride on your own.”

A better approach is to understand the power of true accountability, and the many, often long-term factors required to bring it to reality. Trusting the process is key when it comes to building a high performing team.

How to establish true accountability

The first step in building a strong culture of accountability, is for people to take responsibility – displaying commitment towards the achievement of an outcome, and owning the results.

High performance doesn’t happen overnight. Resilience is needed as you stretch and mould your teams into becoming high performers. The teams also need to have an agile, ‘can-do’, or growth mindset.

Using your baseline reporting data, get agreement from teams on the results they are aiming to achieve, and then put in place support to help them achieve this.

This commitment could be further away than you’d hoped, compared to the performance the business needs to achieve. You can badge this gap as ‘stretch’, and start asking questions around how these needs can be satisfied.

Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of instances where true accountability hasn’t been established, leading to muddied responsibility across contact centres. This includes:

  • Team managers confiding that X% of their team simply don’t have the skill and will to achieve the necessary performance, and they’ve never had the support to address the low performance
  • Agents identifying that the work they’re being asked to do isn’t collections work - it’s ‘resolution work’ (it needs billing, metering, complaints, or other back office support in order to resolve the problems before the customer will pay)

Praise is powerful, and it strengthens accountability

Once you’ve got the basics of accountability and responsibility in place, you need to start focussing on how you’re going to motivate and recognise the teams. Collections work is hard, so you’ll need to have some empathy.

On a previous client engagement, we commandeered two collections teams (we renamed them the ‘test and learn teams’), located them next to each other, and got some big white boards for them to write down their wins and blockers. Each day we ran mini competitions, and gave out a mixture of prizes (I’m not saying one of the prizes was a can of Lynx body spray, but for the purposes of the story let’s assume it was…).

The results were genuinely brilliant. Two groups of people formed as teams very quickly, and took accountability for their results. They were largely self-managing, with some support, and had a clear view of where to focus within their allocation of accounts, in order to achieve business results.

If your agent performance feels ‘passive’, taking the time to build accountability, and supporting this with motivational incentives, is a proven solution that can deliver noticeable results.

Click here to read the next article in our Driving Agent Outcomes series, where we focus on 'Embracing customer centricity for optimal agent performance'.

Ian Barker

Ian shapes the BFY vision and inspires our team to bring it to life, while remaining central to complex client engagements in Strategy, Commercial, and Operations.

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Small headshot image of Ian Barker, Managing Partner at BFY Group.