Maintain motivation on your frontline: Keeping your customer service teams online


Call centres – the bloodline of every company around the globe. Responsible for directly handling customers via email, phone and instant message, through good times and bad. These are the unsung heroes of business, all year round. 

In the current climate, it’s fair to say that the role of the call centre agent/representative/ninja has become even more important for every sector. Call volumes have risen sharply, and the content of many enquiries will likely relate to Covid-19.  

In times like these, it’s natural for there to be some doubt over whether SLAs will be maintained, NPS scores hit and customer satisfaction fulfilled.  

As an employer, you’re facing a challenge to give your staff the support they need to continue working, whilst being mindful of the business impact that the epidemic is clearly having across every industry. 

Regardless of whether your employees are now working remotely, or if they’re remaining office-based, it’s clear that there are two key considerations that apply to both scenarios. 

Keeping up with SLAs 

Meeting service level agreements (SLAs) can often be challenging under normal circumstances. With the closure of most retail stores and many face-to-face services during the lockdown, nearly all customer contact has had to become virtual. This means that the pressure on call centres has increased, with a much larger volume of enquiries being made.  

Most organisations are asking customers to self-serve where possible and only make phone contact where absolutely necessary, but this still counts for tens of thousands of customers who need assistance every day.  

To keep up with demand, it’s possible that many businesses may need to increase working hours and ask staff to go above and beyond what is usually expected of them. Incentivising these kinds of requests is sure to garner a better response from employees. 

Incentives don’t need to be the big ‘flashy’ holidays or ‘once-in-a-lifetime-experiences’ that some companies may be able to offer in a normal course of events – a simple e-gift can be just as effective. Using our Reward Your Employees website allows you to choose a design, the value of your gift and write a personalised message in minutes. Simply click ‘send’ and your team will receive a unique code, which they swap for a gift card of their choice. With a catalogue featuring hundreds of popular retailers, our e-codes mean that they can treat themselves to whatever they like, without leaving the house.  

Keeping morale high  

A national, perhaps even global issue right now. There have been many studies into the fact that human beings are social creatures – we crave interaction and we feel safer in numbers. With the majority of our colleagues on furlough or working remotely, it’s hard to maintain the morale and stimulation we need from our peers. 

Acknowledging your employees is the number one way to boost a positive response to the current climate. Whether you do that via 1-2-1 catch ups or shout it from the rooftops for the whole company to see, recognition really does go the distance. 

At Blackhawk Network, we have a range of solutions suitable to combat this not altogether new challenge. We have two core options – an instant, digitised reward from our suite of relevant products, or the implementation of our behaviour change platform, Achievers. Here, the use of peer-to-peer recognition is harnessed via both ‘social’ and ‘points-based’ shout-outs for things like great work, having a positive attitude, or going above and beyond expectation.  

Here are our thoughts on some more specific challenges that your call centre team may be facing, depending on their location during the crisis. 

For those at home 

Incentive to log hours 

The whole household is at home. The kids are probably running riot. Many people don’t even have a table to sit at.  

With all this, you’re probably worried that your call handlers/comms specialists aren’t as committed to their working day at home, as much as they would be in the office. You’re not alone – 60% of employers are worried that the ‘freedom’ may be abused. 

You can ease this particular qualm in a number of ways. First and foremost, make sure you set your expectations and confirm these with your team. If they know what you want or need to achieve, they’ll be more accountable for making it happen. 

Set up regular check-ins where they can discuss their concerns and ask for advice. Ensure that these sessions don’t have a ‘big brother’ feel to them – you want your colleagues to be at ease with you. You can also use these conversations to assess how well people are coping with the mental challenge of isolation and whether there is anything you can be doing to help them adapt. 

Incentivise the behaviour you’re looking for. If you have a platform in place such as Achievers, then offer the promise of extra points or credits for every team member who hits their allocation for the day. 

Alternatively, incentivise and reward behaviour with a Select code, where your employees choose the gift card that best suits them. Or, if you’re keen to help with cashflow for essentials such as food during this time, then look at using our Tesco or Morrisons solutions. 

Support with difficult customers 

Depending on your line of business, customers will range from friendly and courteous to angry and bitter on a daily basis. With the rise of Covid-19 affecting so many aspects of life, it’s likely that emotions will be running higher than usual for a large proportion of your customers. 

Whether your contact centre deals with insurance, healthcare, banking or telecoms (to name a few), the style of queries you’ll be receiving may require sensitive handling - Joe might be calling about taking a mortgage holiday; Nancy wants to discuss life insurance; Tim might be concerned about some flu-like symptoms he’s suffering with. 

Just physically being in the office would make these scenarios easier to deal with – the ability to swivel round and ask a quick question mid-call, or the relief when an agent can offload their emotions following a conversation with a sad or angry customer. These are the real challenges you need to adapt to. 

  • Ensure you’ve provided suitable training for your advisors/champions on how to deal with difficult queries  
  • Be on hand to answer instant messages on specific scenarios 
  • Create a one-page guide with pointers on how to keep control of the conversation 
  • Hold open spaces in your diary, where your employees can come to you for advice 
  • Create or encourage virtual coffee breaks, where individuals or the team can vent their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental environment. 
  • Consider how to reward those staff members who have had to deal with particularly gruelling situations – is extra time off, or a monetary gesture appropriate? 

Juggling childcare 

This is uncharted territory for most parents. The concept of needing to entertain or home-school the children, whilst holding down a full-time job may seem impossible. Can you provide some support in this area? 

Many businesses are allowing their staff to flex their normal 9-5 and whilst this might not be feasible for a contact centre with specific opening hours, there are other ways to assist. 

Work out a rota for the parents of your team to best suit their needs – will any of your staff without children be willing to cover the odd extra hour to help? Can you schedule breaks at times that parents may most need to engage with their children?  

If you’re a 24-hour centre, see if there is a shift of preference where the parents among your staff know they’ll get less interruptions.  

Another way you could show solidarity is by providing a token amount towards a medium of entertainment for the children themselves – e-codes that can be redeemed on subscriptions services and gaming platforms, or spent on new resources that are delivered straight to their front door. 

Your staff will appreciate anything you can do to show you understand their situation. 

For those in the office 

Incentive to continue coming into work 

It’s unsurprising that team members will feel a little on edge about both being in and travelling to the office. They may feel at risk for their own health, or their families. As their employer, you’ll need to provide empathy towards these feelings, whilst focusing on the business objective that requires the office presence in the first place. 

It would be so easy for your employees to insist on self-isolation or request an unpaid sabbatical. How can you reassure these key workers that they will be safe and how can you ensure that they keep turning up every day? 

As a baseline, enforce the government guidelines – social distancing, frequent hand washing etc. Put people at ease by making them aware of any other measures your individual business is taking. Beyond that, clearly communicate the expectations of what needs to be achieved each day. 

Additionally, people will always respond well to gestures of goodwill

  • Offer a number of performance-based rewards each day 
  • Provide lunch vouchers, or order lunch in to avoid added exposure risk 
  • Offer employee benefits such as Cyclescheme, to encourage less use of public transport 
  • Give tokens of appreciation towards family-life to help with the food shop or entertainment 

Support with less staff and more calls 

Even with the best intentions, it’s likely that your workforce will have reduced numbers – those who are isolating due to suspected cases in their household, or worse, those who have contracted the virus themselves. 

Less staff doesn’t equal lower call volumes - you’ll need to figure out how to support your remaining staff to increase their ability to keep up with demand. 

Of course, there are many technical interventions; call-back systems, pre-recorded messages with self-serve options or perhaps even triaging calls to assess a customer’s need. Many businesses have put out public communications asking for patience and for customers to only make essential contact. For some companies, ramping up recruitment has been effective

For those teams who can’t do all of this, or have already implemented the technologies available to them, what else can you do? 

Show solidarity – can you roll up your sleeves and get on the phones? If not, provide an open-door policy, so that staff can come to you with questions or concerns. Is it viable to ask your staff if they have thoughts on how to combat the situation themselves? 

Other methods of support come in forms of reward and acknowledgment of the effort that’s being put in. Words of encouragement, time off in lieu (TOIL) or a monetary gift are all gestures that help your staff understand that what they’re doing isn’t going unnoticed. 

Thank them for us 

Regardless of where and how your call centre is functioning, we’d like to thank them for helping to keep our country running throughout these strange times.  

We are lucky at Blackhawk Network that nearly 100% of our global staff (including our contact centre) are safe and sound at home, but many of our suppliers and partners are labelled as key workers and have continued to power through – for that we are grateful. 

Rewarding and incentivising during the epidemic might seem like the last thing that should be on a business’ mind, but we firmly believe that emphasising the little celebrations is what many people in the UK need right now. Plus, with the tax relief on trivial benefits, showing appreciation doesn’t have to cost the earth. 

We are on hand to help you with any reward strategy you need now, or in the future. To chat with one of our experts, fill out the form on the right and we’ll get in touch.