If you ask a horticulturist of a grand house how they maintain the gardens you will hear a body of science and facts behind the method.
If you ask an engineer how the machinery in a factory works you will hear with certainty and precision how it does.
But when it comes to working with and/or managing people, we all too often rely on our intuitive experience to guide us through, which can be littered with false assumptions.
Decades of cognitive and social psychology can now tell us that, for example, it’s not the amount we’re paid that is of importance to workers, but how much we are paid in relation to our peers. Getting a five grand raise every year is much more satisfying when your colleagues are getting four.
Contact centres – where employees deal with live chat and customer call enquiries – are all about people and a centre’s success depends on the motivation of its workers.
With over 1 million people working in contact centres in the UK alone, finding new ways to motivate staff can have a significant impact on a business’ bottom line as well as making a positive difference to how people experience their work. One of the key ways in which we as a behavioural science practice have worked to increase motivation across a variety of industries, is by using psychology to design a centre to be motivating for its staff to work in, by increasing their wellbeing and happiness.
One of the unseen opportunities we found within contact centres is to behaviourally optimise how people understand their commission. Behavioural Science finds that we all have a strong preference for the now, which psychologists call ‘Hyperbolic Discounting’. Put simply, ten pounds today is better than ten pounds next week. But the problem with commission is that you don’t receive it instantly, and even when you do it doesn’t mean a lot to you. We ran a test to make the prize all the more meaningful, by helping people make goals for their spending. We 3D printed the object they were saving for and popped it on their desk. Agents found this more motivating and earned more commission because we were reminding them of their goals and bridging that future gap.
Another example we built was restructuring how outbound dials worked. For agents who are hooked up to an auto-dialler for hours, we found a distinct lack of motivation and happiness as the leads they were chasing often either didn’t pick up or resulted in conflict.
So, we looked at behavioural science for strategies to overcome this monotony. The psychology here is that constant rewards are less rewarding than variable rewards. For instance, if you were to give a rat a lever which pushes out a food pellet in response to being pressed, then the rat will press it occasionally. If, however, you vary the reward and sometimes reward four pellets for a lever push and sometimes one, sometimes none, then the rats press it with gusto.
Not knowing what the pattern is increases our motivation to engage with a task. So, we built Outbound Roulette into the auto dialler process which randomly would call a special line in between customer calls where the agent would win small prizes or have the chance to gamble for more.
What’s true for both opportunities above is that it was the psychology which allowed us to come up with fresh solutions to increase motivation for agents.
It’s tempting to see contact centres as mechanistic environments and to try and make them more efficient, but there are sizeable and growing fields of research that show that by taking a more human-centred design approach and getting more out of the people you have, you can achieve solid and continual returns. And in an industry that is plagued with high turnover, those that figure out how to keep and grow their agents will win.