The Unrealized Potential of Incentives in the Call Center Inbound or outbound, sales or service side, agent or supervisor: cash is king when it comes to call center compensation. Carefully calibrated cash-compensation plans – combining fixed and variable pay – certainly ought to be the bedrock on which to build a productive call center team. We all have to eat and pay the bills. But can cash by itself really overcome the challenges of inspiring top-flight sales and customer service behaviors, and retaining call center personnel? Enter non-cash rewards incentive programs. Savvy call center managers know the power of contests and incentive programs, particularly in uncertain economic times like these, when base compensation is holding relatively steady. Many call centers have used contests with cash or non-cash rewards, recognition programs, or other incentives. And, again, cash rewards have their place in this scheme. But non-cash rewards – currently underutilized and undervalued – are what have the most potential to drive and motivate behavior. Cash rewards can be seen as an extension of cash pay. In motivating group behavior, cash rewards can provide an excellent incentive. Cash is impersonal – we all like it equally. Non-cash rewards, on the other hand, can be highly personal and thus extremely motivating for individuals. That is, provided the individual truly wants the non-cash prize that is offered. This is just one point where non-cash rewards programs haven’t lived up to their potential. Too often, non-cash rewards programs have been boring, being limited to fixed-prize giveaways like gift cards (27 percent of which are left unredeemed, according to Consumer Reports!) or to one-size-fits-all prizes that don’t get everyone equally excited. Another issue with rewards programs, cash or non-cash, is that they are rarely well integrated with companies’ overall compensation programs and are consequently more often tactical than strategic. That is, they are valuable as “kickers,” and for getting people to “stretch” to meet a short-term goal, but not ideal for molding sustainable long-term behaviors. How they are managed and tracked hasn’t helped either as management by spreadsheet (today’s standard method) results in dumbed-down contests that do little to motivate employees over the long haul. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When liberated from the confines of management-by-spreadsheet and one-size-fits-all prizes, non-cash rewards incentive programs can go where cash compensation can’t. They can be personalized and highly targeted to specific individuals at any level across any call center audience (outbound selling, customer service, collections, etc.). They can be made not just more compelling but also “stickier” than cash, meaning that employees will be less likely to forget why they received them. They can play on the desire for instant gratification, in that they can be tied to points that can be immediately redeemed via the Web for merchandise, travel, entertainment, etc. And they can be integrated with strategic compensation programs and CRM applications to become a major driver in improving and sustaining call center productivity and combating turnover. What it takes is a programmatic approach, resting on best practices and enabled by a level of automation similar to that provided by today’s ubiquitous CRM applications. Part Two of this series will examine these motivating call center staff best practices, while Part Three will explore call center rewards automation strategies and potential return on investment (ROI).