Your customer service team's performance can have a major impact on the customer experience and the overall success of your brand. Like any employee, though, customer service agents sometimes need motivation and direction to achieve the best results.
65% of customers have higher expectations for customer support than they did three to five years ago, so offering incentives designed to improve agent performance is now more important than ever. And as customer experience continues to have a larger impact on overall revenue, ensuring agent performance aligns with company goals is mission-critical.
We put together this guide to help you develop an employee incentive program with incentive ideas to boost employee morale, employee satisfaction, and overall performance. We also chatted with Caela Castillo, Director of Customer Experience at men’s jewelry retailer Jaxxon, and share some best practices from her team’s incentive program.
Why are customer support incentives important for your team?
According to Gorgias data from over 10,000 merchants, launching a customer service employee incentive program can lift overall revenue by 1%.
There are a couple of reasons why incentive plans for customer support teams can offer this degree of value. The first and most obvious benefit of these programs is that they are proven to boost agent performance: Properly structured incentive programs can improve employee performance by as much as 44%.
Customer support incentive programs are especially beneficial when you can align your incentive programs with company goals and channel that performance boost toward the areas that matter most.
Along with improving agent performance, customer support incentive programs can also improve employee retention. The cost of replacing an employee is typically one-half to two times the employee's annual salary, and employee recognition programs can help mitigate turnaround and boost retention.
Here’s what Caela says about the impact of customer support incentives at Jaxxon:
Agents love having these goals because it keeps morale high, allows them to show off their performance, and comes with a prize if they hit their goals! We do switch things up often so that the agents don't feel like they have to hit certain goals only when a prize is attached and we have yet to see those scores decline.
How to design a customer service incentive program
If you would like to design an incentive program that will reward your team's hard work and provide them with intrinsic motivation to offer the best customer service possible, here are the six steps that you should follow:
1) Identify a core company goal based on demonstrated problem
One benefit of customer service incentive programs is providing recognition and improving employee engagement and satisfaction. However, the biggest benefit of such programs is that you can use them to steer support teams toward accomplishing key company goals.
Before you can create a program that will incentivize your whole team to work toward important company goals, you first need to define what those goals are. Attracting new customers, generating referrals, and improving customer loyalty or customer retention rates are just a few measurable goals you can build your incentive program around.
One best practice is to design your goals around a demonstrated problem. For instance, if your resolution times are longer than you'd like them to be, creating an incentive program to reward helpful response times may improve customer satisfaction.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box here. Most customer service teams will default to metrics like first-response time, which is a great option. But as you develop your program further, remember that customer support has a large impact across the customer journey. Don’t be afraid to think about goals related to on-site conversion rate, proactive conversations with customers, conversations on public social media channels, educational content in your knowledge base, and beyond.
For example, Gorgias incentives employees to refer friends and former colleagues to improve our hiring effort. If you are in the midst of customer service hiring, consider using a program like Trusty for employee referrals:
2) Search for a customer service metric that has room for improvement (and aligns with the company goal)
Goals are only beneficial if they are measurable. You can't hand out performance-based awards unless you can keep score, which requires you to identify and track measurable customer service metrics. So once you have an overall company goal in mind, do some digging to see which metric will have the biggest impact:
Customer satisfaction score (CSAT), response and resolution times, net promoter score (NPS), and retention rates are a few of the measurable customer service metrics that you can use to evaluate the performance of individual agents and the performance of your whole team. By pinpointing metrics that align with the company goals you set for your incentive program, you can create a data-based system for measuring and rewarding agent performance that will encourage progress toward essential company objectives.
Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of customer support metrics Caela’s team lowered with incentives:
We used to have Live Chat FRT around 45 seconds. With this program, we have brought it down to under 30s even hitting 15s. With phone answer times our goal used to be 80% answered within 30s and now it's 90% answered within 15s.
3) Consider individual and team-wide rewards programs
Individual and team-wide incentives both have their place in a customer service incentive program. Team-wide incentives encourage teamwork and collaboration and can focus your entire team's efforts toward a common goal. Meanwhile, individual incentives encourage personal responsibility and individual agent performance and ensure that each agent is recognized for their contributions.
As you create your incentive program, developing a rewards system that encourages individual and team-wide performance will deliver the best results.
Here’s how Caela thinks about individual vs. team goals:
We have both individual and team goals. We switch these up month to month or depending on what we want to focus on. I have seen more success with team goals because it keeps everyone motivated and encourages them to hold each other accountable. Team goals are hit almost consistently every month. When we do individual goals, we typically have an 80% success rate.
4) Set up a system to track your metrics in real time
We've already mentioned the importance of choosing measurable metrics that are aligned with company goals. In many cases, actually measuring those metrics on an ongoing basis is easier said than done.
Helpdesk software such as Gorgias makes tracking key customer service metrics in real time easier than ever before. With Gorgias, you can access detailed metrics and analytics about individual agent performance and team-wide performance — metrics that you can use to form the scoring system for your incentive program.
With a unified dashboard that clearly showcases key metrics regarding revenue generation, customer satisfaction, response times, and much more, Gorgias makes it easy for ecommerce stores to track the performance of their support teams in real-time.
We mostly use Support Performance: Overview, Agents, and Revenue to track those goals. But, we also use Self-Service and occasionally tags. (I’m interested to learn how to use these more efficiently and explore the Macros and Intents stats as well).
Here’s a glance at the Overview of Support Performance Statistics in Gorgias, which you can filter by agent, period of time, channel, and much more:
5) Create a policy and announce your new incentive program
Like any new program, your customer service policy will only succeed once employees understand how to participate. To get started, keep the program as simple as possible. Simple perks — Jaxxon offers Amazon gift cards, for example — for simple improvements.
If you have a human resources department, consider consulting them to make the policy airtight. Otherwise, here’s a template to get you started:
Purpose: [Company name] is launching a customer service incentive program to make strides toward two company goals: improving employee engagement and customer experience. The program provides monetary bonuses to team members who meet team goals set at the beginning of each quarter. We understand that our customer service team is a large contributor to loyal customers and company revenue, and are thrilled to have a formal employee recognition program to reward these important efforts.
- The Director of Customer Support sets individual and team goals at the beginning of each quarter
- Each agent’s level (L1, L2, L3) determines their individual goal for the quarter
- The team
- Individuals who meet their goal qualify for an individual reward (e.g. $100 Amazon gift card)
- If the team meets the goal, all agents will receive a team reward (e.g. $25 Amazon gift card)
- Only full-time employees of [Company name] are eligible for incentives
- Part-time and outsourced call-center agents do not qualify for the program
- Employees eligible for other company incentive programs do not qualify for the program
- Employees on performance improvement plans (PiPs) do not qualify for the program
Procedure to claim rewards:
- Agents do not need to reach out to redeem rewards: the Director of Customer Support will distribute rewards by the 15th of the following month
- If you do not receive your reward by the 15th, reach out to the Director of Customer Support to resolve the issue
6) Revisit your chosen metrics often and tweak them as needed
Incentive programs are at their best when they are dynamic, continually adapting to meet new goals and address new challenges. By tracking customer support metrics in real time using Gorgias' helpdesk software, you can easily revisit the metrics you chose for your incentive program and adjust the program's goals as needed.
Ideally, your customer support incentive program will enable you to improve key customer support metrics and move on to new goals as previous goals are met. However, there may also be cases where you determine that a metric might not be the best one to base your program around, and you need to change it. In either case, continually tracking customer support metrics and tweaking your incentive program enables you to keep the program aligned with company goals as your company scales and new challenges and opportunities arise.
Why customer support incentives are a great way to drive revenue
One of the best metrics to base your customer support incentive program on is revenue generation. While customer support teams are often viewed as problem-solvers, the reality is that your customer support team can greatly impact your ecommerce store's bottom line in a lot of ways. Generating referrals, promoting customer loyalty, reducing cart abandonment, and driving conversions via upsells and personalized product recommendations are just a few ways that excellent customer support can create revenue for ecommerce stores.
Most brands have trouble understanding the amount of revenue customer support brings in, which is why we developed the Revenue Statistics dashboard in Gorgias. You can see real-time metrics like the conversion rate of customer support conversation and the total sales driven by support:
To learn more about how great customer support can drive revenue for ecommerce stores, check out Gorgias' CX-Driven Growth Playbook.
7 great ways to incentivize customer support
The final step in designing an incentive program is choosing the rewards you will provide to your team and individual agents when they reach company goals. The sky's the limit here, and there's a lot of room to create creative goals that will best motivate your agents.
To help you get started choosing the rewards for your incentive program, here are a few great ideas for how to incentivize customer support agents:
1) Issue an extra paid day off to the top performing team member
Issuing rewards to the top performing team member during a given period encourages healthy competition that inspires agents to do their best work. Extra paid time off is an especially great incentive for companies without budget for monetary compensation.
Why we love this idea
Issuing an extra paid day off to your top performing team member recognizes the individual efforts of the agents that contribute the most to your company. Those kinds of results deserve to be recognized, and everyone loves paid time off! The biggest benefit of this incentive, though, is that it encourages (healthy) competition. In many cases, the friendly competition and desire to be the top performer will be even bigger motivators than the reward itself.
2) Reward the team with a free lunch after hitting a goal
Along with rewarding individual performance, it's also important to reward team-wide performance in order to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Treating your support team to a free lunch (or a gift card for a local restaurant for remote teams) is a simple and affordable way to reward your entire team for reaching a team-wide goal.
Why we love this idea
Treating your support team to lunch lets you reward your entire team in one easy, relatively affordable event. It also encourages more team bonding and provides your team with an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments.
3) Create an internal team Slack channel to celebrate wins
Slack is a great platform for project management and team communication, but you can use it to celebrate accomplishments, too. By creating an internal Slack channel to announce and celebrate individual and team-wide accomplishments, you can ensure that all your agents feel recognized for their hard work.
Why we love this idea
Recognition alone is sometimes all it takes to motivate an employee — and recondition is free. Setting up an internal Slack channel to celebrate wins provides a medium for recognizing agent performance and allows agents to celebrate together, further encouraging team bonding.
Here at Gorgias, have a #wins channel for informal praise and use Lattice to give employees official recognition:
4) Give out cash bonuses
It might not be the most original or creative incentive, but that doesn't mean it's not effective. No matter who it is that you are rewarding, you can rest assured that they are going to appreciate a cash bonus. Offering bonuses when agents meet individual goals or even team-wide bonuses for team goals is guaranteed to provide your agents with a strong source of motivation.
Why we love this idea
Cash is king, and few things will incentivize an employee more than cash bonuses. Cash bonuses are also the most straightforward type of reward and don't require extra effort or planning.
5) Offer flex time to your customer service teams
The ability to set their own hours is something that employees have come to value more and more, so offering flex time to your support agents can be a great incentive. You can offer this incentive as a one-time reward (for example, letting an agent set their own hours for one week after reaching a goal), or you can provide agents who continually meet their objectives with the option to set their own hours on an ongoing basis.
Why we love this idea
This is another simple and affordable way to provide support reps with a desirable incentive. Best of all, offering flex time may actually improve your team's performance on its own; according to a 2021 Gartner survey, 43% of employees say that having flexible working hours helps them achieve greater productivity.
6) Create a customer service team member of the month incentive
There's a reason why "employee of the month" programs are so popular. Recognizing the top performer on your support team each month won't cost your company anything, and it'll promote healthy competition within your team.
Why we love this idea
Again, recognition alone is often the best reward and most powerful source of motivation. By making something of a spectacle out of recognizing your top performers (company announcement, plaque, etc.), you can incentivize your support team with minimal effort and expense.
7) Award top performers with company swag or other gifts
Cash is great, but there's still something special about receiving a physical gift. Offering company swag, such as branded t-shirts, pens, and coffee mugs, to top performers is one great option to consider (if your company has swag to offer). Letting employees choose their own gifts from a catalog of available options is another commonly employed method of rewarding employees with physical gifts.
Consider an employee gifting platform like Guusto to recognize employees with a wide variety of gifts. And with Guusto, a dollar of every gift goes toward providing clean drinking water for someone in need:
Why we love this idea
Gifts are often valued more by the receiver than their monetary value. As a bonus, rewarding your top performers with company swag means that they will be promoting your brand everywhere that they take their new gifts.
Track and reward customer support performance with Gorgias
Creating an incentive program for your customer support team is one of the best ways to motivate team members and focus their efforts toward company goals. But to create an incentive program around measurable, impactful metrics, you need the right tools by your side.
With Gorgias' industry-leading helpdesk, you can track key support metrics like revenue generation, referrals, customer satisfaction, response time, and much more. Find out how we helped our customers transform their customer support teams into revenue-generating machines, and book a demo to see what we can do for your team.