Enterprise Software

Managers offer suggestions for motivating your help desk staff

Help desk and call center staff tend to have high turnover rates. Here are some tips from three IT managers for keeping the job interesting and maintaining employee motivation.


For IT help desk managers, keeping employees excited about their careers can be difficult. The repetitive, sometimes aggravating nature of life in the call center can drive some talented IT pros running in the opposite direction.

According to a survey conducted by the Incoming Calls Management Institute (ICMI), over a third of the 186 participating call centers stated that for full-time agents, the average length of employment was two years, while 27 percent said full-time agents stayed only six months to a year. High turnover rates make for low morale and poor customer service, not to mention the wasted man-hours spent training and retraining new agents.

Bob Nelson outlined one approach to developing and sustaining a motivated staff in an article about the "five I's" of building employee commitment. The "five I's" he identified are:
  1. Interesting work—Try to offer some tasks that are of interest to the employee beyond the mundane day-to-day jobs.
  2. Information—Empower your employees by sharing as much information as possible about the job and the company as a whole.
  3. Involvement—As much as possible, involve your staff in the decision-making process. This is especially important when the decision will directly affect their jobs.
  4. Independence—Allow your employees to work as independently as possible, providing as much latitude as possible, so that they feel free to bring creativity and energy to their jobs.
  5. Increased visibility—Give credit where credit is due. Make an effort to recognize the accomplishments of employees as often as possible.

Three help desk managers we contacted offered advice for putting "the five I's" into practice. Here's what they had to say.

Main causes of turnover
The ICMI's survey identified the following as the top five causes of agent turnover:
  • Better opportunities outside the organization
  • Compensation issues
  • Better opportunities inside the organization
  • Lack of career opportunities
  • Handling complaints and problems all day


Information and involvement
Constant communication and day-to-day involvement are the key elements for motivating your call center staff, according to John Woodfin. Woodfin, an IT operations manager for Telvista, a Dallas-based provider of outsourced technical support, has worked in IT call centers for seven years, holding positions in call center operations, professional services, and IT departments.

Woodfin said he speaks to all members of his team as often as possible and tries to keep them involved in day-to-day activities whenever an opportunity arises.

“I manage three teams, and involve personnel from each team in most situations," Woodfin said. "This gives them the ability to exchange ideas while increasing the overall knowledge of everyone involved."

Novice managers often make the mistake of providing irregular or inconsistent communications, which can leave their team feeling "left out of the loop and/or unsure of company/department status," said Bill Hicks, CIO of Precision Response Corporation. He uses team meetings and memos to keep his team members up to date and "in the loop."

More than just keeping the team informed, Woodfin said he likes to involve his call center staff in discussions about policy changes and solutions. Woodfin said when staffers aren't motivated, it’s typically because they see no value in their participation.

“I work to overcome this perception by actively including them in the team’s decision-making process,” Woodfin said.

Woodfin said he ensures that all team members have an opportunity to clearly articulate their ideas and suggestions.

Interesting work
Hicks said he encourages his staff to build and nurture relationships within and outside the team by assigning work that allows them to interact with different departments. Whether it's a committee, task force, or documentation assignment, he said it’s important to provide projects that involve new technologies for team members to ensure they have interesting and varied tasks. Further, he provides timely, positive reinforcement on individual/team performances.

Increased visibility
Feedback and recognition are vital to keeping help desk staff motivated, according to Jeff Neumeister, manager of CustomerCare technical support for Vision Solutions. A nine-year veteran of managing customer technical support and help desk support centers, Neumeister said he publicly recognizes employees for good performance in team meetings, and occasionally he calls employees to his office just to thank them.

Neumeister posts weekly and monthly stats to generate friendly competition among his call center staff, and provides special project assignments to those who exceed expectations for their positions.

In a more formal recognition effort, Neumeister uses a program called the CustomerCare Awards Recognition program to award bonuses for individual and team successes. The awards are given twice yearly at a companywide celebration.

For day-to-day successes, such as outstanding work on a specific issue, project, or receipt of customer kudos, Neumeister provides “spot awards," which include tangibles such as gift checks, movie tickets, or lunch coupons as rewards. He also posts the customer kudos on the teams CustomerCare “Wall of Fame” to provide further recognition.

Hicks uses similar methods to motivate his staff. The Above And Beyond program is a quarterly corporate recognition award ceremony that honors individual's accomplishments.

“Those nominated for 'above and beyond' customer care are flown to corporate headquarters for a luncheon where they are recognized and given stock options,” Hicks said.

Hicks' Precision Response Corporation also has a “PRC University,” which is an internal employee development program that offers classes. PRC University has developed seventy-five percent of PRC’s supervisors, which were internally promoted, Hicks said.

Pure fun and teambuilding
Activities don't necessarily have to be tied to individual or team accomplishments. In fact, it's sometimes better if they're not. For example, Hicks' company has monthly birthday and anniversary celebrations that include the entire IT staff, and also hosts periodic CIO open forum meetings, where staff can ask questions and pitch ideas, Hicks said.

Activities that seem to be pure fun can also help with teambuilding. Hicks recounted an outing that was held when his team's morale was at an all-time low. A companywide restructuring resulted in the loss of a few team members.

Hicks took the team to play laser tag, a high tech version of the classic game of tag where the object is to score the most points by shooting the opposing team members. The game requires strategy and teamwork, as players must decide who will defend their team’s home base and who will buddy up and attack the other team’s home base.

So, in addition to all the fun, Hicks said he was able to see "future leadership characteristics” in some of his staffers. After the event, the team felt closer than ever to each other, Hicks said.

Hicks said he's repeated the event twice and plans to schedule more laser tag sessions in the future.

Do you use the "five I's" to motivate your call center staff?
How do you keep your help desk pros on their toes? How do you keep boredom and apathy from stealing their motivation? Send us an e-mail or post your comments below.

 

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