WFH: Motivating call-centre staff through Covid-19


Say “frontline” in the current climate of coronavirus and you think of health workers, supermarket staff or other workers providing essential services. Chris Ford looks at customer service staff who usually operate from bustling call centres and examines ways to make sure working from home doesn’t demotivate.

Excellent customer service is paramount in business. The coronavirus epidemic will most likely mean frontline customer service staff having to deal with more enquiries – less routine enquiries in many cases –  with fewer staff to handle them. This can create an extremely stressful environment for employees.

On top of that, many call centre staff are now working from home or practising social distancing, creating further challenges and barriers for employees and employers to overcome.

Now, more than ever, employers have to think about how to keep call centre staff motivated to continue providing great customer service. After a crisis, people remember the brands and the people that supported them.

Keeping morale up

Call centres tend to be busy environments that are often bustling with energy, something those working from home may struggle to adjust to. Whilst those still in the office may feel added strain. It’s important to find ways to keep a sense of culture, despite the fact that staff are dispersed and communicating with each other less frequently.

While employees who are working from home may not be able to go for after-work drinks or have lunch together, technology offers a fun and cost-effective alternative. By arranging team activities online through the likes of Google Hangouts or Zoom, companies can still make sure staff are engaged and feeling part of the culture.

Hosting a company-wide online quiz, with gift code prizes or getting the company to join in with Joe Wicks’ PE lessons, for example, helps build team spirit while also giving employees something else outside of work to look forward to.

Another easy yet effective way to keep remote workers feeling connected is to have more team meetings than usual to ensure people are still getting “face time”. This is also where video conferencing is really helpful, it’s not an exact substitute for face to face meetings, but it can still make call centre staff feel part of the team and engaged.

At Blackhawk, for example, we’re practising two forms of this – one work-based catch-up that consists of daily updates on everyone’s priorities; the second, an informal chat to check-in and chat more casually, often linked to awarding e-code prizes to individuals who have shown great behaviour and not always work related.

Team members who are still needed at the office may well feel a little on edge. As their employer, you’ll need to provide empathy towards these feelings. Small things, such as providing lunch and managers rolling their sleeves up and helping the team on the front line, can also make a real difference.

BreatheHR’s Culture Economy Report 2020 estimated that toxic workplaces cost the UK economy £15.7 bn every year. While it may be more difficult to manage at present, keeping a good company culture is vital when it comes to employee satisfaction and how companies will come out of this period on top. So whether call centre staff are needed in the office or are adapting to the reality of working from home, there are a number of ways to keep staff motivated and feeling part of a team.

Incentivising the unsung heroes of business

Call centre employees are often the first point of call for customers and can make the difference in people having a good experience with a company or a terrible one.

Incentivising and rewarding staff is a great way to do this. Our clients tend to notice the best results when they reward employees little and often. Something as simple as a £5 gift code goes a long way towards making staff feel valued and appreciated. What’s more, if you keep the value of the reward under £50, it can be categorised under HMRC’s trivial benefits tax break. This costs less for employers and means that employees get to see the full amount.

To get the most out of rewards and incentives, it’s best to not approach it as one-size-fits-all. A poorly placed reward or incentive can sometimes do the opposite of motivating staff, as they may feel like management don’t know them. Therefore, giving staff the choice of reward means they can cater to their individual needs. This is especially relevant during uncertain times like the Covid-19 outbreak. Some employees may want a voucher for an online clothes retailer to cheer them up and others may prefer a supermarket voucher to help them through difficult times.

Creating a positive environment for employees

Overall the key to keeping staff happy and motivated during this time is creating a positive work environment and ensuring that they feel valued. Businesses need to appreciate that call centre staff will be under more pressure than ever as they are dealing with a situation that is constantly evolving.

Coupled with the fact that a job traditionally done in an office environment is now being done at home or with less staff in a physical office, so employees are experiencing a whole host of distractions and adjustments. If businesses can keep their unsung heroes motivated to provide excellent customer service, they can not only survive in this turbulent environment, but thrive.

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Chris Ford

About Chris Ford

Chris Ford is senior director at Blackhawk Network.
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