By Vilis Ozols, MBA, CSP
This article appeared in the CR Software News quarterly newsletter. (click here for information about reprinting this article)
Getting collectors to want to put forth their maximum effort is a constant goal of any collections call center. The really good call centers are constantly running promotions, incentives and contests for their collectors to make the goals, goal-setting and goal accomplishing fun and effective. In my position I get to see a lot of agencies. This “fun and effective environment” goal can be accomplished … I know … I am constantly watching for these and I’ve seen this in many agencies. Conversely, there are also collections shops that are struggling and they are likely not doing any of these things. They think that these are “hokey” and, guess what; they are wondering why they’re not collecting as well as their competition.
So here is a list of some of the incentives, motivators, and recognitions that I have come across that you may want to incorporate into your program … in the event that you aren’t doing these already. You may also want to mix and match individual components of these suggestion into something that you’re already doing.
One of the precepts of reward incentive, motivators and recognitions is simply: “You get more of the behavior that you reward or recognize.” So, as a collection floor manager, the first mandate is to identify the specific behavior that you would like to see an increase in … and then create an incentive, motivation or reward and recognition program around that behavior. I have seen these sorts of programs work around increasing attendance, for increasing the actual time that collectors are working at their phones/desks, increasing promises received, specific payment types received, overall collections, net fees collected, or commissions to name a few. You can also create programs to increase the number of suggestions, ideas, participation, positive reinforcement (“atta-girls”, or “atta-boys”) or adherence to policies that you’d like to see improved.
Time off is a great incentive when used creatively. You can give a day off for a month’s worth of perfect attendance (some agencies actually found that this is too generous as they got too much perfect attendance and then where giving too many days off). You can have any number of variations as well: A day off for three months of perfect attendance. Or you can give half-days off for a perfect attendance goal. Other variations are to have certificates that are good for leaving an hour early or arriving an hour late (also labeled “sleep-in” certificates). You may want to have policies about giving notice to use these types of rewards and making sure that proper phone coverage is not compromised.
You can also try negative incentives, where you set up negative consequences for employees that don’t come to work. Some ways that this can be done is to have a sliding-scale or decreases in commissions if you miss a certain number of days per week or per month.
You can create or purchase any number of gift certificates and for any value. Some ideas are giving discount certificates to local restaurants, for ice cream, candy, groceries, bowling, sporting events, movies, personal favors from managements (you can get creative here!), Starbucks or fast food certificates are some ideas.
Instant cash rewards are always fun and get a good response. Nice clean crisp dollar bills, or two dollars bills (yes, you can get these) or even higher denominations. You can also set up monetary rewards that get incorporated into the pay check: A bonus for perfect attendance for a month, three months or a year or for hitting a specific collection goal on a new client or a special portfolio. You can also set up drawings, where a given behavior, say each check-by-phone payment booked, gets you a ticket into a drawing. Then the drawing can be for any number of cool prizes that you choose to opt for, such as electronic equipment (Ipod, video game consoles or games, music CD’s, movie DVD’s, Gift cards (Starbucks, Itunes, Best Buy, etc), airline certificates (maybe redeem frequent flier miles or reward miles for prizes).
Having “luck” or unknown components is also fun. Maybe a “money tree” where every ten “phone-pays” lets a collector pick an envelope off of the money tree (The envelopes can contains as little as a $1 bill or have a really big denomination in one of the envelopes on the tree).
Food is a huge motivator … and you can get creative with this. You can have it be very small. Maybe offer a free can of soda to the next collector to get three payments. You might scoff at something like this, but fights between collectors have broken out for much less than a can of soda! There is pride and recognition at stake and you will be pleasantly surprised at the spikes in productivity that you see. Breakfasts, donuts, snacks, pizza parties, candy bars, restaurant trips, ordering in lunch, etc., from a favorite local restaurant or promising a dinner-for-two certificate for a given goal are all viable approaches.
Make the Collector a Hero
How do you do this? Give out incentives that the collector can use to be a hero when they get home that they can use with their family or friends. Buy a very nice bouquet of flowers and give it as a reward for a certain number of payments and then the flowers go home with the collector that night (or a bowl of candy, nice chocolates, bottle of wine or Champaign). Other rewards that fall into this category are toys, hotel/travel rewards, sporting/concert tickets or spa certificates, to name a few.
Pure Recognition Awards:
Many of the rewards listed so far do involve a cost. Your job is to figure out what increased productivity is worth to you. If you get the desired behavior, what are you willing to put our monetarily if that behavior is achieved? However, there are also very powerful rewards that don’t cost anything. Maybe you put up a “Brag Board” that employees can write anything about themselves that they want. Or they can also put up nice things about others that they experience or observe. Many agencies will have the day’s, week’s or month’s top collector listed on a board or at the front of the call center or in the break room. Many a collector has given their all to make it onto that board. Also, you may want to have more than one person on the board (maybe the top 3 or 5 or 10, depending on the size of your shop) to encourage more people to top behavior.
Fun and Unique Rewards:
There are examples of collection agency owners dressing up in a given costume and wearing it the entire day at the office if a certain team goal is met. Imagine your agency principle riding a tricycle around the office in a clown suit (and wearing a big smile because a huge collection goal was met for him/her to do it!). Or you can have management do an employee car wash (managers wash employees cars if a goal is met), or cook a pancake breakfast for employees, or barbeque lunch for them. Another suggestion is to involve star performing employees in external functions. You’ll be very surprised how many collectors would love to earn the opportunity to sit in and participate in a senior staff meeting. Collectors also love the opportunity to get to go to a local conference, training seminar, or to accompany an owner or salesperson on a trip to a client’s location. Here’s another fun incentive opportunity, collectors love to have the opportunity to come along on a “repo” (repossession) of a car or other item.
Another powerful incentive approach is to set a weekly goal that would put a smile on any senior executive’s face if your collectors were to hit it. Then set up an incentive that says that if your collectors can hit that goal by 1PM on Friday, everyone can go home early with full pay. You will be amazed at how creative, resourceful and industrious your team will be and how they WILL hit that goal … maybe to your great surprise. Interestingly enough, you can return to that well many times and repeat the incentive and get repeatable results. Wouldn’t that be a nice … to hit a challenging goal and have everyone (management and collectors) be happy that you did!
Involve Your Employees
I know, for every one of the examples listed, you can probably give an instance that an employee would have hated that reward, or that it wouldn’t make sense. That’s why it does make sense to involve your employees. Maybe you set up an incentive committee that comes up with ideas. Also make sure you leave yourself room to change the rewards and the parameters if they don’t make sense for the employee or for the company.
Involve your Management
It does take a concerted effort by management to set up, monitor and pay off these types of reward and recognition approaches. You may have to pull some additional or unique data from your software system to do this. However, most every agency manager who has taken the effort to do these sorts of incentives invariably finds that the payoff is very positive. Not only in increased productivity, greater income and collections, but also in a more intangible area: Employee Motivation. You will find that job satisfaction increases, employee retention will be stronger and employee morale will be positively affected.
Vilis Ozols, MBA, CSP, (www.ozols.com) president of the Ozols Business Group in Albany, NY, is a motivational business speaker and leadership consultant. He is the author of 3 books, he’s a former pro beach volleyball player and he has spoken to businesses in all 50 U.S. states.