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          Jane Farber.
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What's the right basis for an incentive plan?

"Our CEO is firm believer in incentives and wants me to set up a rewards system for our support reps. However, I'm concerned about creating incentives for the wrong behavior. Any thoughts about what we should try to reward?"

—Beverley in Boise                           



Dear Beverly:

We asked Françoise Tourniaire, a support consultant and author of The Art of Software Support, for her advice:

"You're absolutely right to be concerned with rewarding the wrong behavior. It's happened before, and it's ugly. A well-known example is to reward support staffers when they stay below a specific handle time. If there are no other incentives or measurements to counterbalance it, support staffers faced with customers that go 'long' will be tempted to pass them around, or even hang up on them altogether.... probably not how you want to treat your customers.

"When designing incentives, a good starting point is to think about the goals of the support team and try to match the rewards to the goal. So if your goal is satisfied customers, you should reward staffers that elicit good customer satisfaction ratings. If your goal is to contain costs, then reward staffers who resolve lots of issues. If your goal is to build the knowledge base, reward staffers who create popular articles.

"A few more thoughts about reward systems:

*  Be fair. If different teams handle different questions their productivity and customer
    satisfaction ratings may be very different. Take it into account when you create your
    targets.

*  Don't be afraid to experiment, especially at first. Measure the behaviors for a while
    before deciding on appropriate targets. And move the targets upward over time.

*  Reward individuals on individual behaviors. For instance, meeting response time
    commitments is typically a group goal, so it's fine to have a team target for it. But
    customer satisfaction should be measured by individual whenever possible. A
    little competition is not bad, even in a support group that needs to display good
    team spirit.

*  Allow support staffers to monitor their performance against the targets on a regular
    basis. Measurements that are right out in the open are much more likely to inspire
    confidence in support staffers.

*  Don't think (and don't let your CEO think) that incentives are the key to motivating
    support staffers. Most support staffers get a lot of satisfaction from a job well done,
    and in particular from satisfied customers. So continue to emphasize positive
    feedback from customers, and show some enthusiasm of your own when you
    'catch' them doing something right."

—Françoise Tourniaire  ft@ftworks.com
    FT Works  www.ftworks.com
    650/559-9826




[Other comments and suggestions about this topic? Send me an email and we'll post your feedback below.]