Rewards, Recognition, and Customer Service


Learn what support center analysts really want

by Nate Brown
February 8, 2017

When it comes to attracting, developing, and keeping the best talent in the support center industry, there are few topics as important as rewards and recognition. As a leader, tapping into this motivation lever could be the source of your greatest power. On the flip side of this coin, the results can also be catastrophic if executed poorly. This post will help you bring rewards and recognition (R&R) to your team in a meaningful way.

Tapping into this motivation lever could be the source of your greatest power.
Tweet: Tapping into this motivation lever could be the source of your greatest power. @CustomerIsFirst @ThinkHDI

Often when folks start talking about R&R, our minds wander to “stuff and things” (as Rick from The Walking Dead would say).  Some examples include cash bonuses, gift cards, increased compensation, free food, football tickets, etc.  Leaders have to leverage the right motivators to validate the behaviors we are trying to create (such as supporting other reps, adding to the knowledge base, generating excellent customer feedback, etc.)  While they play a role, things are just the tip of the R&R iceberg. They can also lead to a sense of entitlement, and may not be effective over the long-term. But don’t take my word for it...If we want to really understand what motivates an agent to exemplary behaviors, all we have to do is ask. The following are real quotes from four of my coworkers and friends who are serving customers everyday:

Brittany Handy“A public display of positive client comments, such as a whiteboard or even just a printout, is a great way to boost spirits and productivity. Being able to see your name on the wall with direct customer praise makes you as an analyst feel good and also encourages others to stand out on their calls as well. It creates a healthy competition, while also reminding the rest of the organization that your support team is here building those positive, lasting relationships.  Our “Rock Star” award is really encouraging because it’s more of a 360 feedback setup. It’s great to hear from your manager that you’re doing well, but there’s a certain level of pride that comes from being recognized by your peers for your effort.” —Brittany Handy

Mitch Rabbit“I definitely appreciate catered lunches and seasonal bonuses. But the strongest motivator for me to continue working my hardest is knowing that my work is effective and valued. Everyone wants a purpose, and when management paints a clear vision for a meaningful goal and then personally acknowledges my contribution toward reaching that goal, I feel like I’m fulfilling that purpose.  It’s very encouraging!” —Mitch Rabbit

Parker Deal“As a somewhat-recent college grad, I must say that I have a soft spot for gratitude in the form of free food. However more deeply, I feel most recognized and appreciated when I am privately told that I’m doing a good job by coworkers/supervisors or if I am thanked for my help by customers. I can tell myself and remind myself that I’m doing a good enough job to stay sane through most struggles, but encouragement through the trying days is when it really counts. When you feel you’ve done poorly and you’re told ‘Today was hard, but you did a great job at it’ is when you can keep your head above the deepest waters.” —Parker Deal

Nicole Brewer“Sending ‘shout outs’ is a positive and encouraging way to appreciate staff members. If you hear a positive remark about a person, repeat it to that person as soon as possible—perhaps via email. Copying managers and supervisors on such comments is an especially powerful way to help employees feel appreciated. I really like sharing with the team the positive feedback the customers have to give. It definitely feels good to be praised and noticed for your dedication and hard work.” —Nicole Brewer

There are several powerful and consistent themes contained in these statements. There is a clear trend toward “intrinsic” motivators, and a shift away from the common external rewards of the past. Daniel Pink identifies several of these key intrinsic motivators in his book, Drive. He also says the following in regards to traditional R&R:

“External rewards extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, crowd out good behavior, encourage cheating, become addictive, and foster short-term thinking.”

Talk about a leadership backfire! Millennials seem to be especially attuned to the intrinsic motivators and will seek a place of employment where management understands these principles. This is typically the sentence in the article about how leadership needs to connect with their people on a relational level…which is entirely true. However, there is another equally as important layer that’s often missed. 

Peer-to-peer recognition is an essential part of this equation. Employees want to work alongside others who value and respect them. Leadership must intentionally build a culture in which R&R is not a predictably top-down movement, but rather a 360 degree experience. Consider this quote from Kevin Kruse in his book, Employee Engagement 2.0:

“Data is clear that friendship is more important than pay or benefits, and strongly correlates to productivity, safety, customer loyalty and profitability.” 

How’s that for a motivator? If you want to recognize your employees well, create an environment in which they recognize each other.

To summarize, be sure to leverage the following examples of intrinsic motivators with your support center employees:

  • All work should have purpose!  This is one of Daniel Pink’s key motivators alongside autonomy and mastery.  Your company has a unique mission. Be sure to align this mission to day-to-day activities to add purpose in each role.
  • Be sure there is an active channel for peers to recognize each other on a regular basis. Feedback should come from 360 degrees versus always top down.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking R&R is “one size fits all.” Notice Parker said he likes to be privately recognized for his achievements. R&R needs to be customized for the individual, and knowing their preferences requires you to be intentional about getting to know them.

Let me know if I can help you at all in your R&R journey! You can reach me through my blog, Customer Centric Support. Happy motivating!


Nate Brown has had an outstanding day when he is able to help customers. As the manager of customer support for UL, Nate’s ambition is to create outstanding service interactions through creativity, knowledge, and professionalism. He is an HDI Certified Support Center Manager, vice president of communications for the HDI Music City Chapter, and speaker in the Southeast region. Nate is also the founder and primary author for the service blog Customer Centric Support. Follow Nate on Twitter @CustomerIsFirst, and connect with him on LinkedIn.


Tag(s): workforce enablement, team building, supportworld, performance management, incentives, employee satisfaction

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