How to use psychology to increase schedule adherence

Scott Zaleski Workforce Management Oct 09, 2017 12 min read

Before encouraging staff to adhere to a schedule it is important to have an adherence goal.  This will be different for every contact center.  Variables such as average handle time and average commute to work will play a factor in determining your adherence goal.  Once you have a goal in mind, this paper will help you get the results you want.

We are going to give you suggestions and examples of how to increase schedule adherence through a few guiding principles taken from behavioral psychology.

Direct Communication

The best practice for communicating with front line staff is face to face, followed by personal communication by voice (phone).  An email, text or note may be quicker and easier to use but it is also more likely to lead to misunderstandings and delays in communication.  

Tone, body language and various non-verbal cues are lost in electronic communication. There is also no guarantee of timely receipt or delivery of time-sensitive information.  Behavioral experts suggest that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.  For this reason it is easy to have a misunderstanding when only using email.  

One in-person communication tactic is to use the “sandwich technique”.  This is where you communicate something positive to your staff that they are doing well first.  Then speak specifically to the opportunity for improvement (staff adherence) and offer support and or suggestions to help. Follow this with encouragement that includes positive expectations.  An example would be to express confidence in their ability to improve in this area before the next review or encounter.  This technique can take a negative interaction and turn it into a positive coaching session.

It is best to keep communication brief, direct and succinct. This is not a time to beat around the bush.  Maintain a positive professional tone.  Convey the attitude that you are here to help them achieve schedule adherence goals.  Remember, people will never forget how you made them feel.  It’s not just a well-known quote by Maya Angelou, but a valuable truth to remember throughout this process.

Immediate Feedback

Behavioral Psychologists know, that, to produce positive change in a subject, it’s best to provide them with immediate feedback.  As soon as a positive behavior or negative behavior occurs, the subject should get some type of feedback.  This is why gamification in the workplace has taken off.  The staff can see instantly what they did well or when they are off track.  This instant feedback helps shape behavior quickly and easily.

Many sales offices have a sales bell that is rung each time a new deal is sold.  When a salesperson gets a deal they ring the bell.  The bell notifies the whole group and themselves of a job well done and is often followed up by verbal praise.  A two step process to this is when the salesperson then adds a number to a sales board that keeps track of everyone's sales.  This can be done manually or digitally if you have display monitors in the call center.

[FREE DOWNLOAD]: See all the schedule adherence tips at a glance. Download the cheat sheet.

I’ve talked with WFM planners that have a tv monitor on the wall with every agent’s name and a coffee cup next to their name.  When the agent is out of adherence the coffee cup turns light red and the more severe the absence, the more dark red the cup gets.  Their peers can see who’s cup is red and who’s is green.  The reason this works is because the visual cups are immediately updated as schedule adherence violations occur.  It also uses peer pressure to promote following the schedule. Often times the peers become the police to help their fellow staff stay on track.

The biggest challenge to giving immediate feedback is having instant knowledge that whether or not your staff is out of adherence.  

Positive Rewards

The best way to encourage any behavior is to reward it through positive reinforcement.  The reason why this is so powerful is because it is proactive.  Any negative reinforcer is by definition given after the negative behavior has already occurred.  Ideally, you don’t want the negative behavior to occur at all.  Using positive reinforcers can help your staff want to adhere to their schedules because it feels good when they succeed.  When done properly this will decrease adherence challenges before they arise.

There are many examples of positive rewards and here are a few:

Verbal Praise:  For many agents this is HUGE.  Don’t underestimate a few positive words for a job well done.  I can still hear my grandpa’s voice when I did something well on the ball field “Attaboy Scotty!”  This verbal praise was sincere and priceless in value to me.  As a manager or person of authority in your contact center, know that your opinion matters.  

Often verbal praise and recognition will make an employee's day.  Always be sincere and use verbal praise to make your team feel good about doing well.

While direct feedback is always best, when it’s not possible to get to everyone on a large team indirect feedback is a valid choice.  This recognition is better than none at all.

Personal Notes:  While direct feedback is always best, when time is short a note or email can have positive effect.   A short personal note about a job well done can also be a great tool to encourage positive behavior.  Keep it sincere, short and to the point and then drop it off at their desk.  They will appreciate you noticed a job well done.

Email Notes:  A quick email of praise can brighten an employee's day and encourage positive behaviors.  

Schedule Preferences:  Giving top employees a choice in their schedules can be a valuable incentive and it doesn’t cost the company any extra money.

Lunch With Boss:  For employees who do exceptionally well, a one-on-one or small group lunch can be a great incentive.  Some employees are really motivated by this one-on-one time and it helps them feel important.

Window Seat:  In my call center there were only a few window seats available and they all had a little more room and a better view.  Offering a window seat desk can be a powerful motivator for staff.  This also has the benefit of allowing staff to change seats periodically to make work less monotonous.

I had staff really working hard to get the window seat because it meant a lot to them. Status is a powerful motivator.

The key to positive motivators is that different incentives will work for different staff members.  Realize that people are motivated in different ways.  Then pick a few positive reinforcers that tailor to each motivation style.  Think about your culture and unique setting when picking which motivators you want to try out.

Personal Feedback

Best practice for giving feedback is to do it individually when possible.  When you give feedback to a group, each individual takes less personal responsibility for the results.  For this reason you don’t want to address a group and say, “We need to do better to hit our adherence goals.”  This spreads the responsibility out and isn’t likely to change behavior much.  

It’s better to approach the individuals who are lacking and address them personally. It’s also better to approach individuals who are doing well and ask them to help their teammates with their adherence.

When giving feedback both positive and negative; do your best to make it as personal and individual as possible.  It will be taken more seriously and be more effective driver of behavioral change.

Education

Educating staff on the importance of adherence and The Power of One will greatly encourage adherence.  Once they understand how important one person is to the service level and company they will have the “Why” behind what you are asking them to do.  Knowing why adhering to their schedule is so important will help them see things through your eyes for a minute and help encourage positive behavior change.

There are many different 'Power of One' activities you can do to illustrate this.  Here are two:

  1. Get some tennis balls and have your staff form two lines.  One line represents the customers and the other line represents the staff.  Then tell them to continuously throw the tennis balls back and forth while standing in two lines. Tell them the balls are like incoming calls and they don’t stop.  Then select a rep to go on “unplanned break” and watch as the other reps have to make up for them not being there.  Then send another rep on break.  The balls keep coming and the diminished staff quickly gets overwhelmed.
  2. Give a group of 10 reps a two-thirds glass of water.  Explain that each is holding their weight of calls in their cup.  Then send a rep on “unplanned break” and tell them someone has to hold the water.  They must dump their water bit by bit into other reps cups.  Then send another rep on break and watch as they distribute their water.  Quickly the cups become over filled which symbolizes an overworked employee.

Activities like these make great onboarding training sessions and hit home to both visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.  

Small Reinforcers

Many small reinforcers are best for influencing positive behavior.  This is the same for negative feedback.  Best to have regular small sessions than letting things build up to one BIG “Here’s the problem...”  Use frequent small feedback sessions as your core practice.  Then you can use a bigger reward as the cherry on top. 

Tailored

Your staff are all individuals and have different learning styles and are motivated by different things.  As much as possible you want to tailor positive reinforcements or negative consequences to the person you are working with.  

Some people like to hear praise, others like an extra break or to choose a shift.  Still others perceive status symbols like “Team Lead” or the bigger desk as factors driving their motivation.  Use a variety of responses and see which works best per individual.

I recommend watching employees closely and asking them what they prefer as feedback forms.  Taking notes can help you clearly see what works best for different individuals. This can be a challenge for larger teams and worth some thought.

From a supervisor's standpoint, knowledge is a key component to managing staff. Knowing who is following their schedule and who is off in real time is the foundation for giving appropriate feedback.  Having the right tools is essential for your success.

[FREE DOWNLOAD]: See all the schedule adherence tips at a glance.Download the cheat sheet.

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