How Incentives Can Crush Motivation to Do the Proper Factor
The experimental group spent less time on the puzzles after they had previously been paid while the control group spent more time. This shows the motivation to play with puzzles decreased after an incentive was introduced, but increased when there was never any incentive.
Thinking back to the manager, Paul, and his cashiers, Deci’s experiment helps explain why the incentive program did little to improve service.
Incentives Create Bad Behavior
There’s more at stake than just poor service. Incentives often cause bad behavior.
According to Nate, a former support team leader, contests can easily demotivate employees. “We used to try to do little competitions between agents. It just never worked. One or two would go all in and immediately turn off everyone else, who just would not participate.”
Beth, a customer support manager, told me “We would occasionally do a ticket blitz that came with prizes, but it had a hard end date and was, frankly, mostly about volume at that point.”
Many companies offer incentives to employees who get good survey scores. The scores might go up, but often through manipulation and gaming the system rather than better service. If you’ve ever experienced someone pleading with you to give them a “10” on the survey, you’ve seen this in action.
A lot of companies tie incentives to revenue generation, which can also go badly. This example comes from Erica. “We had a month-long dialing contest to encourage new business development. The idea was that the salesperson who made the most calls in any given week would be eligible for a prize. Some of the salespeople started making random calls to ridiculous places to get their tally up. I don’t think we landed a single new piece of business that month.”
The list of egregious behaviors goes on:
Entering fake surveys to boost scores
Creating false accounts to earn sales incentives
Pressuring customers to avoid account cancellations
Closing service tickets before the issue is solved to increase productivity
Hanging up on customers to keep talk time low
These are just a few examples. You can find even more stories of incentives creating the wrong behaviors in my book, Getting Service Right.
Managers often ask me how they can possibly motivate their employees without incentives.
The answer might surprise you if you hire right, your employees are naturally motivated! Most customer service professionals truly want to do a good job.