Customer service is not for the squeamish.  Working in a contact center, for example, is fraught with perils. On any given day a contact center agent may interact with one hundred (or more) disgruntled customers, none of whom are just calling to exchange pleasantries. The overworked contact center agent often only has as little as 180 seconds to quickly calm the customer, identify the problem, and resolve the customer’s issue. And as soon as the issue is resolved, it’s time to start all over with another unhappy customer. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat… Bang!

Not surprisingly, such a work environment can result in elevated levels of stress, anxiety, burnout, and disengagement. That’s part of the reason why there is such high employee turnover (or churn) in many contact center environments. Not only does this lead to higher operational costs (recruiting, on-boarding, training, etc.), but it has a far higher and far more devastating cost on the organization – the cost of subpar customer service, lost business and lost customers.

Numerous surveys and case studies have been published in the last ten years showing a positive correlation between employee job satisfaction and customer satisfaction and customer profitability. The common theme running through these studies is that even relatively modest increases in employee satisfaction and employee attitude can result in measurable increases in both customer satisfaction and customer revenues. As a general rule of thumb: angry, grumpy, moody, disgruntled, suicidal employees are bad for business. Whereas happy, friendly, engaged, empowered employees encourage customers to do more business with you. Shocking and groundbreaking stuff isn’t it?

This is the point in a typical blog entry where you would expect a clever segue to some cheesy list of e.g., “5 ways to improve employee satisfaction without spending any money”. You know all the usual clichéd advice about “compliment them in public, correct them in private” and “award them with handwritten notes”. But forget that !@#$-ing nonsense. Your employees are some of your most valuable corporate assets. They are often the front line to your customers. If you can afford to pay your CEO a million dollars a year (or more) why can’t you afford to provide your employees with proper equipment, infrastructure, working conditions, training, and career advancement options to keep them happy, engaged and productive? Sure, there are plenty of creative low-cost ways to show your appreciation for employees; but you’re also going to need to spend some money from time to time.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I proudly present, in no particular order, my list of “4 creative ways to improve employee satisfaction (without breaking any federal laws) and 4 things that you should never-ever-never do (unless you are a complete idiot and desperately want to get fired)”.

  1. Pizza and Ice Cream Surprise Party!   Everyone loves pizza. Everyone loves ice cream. Some people even love pizza flavored ice cream [Ed: nobody likes pizza flavored ice cream]. Even in this age of low-calorie, low-fat healthy eating, pizza and ice cream refuse to go gentle into that good night. While perhaps not a great idea on a daily basis, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding your employees with the occasional pizza and ice cream surprise party. Verdict: Yes – time tested and proven. It gets results.
  2. Hot Tub Tuesdays!   Here’s a great idea that for one reason or another hasn’t caught on yet. Install a hot tub in the office break room! Forget about foosball, ping pong, or video games. What will really help people unwind and relax is a nice 20 person hot tub. A perfect way to melt away the stress of long day dealing with unruly customers. Also great for impromptu team meetings! Sounds good, but there are hidden dangers. For some reason, the folks in legal and human resources tend to object. Not sure if they are worried about potential accidents and liabilities (even the best of swimmers can get a calf cramp and drown in 3 ft of water after all). Or maybe they have just watched too many episodes of Jersey Shore and The Bachelor. In any case it seems like an idea that is still ahead of its time. Verdict: No. While seemingly a great idea at first glance, it’s bound to get you into hot water with HR.
  3. Afternoon Pajama Party and Power Nap!   Historically the corporate powers-that-be have frowned on napping in the workplace. People who dozed off at their desk with their faces pressed to their desk in a puddle of drool were seen as slackers. If you’re tired, get a coffee and suck it up. Sleep at home on your own time. The times they are a-changin’ however. Modern corporate leaders have started to recognize that efficacy of the power nap. A short 15 minute nap has been shown to make people more refreshed, focused and effective. Companies all over the world, from San Francisco to San Jose, have started to convert conference rooms, janitorial closets, and vacated server rooms into power-nap stations. Verdict: Yes, go for it! Just make sure to enforce “single occupancy” policy for all nap stations to prevent any undesired office hanky-panky.
  4. Topless Fridays!   Everyone loves casual Friday. Jeans, Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian print shirts, flip flops. So why not take it up a notch to the next level with clothing-optional or even completely-topless Fridays? Bring in a couple thousand pounds of sand and some beach chairs and pretend you are in Mediterranean! Nice, France is quite nice this time of year! And according to an email making its way around the Internet, there was even a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that purports that a few minutes of daily ogling has unexpected health benefits as well such as lower blood pressure and reduced risk of coronary and artery disease. So not only does a shirtless work environment improve office morale and camaraderie, but italso  improves the health of employees as well! Verdict: Don’t be an idiot! The so-called “research” is bogus. Unless you want to incur the wrath of the human resources and legal departments stick with Hawaiian shirts.
  5. Death by Chocolate Fountain!   When things are going bad and the tried-and-true methods like pizza and ice cream aren’t getting the job done anymore, it’s time to bring in a heavy hitter. Meet the chocolate fountain! While a simple chocolate bar might be enough to console heartbroken teens, when things hit the fan in the contact center you need a couple hundred gallons of cascading melted chocolate on tap. And don’t forget the accoutrements: strawberries, frozen bananas, cookies, macaroons and shortbread. If a chocolate fountain can’t cheer up the surliest of your contact center agents, I don’t know what will.
    Verdict: Affirmative. Operation “death by chocolate” is a go. Rrepeat, operation “death by chocolate” is a go!
  6.  Mandatory Smoke Breaks!   Smoking has gotten an unfair rap. Sure, it will probably eventually kill you (if it hasn’t already). And yes, it does coat your lungs with a layer of sticky, black tar. And admittedly it introduces a cocktail of deadly toxins into your bloodstream and internal organs. And sure, it turns your teeth yellow, gives you bad breath, and makes you stink in general. But nicotine, like all good drugs, gets the job done! A few puffs every 15 minutes and you’re good to go. The stress of work just floats away like a plume of smoke. If your employees aren’t already smokers you should institute a company-wide mandatory smoking policy! Not only is it a good stress reliever, but it brings people together in a way that the old water cooler and coffee machine can only envy. Verdict: Probably not a good idea (unless perhaps if you work for a tobacco company).
  7. Musical Chairs!   I’m not talking about the children’s game we all played at birthday parties. I’m talking about the hidden dangers –both  physical and emotional – of sitting down for long periods of time. A recent article in the New York Times warns that even if you exercise regularly every morning and evening, if you spend the majority of the work day sitting in your chair  you are still putting yourself at  increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In contact centers with performance metrics like agent occupancy, adherence, and calls per hour, agents are encouraged to be at their desks working – rather than walking around socializing with co-workers, taking frequent breaks, or doing special ergonomic exercises and stretches. So why not shake things up a little – replacing the standard office chair with a Gaiam ergonomic balance ball chair or even a treadmill desk! Verdict: Go for it! Healthier and happier employees result in more satisfied and more profitable customers.
  8. All-You-Can-Drink After-Hours Martini Bar!   Employees can’t wait to get out of work on a Thursday or Friday evening to get to the bar. With a proliferation of hipster martini bars making a resurgence these days, why not keep employees at work longer and roll out the all-you-can drink open martini bar at the office? Imagine, employees staying late after their shifts, sipping martinis while jovially chatting and joking with customers on the phone. It’s a win-win-win for everyone. Not only will you improve morale and lower agent churn, but you will certainly improve customer satisfaction as well (who doesn’t enjoy the charm of incoherent rambling and slurred consonants when trying to resolve a technical problem or billing issue?). Verdict: Don’t be daft. Not only will you lose money (as the average contact center agent can put down $30 an hour in premium vokda, significantly more than the $13 an hour industry average salary), but you will likely lose millions per year in legal fees.


About the author: John Burton works at SAP as a Director of Product Management, responsible for the SAP CRM Interaction Center and Social CRM product offerings. He is the author of the SAP Press title, “Maximizing Your SAP CRM Interaction Center” and has published numerous articles in technical journals such as CRM Expert. John regularly presents at conferences and tradeshows and tries to blog semi-regularly as his schedule permits. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer, friends, relatives, neighbors, home-town mayor, grade-school teachers, or childhood nanny. When not working (or pretending to be working) John can be found cycling or running in the mountains of Northern California.