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Plasticity Labs and Tenacity Apply Scientific Approaches to Improving Employee Performance and Reducing Attrition


Presented By: CrmXchange

Contact Center management often complains about absence and attrition in their centers, but most don’t do anything about it. While technology is constantly changing and the make-up and responsibilities of front-line personnel are evolving in a variety of different ways, low employee morale and turnover are still the most pernicious issues in many operations.

tanacity.aug2016  “According to The Call Center School, average agent turnover rates globally are between 30% and 45%,” said Ron Davis, founder and CEO of Tenacity, a tech company that describes its main mission as ‘changing human behavior for the better’. Businesses with 500 or more employees suffer from turnover rates above 50% annually, with absence rates that are twice as high, combining to cause a serious detraction in the bottom line.” 

Customer-facing personnel have always faced daunting challenges, but over the past few years, the degree of difficulty has increased. Despite the broad availability of omni-channel and self-service options, many customers are still unable to resolve issues to their satisfaction. When they call the contact center, they’re frustrated and impatient. Management expectations are high, with agents required to build additional skills and adhere to the ever-more rigorous KPIs demanded of them.

Traditional approaches (skill training and coaching, rewards and recognition and advanced workforce optimization technologies) have had little impact on helping agents deal with stress. Agents who work at a contact center seldom have time to interact with their peers and at-home agents rarely communicate with their colleagues. This creates a feeling of isolation which often raises the stress level. Millennials, now the single largest segment of the US population, value connectedness, meaning, and social engagement which they view as critical factors impacting their quality of life.  

Tenacity has developed a retention-as-a-service (RaaS) platform combining cutting-edge social science from MIT as well as stress management and resiliency best practices to help businesses address these chronic obstacles to human performance. When Davis, who graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, took a class at the MIT Media Lab, he immediately saw the enormous potential of the work they were doing. It involved a big data-driven new science called “social physics” geared to shape organizations that are cooperative, productive, and creative.

In seeking industrial sectors that had a pain point that could benefit from the discipline, Davis noted “Contact Centers immediately bubbled up to the surface.” He presented the proposition to a number of major companies in the financial services and telecom areas who expressed   enthusiasm, which encouraged him to move forward. 

Under the direction of its science advisor, Professor Alex Pentland of MIT, Tenacity has employed social physics to better understand the highly specific behaviors of humans in group settings, and how this knowledge is used to influence individual and collective behaviors to improve the functioning of such groups. For example, they have discovered how to analyze communication metadata in a company to identify which teams are going to be the most effective, a method that is more predictive than the background or talent of the people on the team.

They have also learned the value of offering ‘social rewards’ – as opposed to traditional incentives – to change human behavior. One of the reward structures Tenacity uses is called ‘peer rewards’. Rather than rewarding an individual for good behaviors, the individual is paired with two buddies at work, and Tenacity rewards the grouped team for those positive actions, as opposed to the individual. When properly used, Davis says it can be seven times more effective in altering behavior as the direct incentives.

Another technique employed by Tenacity which both reduces stress and makes individuals feel better about themselves, is the creation of weekly “Quests”. Quests involve activities such as guided deep breathing, encouraging the completion of daily fitness goals, and team building.

 Canadian-based Plasticity Labs is another company that takes a scientific approach to morale issues. Coming from a different perspective, Plasticity Labs focuses on improving organizational performance by measuring and training employee happiness. According to co-founder and Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Moss, their platform brings together positive, organizational, and social psychology to help businesses understand employee sentiment, train impactful behaviors, and build successful contact center operations. 

plasticity.aug2016 “Our solution employs a combination of neuroscience, cognitive behavioral science and predictive analytics,” said Moss. Plasticity has created an ecosystem that includes a survey engine that generates quarterly micro surveys to help businesses understand how engagement, performance, satisfaction, and other KPI’s change over time. A social feed captures the results of a daily Happiness Question and offers a Positive Focus that keeps employee attention on the good things about their job, and prompts them to record what they are grateful for each day. It also incorporates a learning management system as well as analytics and reporting that enables management to track employee morale and take action as a result of the feedback.

“Front-line personnel are dealing with people who are stressed and angry and bring high expectations to the table,” said Moss. “It is becoming more important for companies to invest in employee happiness in order to keep them engaged and on point.” The platform allows agent empathy and resiliency to be tracked and mapped to KPIs, such as CSAT and NPS scores, and AHT reduction in escalations.

She considers herself and her husband Jim, the co-founder and CEO of Plasticity, as being “accidental entrepreneurs”. The company was founded in 2009, following a serious injury that left Jim, an athlete who competed at the professional level in hockey and lacrosse, paralyzed. “He walked out of the hospital in six months when he was told he might never walk again,” she said. “The strength he found in building his resiliency by creating gratitude journals led to the development of an app, which in turn led to a company asking for a white label version of our solution.”

Plasticity and Tenacity both provide divergent science-based platforms to help contact centers achieve reduced attrition, better employee morale, and improved performance.  Both solution providers rely on identifying and cultivating internal champions within an organization to create interest in their respective platforms. The two companies also engage in pilot programs tying the continuation of their involvement to successful KPI measurements, and both require a serious commitment from upper management, “We’ve walked away from situations where we saw that people at the top weren’t willing to give us their unqualified support,” said Davis. “Many companies are aware that attrition is their biggest problem but they are unwilling to invest in solutions to fix it.”

Beyond executive buy-in, they must gain enthusiastic participation from the agent population as well. Davis says that adoption rates for Tenacity start at about 70-75% and level off at 50-55%.  They integrate variables that prevent selection bias in determining the ongoing success of users vs non-users of the program.

Both Plasticity and Tenacity offer impressive success stories about their initial implementations but know that they have much more to do to gain widespread acceptance. The benefits of deploying strategies to reduce stress, diminish isolation and harness happiness have long been endorsed by behavioral scientists. If these solutions can consistently deliver measurable long-term improvements to the chronic problems that have plagued operational effectiveness for 30+ years, they could become “must-haves” in the contact center community.