Low-Cost Incentives – A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

Originally published
Originally published: 1/1/2014

How establishing a culture of appreciation can improve your customer service ratings.

As the owner of an HVACR company, your success depends on your ability to keep your employees motivated and engaged. By most accounts, 2013 was a good year for HVACR contractors. Based on an independent study of our HVACR Business audience, 64 percent of contractors saw year-over-year increases in revenue. Additionally, 74 percent of those surveyed budgeted top-line growth in 2014, and 78 percent expected increased margins. While cash bonuses are nice, employee incentives don’t have to be large sums of money. With a little planning, you can save money while rewarding your employees in ways that they find meaningful. Doing so isn’t just easy on the bottom line, it can actually improve your brand’s reputation.

It should come as no surprise that happy employees do better work. In fact, researchers at business schools around the country have proven a positive link between work engagement (feeling positive about and fulfilled by the work you do) and customer retention and loyalty.

What is employee engagement? Think of employee engagement in terms of inputs and outputs. Pleasant working environments and employee job satisfaction (inputs) lead to engagement, which contributes to the adaptability and career commitment of your employees (outputs). Rewards and incentives can be used to increase the inputs, keeping your employees not only engaged, but also more willing to go with the flow, treat your customers well, and committed to you and your company.

Rewards matter because every time a technician leaves your office, or your assistant answers the phone, they represent you. Your name is on the trucks they drive, the uniforms they wear, the estimates and invoices they leave at job sites, and most especially, the minds of your customers.

Rewards matter because they are your responsibility as a manager. Employee engagement isn’t something you can effectively screen for in interviews. It’s not something you can flesh out by contacting references. Employee engagement is company-specific. It’s about how valued employees feel, how enthusiastic they are about their tasks, and if they have a sense of pride in their work.

What exactly is an incentive? Incentives are symbols of appreciation used to increase productivity, engage employees and promote teamwork, such as cash, gift cards, or special recognition. According to the Incentive Research Foundation, more than half of U.S. companies give incentives or rewards in recognition of employees who exceed expectations. It’s important to remember that employee appreciation doesn’t necessarily mean more money. There are many ways to reward your workers without breaking the bank.

Make the most of free, motivational incentives.

  • Say thank you. It’s always free.
  • Recognize your employees’ accomplishments in front of their peers, perhaps in a meeting or company newsletter. Public recognition not only contributes to the employee’s feelings of pride and accomplishment, it helps all employees to see that their work has value. By publicly honoring workers who exceed your expectations, you define success for their peers.
  • You know all your employees by name, so engage them when you see them. Keep records on each one so you can send annual, hand-written birthday and work anniversary cards.
  • Keep your office door open when you’re not on important calls. Let your employees know that, as your most valuable resource, they are always welcome.

Give small rewards, frequently.

  • Make it personal. Since you’ve already taken advantage of the free incentives, you should know a little bit about each employee. You can apply that knowledge to personalize employee incentives. For example, you’ve noticed your employee Susan comes in with a cup of DunkinDonuts coffee every morning. When Susan has a particularly good sales month, you could reward her with a $25 gift certificate to DunkinDonuts.
  • Put a candy bowl in the office.
  • Have a monthly pizza lunch. Use the opportunity to thank your employees, learn more about them, discuss monthly goals, and solicit employee feedback.
  • Allow some flexibility in terms of working hours by conducting a quarterly contest for paid time off.

Consider workplace incentives.

  • Reward service techs with new diagnostic tools. This will make their jobs easier while improving their productivity.
  • Let a customer service rep know that he did a good job with a hands-free headset.
  • If you’ve had a good year, buy a television (or office golf, or a pinball machine) for the break room.
  • Offer specialized training sessions to fill-in any knowledge gaps, and give rewards for high training scores.

Have well-established guidelines to avoid common incentive pitfalls. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, employees become disgruntled when they see someone else recognized. Perhaps the reward you gave last time actually made employees less productive. It’s important that you know your audience, and that the workplace develops a culture of appreciation and engagement (with the free ideas mentioned previously) before rewards of monetary value are distributed.

Don’t show favoritism. Remember to recognize the people that work behind the scenes as well as techs and sales reps. However you decide to recognize your employees in 2014, make sure to tell them exactly why you are rewarding them, and try to do it in front of their peers to encourage others to follow suit.
How you treat your employees directly impacts how they feel about themselves and their work, and how they treat your customers. Treat them well and thank them often, and watch your customer service ratings increase along with your employee retention. 

Jenn Lonzer, M.A. is managing editor of HVACR Business and a public relations and strategic communications consultant.

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