Gamification sounds like some animated hero taking giant leaps, completing levels and providing simple entertainment. Wrong. Gamification is not about pure entertainment, it is the application of game mechanics to influence behaviors and activities—to measure and motivate people. Companies apply these mechanics to both connect with their customers and engage their employees.
The issue of employee engagement is not a game. It describes a growing source of tension for service organizations. As customers increasingly resolve their most basic problems themselves, they contact companies with only their most complex issues. In turn, these issues require more skilled and engaged employees to answer these customer service calls. The problem is that service worker engagement is actually declining. According to the Gallup Employee Engagement Index, “service worker” is the only category of worker less engaged today than in 2009.
It turns out that gamification is a great place to start driving employee engagement because it speaks to three dimensions of how an employee interacts with her work and her colleagues: commitment, competition and collaboration.
To effectively handle more complex customer issues, organizations need more skilled agents. This normally requires formal training sessions, which take people away from their desks and cost the company valuable staff hours. But gamification offers an alternative. Instead of scheduling training sessions, try creating a ‘Product X Guru’ badge. To earn the badge, employees must: (a) review product documentation; (b) score 80 percent or higher on the product knowledge quiz; and (c) earn customer satisfaction scores of 9 (out-of-10) or higher on five consecutive calls. Upon completion, that badge will sits proudly on the employee’s profile page for all co-workers to see. Rather than be pulled away from their desks for 2 to 20 hours for classroom training, employees can progress against gamification objectives in pockets of free time through the day.
One call center we worked with dumped standard training in favor of gamification for its 20,000 frontline agents. 80 percent of agents chose to complete training via gamification, and 72 percent even volunteered to complete skills courses that weren’t required. Customer satisfaction improved 10 points as handle time for service center calls dropped 15 percent in just three months.
The majority (88 percent) of organizations run contests on whiteboards and by email, but more than two-thirds of them do so less than once a month, according to a performance management benchmarking study of 120 organizations my company conducted in 2013. Gamification provides an alternative to these existing programs, but rather than running contests once per month, organizations can engage their people in multiple quests and contests simultaneously.
Here’s an idea for a competitive contest with business advantages: create an Average Handle Time “crown” and let employees compete for it weekly. Then kick off an ongoing contest for the best customer feedback scores. A well designed gamification application will allow all competitors to see a leaderboard—for their team, site, or across sites—from their personal portal.
Research has found that 65 percent of employees would work harder if they were better recognized, according to a 2011 Globoforce Mood Tracker report. It’s powerful when recognition comes from achievements that are tightly aligned with company goals. That’s why companies that deploy gamification see annual revenue grow nearly twice as fast as their peers, according to a report last year by Aberdeen Research.
Finally, gamification can be a powerful driver of collaboration. Identify your top performers and encourage them to publish their best practices in a central library for others to view—maybe even with badges for top-rated content. For example, the employee who won a recent sales competition can document and share their approach to cross-selling. Or, the individual with the top customer satisfaction scores can describe how they turn frustrated callers into advocates.
Gamification also allows employees to seek out one another. If a new hire is working toward earning a “first call resolution” badge and is stumped by one objective, gamification makes it easy to identify colleagues who have already earned the distinction and solicit their advice.
At one major auto manufacturer, gamification drove the creation of four times more best practices than previously, including hundreds of entries from top performers. Younger employees reached out to more seasoned staff 40 percent more often for guidance and support. Internal network traffic in three months exceeded all the visits to best practice documentation from the previous year.
Bottom-Line Business Impact
If you want to drive employee engagement and unlock the potential of your people, get in the game. Gamification is not just entertainment; it is a powerful way to measure and motivate your people. In our experience, companies see real business impact across this progression:
• Onboarding. Organizations that create simple, modular training levels lead new hires through the right progression of documents, activities and benchmarks. We have seen organizations reduce ramp-up time by more than 90 percent (4 weeks to 14 hours).
• Engagement. Gamification is a powerful way to combat disengaged employees and further engage your best performers. It motivates employees with healthy competition and recognition for great performance.
• Retention. Employees work hard to earn badges, and when they are well recognized (and decorated) they stay longer on the job. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. workers surveyed said that being recognized motivates them to stay at their company, according to the Globoforce report.
The concept of gamification speaks to workers as people and sets their imaginations alight. And as more companies recognize its potential to engage their employees, the quality of their customer service is increasing exponentially, and at greatly reduced cost.
Scott Buchanan is head of marketing for workforce optimization solutions at NICE Systems, a maker of contact center workforce management systems. He is based in Silicon Valley.