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Game On! – Gamification in Customer Service

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Games and play are essential to the way people think, work, and interact with others. Games are hard-wired into our psyche. Place two children in an open field and they will create a game. It is a way we relate to our environment and others. As children, we learn how to interact through play and games.

Personally, games and gaming has been an important part of the way I operate. As a young lad, I looked for ways to amuse myself while mowing the lawn and much to the chagrin of my father’s linear way of thinking; I would mow in geometric patterns, not lines. Fast forward 15 or so years, as a teacher-in-training I learned how games could help strengthen concepts (How many of us remember “Math Baseball” and “I have/You Have”). Finally, I incorporated games into the call center operations I managed based on common call center metrics.

As a business, games and gaming is serious money. Reuters reported that the video game industry is poised to exceed 66 billion (USD) in 2013. Game theory has been around for a couple of decades and most every university now offers a degree (Bachelors and Masters) in game development. Therefore, it is about time that gaming has made its way into call centers.

As I mentioned, games and competitions have been part management practices for many years. However, these were little, fun competitions, typically for bragging rights, and did not change the way the agents operated. Gaming and gamification can change the way call center agents operate and create a more engaging environment.

There are three elements to every game:

  • Exploration, experimentation, and investigation
  • Immediate feedback
  • Socialization

Exploration, experimentation, and investigation are the very heart of any game. Players constantly evaluate their situation and look for better ways of progressing. A player carefully looks for signs of danger and he moves through the labyrinth without being eaten by a dragon or troll. A chess player evaluates each move against future moves, seeking for stronger strategic locations for his bishops and pawn, are we try to discover our opponent’s tells. A person experiments with strategies and take chances in hopes that his friend does not see triple word square. Exploration, experimentation, and investigation what games are made for.

Immediate feedback is what keeps us playing. People gain a sense of accomplish when they exceed their previous score. There is pleasure when a player draws a “Sorry” card and sends their spouse’s piece back to home. It is satisfying to hear the magical clinks as Mario captures gold coins. Another player is energized when the Pac-Man screen changes color and she gain the upper hand over Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. Even if the feedback is negative, like when Link is prevented from saving Zelda, player keep trying and explore, experiment, and investigate other ways of achieving their goal.

Socialization is the human factor of every game. Venture to a park on a spring afternoon and watch for the old men playing chess and talking of days long past. I listen to my son and his friends strategize as they attack the stronghold of another group of players. The socialization that occurs in my house on family game night is not for the faint of heart (we take no prisoners!). On a larger scale, the ancient Greeks created the Olympic Games as a way to build relationships and keep from wiping themselves out. Jousting was established as an alternative to war when solve grudges. The Modern Olympics and World Cup bring cultures together better than anything else.

Research in game theory in education has shown exploration, immediate feedback, and socialization to be strong positive factors on behavior change and understanding.

Imagine using a game as a troubleshooting tool. Solution trees have been part of technical support for decades. However, imagine a technical support specialist using an avatar to explore a maze where each intersection is a branch of the solution tree. In addition, he receives points when he progresses correctly and quickly through the maze. What do you think his reaction would be when a badge appearing on his screen indicating he has reached a performance goal.

Follow-up and refresher training is a challenge for all call centers. Typically, this involves scheduling time off the phones for the agent to watch videos or sit through a class. In addition, many times agents are trained in a new product but the opportunity to use the new knowledge does not arise for several weeks. Moreover, when they do have to use the new training, they search through the training documentation or the knowledge base as the caller waits. What if the system uses the time between calls constantly quizzes agents in a shift-long game of trivia. What if the high scores are displayed on the queue monitors just as the high scores are displayed in a video game.

Call centers spend an enormous amount of time and money developing reward and incentive programs. Most of the time, these program provide delayed feedback. Even discussion supervisors are supposed to be having with agents in 1-on-1 meetings offer delayed feedback. Now, think how the agents would react when a message is broadcast through internal social media to his peers immediately after he scored high marks on a post call survey. Imagine also the boost to an agent’s confidence when their badges are announced to their peers through the workforce management interface.

Gamification of call center operations is a way to make a potentially boring and thankless job into something more enjoyable. Creating systems that use exploration, immediate feedback, and socialization speak to agents in a very primal way. It harkens back to a simpler time, a time before having to come to work was important and brings out the energy and curiosity of our childhoods. And, that can only help call centers to be more engaging place to work.


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