Gamification and customer service: How to make it the perfect combo

23rd Mar 2015

Alongside sales, customer service in contact centres has long been touted as the perfect job function for implementing a gamification strategy.

Indeed, while gamification has struggled to capture the imagination of most other business departments, 2013 research from NICE Systems shows that around 90% of contact centres run ‘gamified’ contests on whiteboards and by email for their staff, suggesting that gamification, in its purest sense, is a concept well-received by customer service departments.

But while this may be the case, the same research also showed that more than two-thirds of call centres conduct gamified exercises less than once a month, proving that the all-encompassing vision Gartner pronounced in 2012 is still a long way off.

And there is a strong sense among industry experts that contact centres are yet to make the most of the empowerment a gamified workforce can offer, and that the benefits of an all-in approach are much more wide-reaching than some may realise.

“The first thing to note is that most contact centres are already using gamification to some extent,” says Robin Tandon, senior product director at Eptica. “Take a walk around any of them and you’ll see scoreboards, league tables and regular competitions to motivate staff and ensure optimum performance.

“These encourage teams and individuals to pit their wits against each other and the large amount of reporting and statistics available also make it easy to monitor and measure performance to gamify work. But this is a relatively primitive incarnation of the concept, and most contact centres have only implemented the ‘least’ most important element of gamification theory – ‘stuff’.”

Employee engagement

It’s now commonly agreed that having an engaged workforce is beneficial in customer service, but historically it has been seen as a tough vision to realise. However, a major shift in thinking is underway among enterprises and especially within call centres.

Backed by the need to better engage customers throughout their omnichannel journeys, brands are redefining the importance of their contact centre operations; i.e. no longer accepting high turnover of staff, simple script-reading and a ‘cost centre’ approach that has so long been central to call centre operations.

Instead, as BT’s customer experience futurologist, Dr Nicola Millard first prophesised, contact centres are slowly shifting to a ‘relationship hub’ ideal in which staff are highly-skilled and focused on proactive as well as reactive engagement; and as a result, a higher need to motivate staff within this environment plays perfectly into the hands of gamification strategy.

“Gone are the days when people only use a computer [or headset] at work,” says Neil Penny, Product Director at Sunrise Software.

“Staff now expect to be able to use similar technology at work as they do at home.  The so called ‘Facebook generation’ expect to be able to use social media at work, they expect software to look and work in a certain way, be consumable on a variety of devices, and they are completely turned off by the staid user interfaces of older business applications.

“Gamification of business apps is key to employee engagement, which in turn is critical to improving productivity. Getting the best out of staff, which typically covers areas such as productivity, engagement, quality, and consistency of work, is key for organisations to prosper. Motivated staff are more productive, provide a better service, and generally are happier at work. The difference in productivity between those that are motivated or engaged, and those that are not, has been reported as high as 90%. While this seems a very high figure, even if it’s 50%, that is still a significant difference, and a potential opportunity to improve.”       

And according to Gartner, only 29% of contact centre employees feel engaged at work, with 52% identifying as unengaged and 19% as disengaged. The stakes are high, and gamification has the potential to improve employee engagement. 

Improved performance

While gamification in contact centres may well engage and motivate staff, the question of how it improves productivity and performance is still a prominent one.

Michelle Dinsmore, head of programme management for EvaluAgent believes call centre and customer service leaders require a more long-term vision about their staff’s progression through the organisation, in order for any performance to be realised:

“Gamification can help transform relationships within the contact centre by helping agents to raise their performance proactively, leaving team leaders free to provide guidance and support. Imagine a contact centre where the longest queues were made up of staff eager to join your team and where agent retention was just not an issue! Gamification can help make this vision a reality and because gamification is focused on changing behaviour, its impact is felt almost overnight.”

Once a gamification strategy is in place, Paige McCaleb, product marketing manager at NICE Systems, states that, as well as more engagement, there are two other key elements in which contact centres can experience an uplift:

Onboarding - Organisations that create simple, modular training levels lead new hires through the right progression of documents, activities and benchmarks…In some cases, organisations reduce ramp-up time by more than 90% (four weeks to 14 hours).

Retention - Employees work hard to earn badges, and when they are well recognised (and decorated) they stay longer on the job. 78% of US contact centre staff state that being recognised motivates them to stay at their company.

Bristol-based Ovo Energy is an organisation recognised for implementing a more gamified experience into its contact centre, as a result of its work with Rant & Rave. The utility provider’s customer service director, Justin Haines, believes that since implementing gamification technology into his customer service department’s processes, staff have experienced a much more tangible approach to their performance:

“Each customer service agent can upload their own avatars and keep track of their feedback and vital scores so they can monitor their own performance and see how they’re doing against their colleagues.  This encourages staff to do their very best as it instills a sense of healthy competition amongst the customer service agents which of course has a positive knock-on effect on customer service.” 

Service challenges

While organisations such as OVO Energy may be experiencing increased motivation among its call centre staff, a number of challenges stand in the way of contact centres achieving better performance and productivity as a result of gamification.

Michelle Dinsmore believes many businesses fail to get to grips with the psychological side of a gamification programme, as well as the simple technological aspect.

“Once you have made the decision to introduce gamification, it is vital to make sure that everyone signs up to a set of defined business objectives, so that you have a clear and shared understanding of what you want to achieve. Once the objectives are in place, the next challenge is to develop a clear plan to ensure that they are achieved. 

“In this respect, it is essential to define the player objectives that your agents will be working towards and to communicate these to your agents. Make it clear what they will be rewarded for and what they have to do to achieve it. It might sound simple but if agents don’t know what they are being measured against, they can’t really be expected to achieve a target." 

Contact centre leaders need to ensure their gamification tool is fit for purpose, and that it is intuitive enough to keep people engaged and focused on recognising the right outcomes and behaviours. But a further critical success factor that should not be under-estimated is providing agents with the right support. While there may be some fantastic gamification software options available, but don’t rely on the software alone. If you can’t afford to wrap coaching and feedback around your gamification initiative then you are highly unlikely to get the best results. 

Dinsmore continues: “There is no substitute for face to face, one-to-one collaborative interaction between agents and their team leader. There is a real danger that agents will become de-motivated if they reach a plateau in terms of point-scoring, resulting in exactly the opposite of what gamification is designed to achieve.

"An effective coaching programme make sure your agents are fully engaged and motivated to succeed. hile rewards are important, it’s simply not enough to give agents points. They need to see how they are making progress and be able to map a journey to success, or they are likely to lose interest.

“In this respect, it’s important to recognise that you can’t treat everyone the same. People respond to things differently and in today’s contact centre workplace there is often a huge difference in agent demographics, leading to groups of workers with very different values, expectations and technology skill sets.  Employees who are working past their retirement age are likely to respond very differently to gamification than recent graduates, for example. It is important to know your internal audience groups and provide a solution that motivates  everyone to be involved in your gamification programme.          

“Internal communication is also key to success. Remember this is likely to be a whole new way of doing things for most people, particularly managers, so it is important to give them adequate training and awareness to prepare them for your  new approach. It can be very damaging if the operational leaders are left in the dark and can lead to them  floundering, but unable to ask for help. 

“Make sure your managers understand both the technology and psychology involved in a successful gamification programme. Getting the internal communication right from the beginning is the best away to ensure success, or you risk employees feeling disengaged and resentful, a setback which can take an inordinate amount of time and energy to fix.”  

Measuring ROI

A final factor to bear in mind when rolling out gamification in the contact centre is measurability. Neil Penny, product direct at Sunrise Software, notes that identifying the key metrics/SLAs you have before you start introducing gamification is a fundamental aspect of being able to achieve this.     

He suggests that time waiting for customers, time to close calls, number of first fixes, and number of calls completed within SLA as critical measures, but that running surveys of customers to gain feedback showing improvements to service is also a clear metric.

“Improved service and improved productivity saves time, leaving agents more time to tackle more proactive and preventative issues, creating a virtuous circle."

Done correctly, it’s clear gamification offers a healthy dose of competition in contact centres, and gives service agents a new level of personal challenge previously missing for many employees in the sector.  

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