The issue of employee engagement is a growing source of tension for service organisations. 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 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.
But while employee engagement may not be a game, as it turns out, gamification could be well positioned to help.
Gamification is the application of game mechanics to influence behaviours and activities - to measure and motivate people. Companies apply these mechanics to both connect with their customers and engage their employees.
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, organisations need more skilled agents. This normally requires formal training sessions, which take people away from their desks and cost the company valuable staff hours. 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% or higher on the product knowledge quiz; and (c) earn customer satisfaction scores of 9 (out-of-10) or higher on five consecutive ‘Product X’ calls. Upon completion, that badge will sit proudly on the employee’s profile page for all co-workers to see. Rather than be pulled away from their desks for two to 20 hours for classroom training, employees can progress against gamification objectives in pockets of free time through the day.
One call centre dumped standard training in favour of gamification for its 20,000 frontline agents. 80% of agents chose to complete training via gamification, and 72% even volunteered to complete skills courses that weren’t required. Customer satisfaction improved 10 points as handle time for service centre calls dropped 15% in just three months.
The majority (88%) of organisations 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 organisations my company conducted in 2013. Gamification provides an alternative to these existing programs, but rather than running contests once per month, organisations can engage their people in multiple quests and contests simultaneously.
For example, create an Average Handle Time “crown” and let employees compete for it weekly. Then kick off an ongoing daily contest for the best customer feedback scores. Add points to the mix for First Call Resolution. These three challenges run at the same time, and all employees can track their rank via a leaderboard - for their team, site, or across sites - on their personal portal.
Research has found that 65% of employees would work harder if they were better recognised, 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 “Bundle Selling” 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% 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 - Organisations that create simple, modular training levels lead new hires through the right progression of documents, activities and benchmarks. We have seen organisations reduce ramp-up time by more than 90% (four 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 recognised (and decorated) they stay longer on the job. 78% of US workers surveyed said that being recognised 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 recognise its potential to engage their employees, the quality of their customer service is increasing exponentially, and at greatly reduced cost.
Getting gamification right
Nevertheless, done badly, gamification can actually have precisely the opposite effect on employees than that intended.
If an organisation uses the wrong mechanics, or applies them incorrectly, it risks slowing adoption and worse, distracting its employees.
Gartner has predicted that by 2014, "80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design." So, let's focus on better structuring the design of a gamification programme. Here are three elements you'll want to consider:
1. Business objectives
You need to kick off your gamification program with a clear definition of success. Here are a few ideas from gamification thought leaders:
- Run in silent mode to collect baseline data. Before you 'turn on' gamification, gather information about how often people complete training to add skills, follow processes and perform on key metrics. Now you are in a better position to identify where you want to improve results, and how to measure impact.
- Set expectations for program rhythm. Agree on how often you'll meet with stakeholders to revisit your objectives, revise challenges and/or add pursuits. This will help ensure your program stays fresh across time.
Outcome: Three-to-five defined success metrics with clear milestones.
2. Rewards and recognition
Next you need to determine the types of rewards and recognition that will resonate with your employees. That starts with understanding your employees... iterating on different categories of rewards based on what elicits the right response:
- Points (e.g. frequent flyer miles). Not nearly as straightforward as you might think, points come in many forms. They can expire or last a lifetime. They can be instantaneous or unlocked at intervals. Regardless, they are readily understood and easily tracked.
- Levels (e.g. karate belts). Employees start at the most basic level (white belt) and as they add skills or complete objectives they advance to more expert levels (black belt).
- Badges (e.g. Girl Guides). Employees collect badges in a digital trophy case based on the pursuits they complete and/or the contests they win. This trophy case becomes a source of status that motivates people to continue to grow and seek new challenges.
- Surprise and delight (e.g. Easter eggs). These are hidden rewards that 'pop up' when least expected. Bonus points for clicking on an often overlooked link. A bonus badge for meeting adherence goals for an entire month. Easter eggs keep gamification fun and offer a creative outlet.
Outcome: Rewards and recognition 'system'.
3. Communication of results
There is a lot of potential real estate to cover here. Who should be allowed to see results (all employees, only supervisors, etc)? When should they be updated (real-time, weekly, etc)? But let's start with what channels should be used to communicate results:
- Trophy case. Allow people to showcase their earned points or badges for all to see. Attach it to a social media-style profile page with personal details.
- Leaderboards. Don't be limited to the number of names that can fit on a whiteboard in the break room. Present a complete leaderboard so every employee knows where they stand relative to their peers.
- Activity Feeds. When levels are unlocked, skills added or Easter eggs discovered, surface that information in a Facebook-style activity feed so all teammates are notified. This can stoke healthy competition and collaboration to support people's achievements.
Outcome: One single source of truth for gamification results.
These are just three of many elements that can be factored into gamification program design. Invest the time upfront to design your program for impact. Start with success measures, define relevant rewards, and settle on one communication channel for results. The cost of bad design is failure; whereas a well thought out program will deliver a better customer experience at a lower cost of care.
Gamification skeptics will point to the effort as qualitative or ‘soft’. The reality is that gamification is fuelled by big data and analytics—you can ensure the longevity of your efforts by measuring the impact of your program. To that end, we recommend three categories of measurement:
It is critical that your gamification program is widely adopted by the frontline. Here are two ways to think about adoption:
- Users Engaged. This is the simplest measure. Divide the total number of employees that have logged into your gamification program by the total population of employees with access to the program. Now you’ve got one (albeit relatively static) number to track.
- Challenges Started vs. Completed. Go to the next level. It’s one thing for an employee to login to your program, but another altogether when they start tackling multiple challenges. Create a simple histogram covering a one week or one month period, showing the number of gamification challenges started. It will show, for example, that 32% of your employees started just one challenge, 44% started two challenges, and 16% started three or more challenges. If you want to take it up a notch, also add the number of completed challenges, so you can be sure that employees are following through on the challenges they start.
Tip: When you dig into ‘Users Engaged’, cross-tabulate engagement levels by basic demographics (age, gender, etc.) You may find that your gamification program needs to be tuned to appeal more to specific groups, or that you need to message gamification differently to reluctant employee types.
Adoption comes first, but after that the focus shifts to usage. Now that your employees have gotten in to your gamification program, how do you know whether they continue to stay engaged across time? Here are two simple measures:
- Users Engaged in Past 7 Days. In the adoption section above we talked about a simple, static measure of logins. Take the same idea, but apply a time window—how many employees logged into the gamification program over the past 7 (or 10, or 30, etc.) days, divided by the total number of employees with access to the program in that time period. Now you have a rolling number that you can monitor from week to week and month to month to feel confident that your gamification efforts are staying relevant.
- Popular vs. Unpopular Challenges. Measure the gamification challenges that are pursued most often vs. least often. Look for commonalities that attract your employees to certain types of challenges so you can replicate when creating new challenges. Also look at which challenges have the highest vs. lowest completion rates, so you can see where your employees are getting stuck and abandoning challenges.
Tip: When you find a challenge with a low completion rate drill in a level deeper. Look at the component objectives of the challenge (assuming there are multiple – such as meet goals for (1) Handle Time, (2) % Call Silence and (3) After Call Work). See which objective(s) are the bottlenecks so you can remove or adjust. This can help you avoid creating impossible challenges that frustrate and deter your employees.
Finally, and most important, is proving that gamification drives performance improvement. Since you ran in silent mode (see previous section) to accumulate baseline performance data, you can simply compare performance on key metrics before vs. after gamification.
Tip: Organisations that want to turn gamification into a science look at the correlation between every individual challenge and organisation KPIs. That way they know exactly which types of challenges drive the right results—fodder for creating new, high impact challenges.
Gamification isn’t about fun and entertainment. It connects with people’s need for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. And more engaged employees deliver a better customer experience at lower cost – all of which is perfectly measurable. You have what you need to build a compelling business case, and early adopters will benefit from attracting talent, speeding new hire training, and retaining top performers. It’s time for you to get in the game too.
Scott Buchanan is head of marketing for workforce optimisation solutions at NICE Systems.