If you want better results from employees and customers, let them play. At least, that's what industry experts are saying about gamification, or "gamifying" business processes. Using game mechanics to influence behaviors has emerged as a viable means for companies to achieve desired results. For companies that want more attention, participation, and, of course, business, it's an innovative way to engage customers.
Combining work and play might sound counterintuitive, but companies that do so are already noticing real results. Samsung, for instance, mixed frivolity with serious business initiatives when it created the social loyalty program Samsung Nation through behavior platform Badgeville. The purpose? To grow its user-generated content and traffic on its global Web site. Fueling competition, the game lets users level up, unlock badges, and gain subsequent rewards and recognition. Samsung, in return, saw 66 percent more users submitting 447 percent more product answers on its global Web site. Even more impressive, the user-generated content prompted 34 percent of users to put 224 percent more items in shopping carts.
Gamification can also be used to motivate employees. Pharmaceutical company Omnicare, which uses IT management cloud service ServiceNow, introduced gamification to improve its IT Service Desk operating model. "We had stories of twenty-minute hold times, and our abandonment rate was in the twenty-five to thirty percent mark," says Kim Liston, senior director of service delivery.
Naturally, this was not acceptable to Omnicare's executive team, so Liston was asked to improve the numbers. But her efforts were first met with the proverbial foot-drag. "These are highly technical people who loved to spend hours in the bowels of a PC, and all of a sudden, you're holding them accountable to inbound performance and stats and you're measuring the heck out of them," Liston says. "We had a little bit of a culture clash."
Using a technique found in role-playing games, service team members worked to accumulate points and rewards like gift cards to Amazon.com and movie tickets. "We had a lot of success from a performance perspective, but management overhead was a bit substantial, and while it was fun [for workers], it didn't stick with them," Liston says.
What followed was the creation of an automated OmniQuest game, which included achievements, rewards (in the form of badges), and real-time feedback within the ServiceNow platform. It saw 100 percent participation from team members.
Introducing game techniques into the enterprise can motivate employees to perform specific behaviors, but it can also improve morale and excitement around tasks, projects, and even job roles. "I was struck by [a comment] made by one of my overnight technicians," remarks Tim Deniston, help desk manager at Omnicare. "He said, 'Bossman, I'm so excited. Every night I come in, I can't wait to see what my badges are.' Competition is another thing that can come of this. You hear chatter like, 'I just leveled up for this particular badge.' It's very valuable. It gets people excited."
How Games Work
Gamification digs deep to create something that fosters change and sustains behaviors.
To get people to learn new behaviors, they must become familiar and comfortable with them, says gaming expert Justin Gary, who created an entrepreneurship game for University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business students and consulted with MySpace on user engagement.
That's what gamification does. "It's using the dynamics and mechanics of psychology that make games so addicting, so sticky, so engaging," explains Kevin Akeroyd, senior vice president of field operations for Badgeville.
Curiosity and personal achievement play a part. "We are…built to want to 'know' and understand what's going on," Gary says. "Everybody wants to feel like they're progressing….The goal is to make people do the behaviors you want them to because it's what they want to do."
It's "behavior management," Akeroyd stresses. The things that make games so compelling "can equally make employees, partners, [and] customers addicted to your B2B or B2C offering."
To gamify a business process, organizations must define goals for users, track their behaviors, and reward them when goals are met. Bunchball, a gamification software developer, can do these things and enable users to compete for position on league tables, create virtual identities for self-expression, collaborate as part of a team, and post comments or videos on Facebook and Twitter for rewards.
Badgeville, a competitor to Bunchball, can track users' performance data to motivate behavior, reward top performers, and create real-time notifications to engage inactive users.
When business processes are gamified well, organizations can see positive results, including cold hard cash. James Gardner was chief technology officer for the U.K. Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when he encountered a situation where games prevailed. "I needed to create a system that made innovation happen, and I needed to do that in an environment where everybody had 'day jobs.'"
That's when he came across Spigit, an innovation management solutions company. Spigit and Gardner's agency gamified government processes by creating DWP's Idea Street initiative in 2007. Through a virtual trading platform, British civil servants could buy and sell stock in new ideas with a virtual currency. What followed was a crowd-sourcing effort that called on civil servants to turn ideation into real cost savings. Those who posted comments and helped execute change could accrue more points, and were even rewarded through promotions. In one case, a call center employee came up with the idea to create internal marketing materials, resulting in that employee's transfer to the office of the head of the DWP.
In less than nine months, the DWP incurred about $41 million in hard savings by innovating its business processes, Gardner says. "The [employees] found motivation through games we were playing to submit new ideas for change and actually execute new ideas, and the money just added up over time," Gardner explains. Gardner, now the chief strategy officer for innovation management at Spigit, describes this as a case where a group of busy individuals wholly resistant to change "made change happen."
Gamification can also make intimidating processes fun, which could help boost sales. Adobe needed a way to encourage trial users to become paid licensees of Photoshop. However, sometimes anxiety over learning how to use the software can get in the way. So, gamification platform provider Bunchball created LevelUp for Adobe Photoshop. The game trained users "how to use Photoshop by doing, and not just reading the manual or watching tutorial content," explains Rajat Paharia, cofounder and chief product officer of Bunchball. As you complete a task and learn how to "master object removal," your progress score goes up. The game sent users on missions like "remove red eye" or "touch up this photo," and players were able to earn points, rewards, and the chance to win Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection software.
Before starting, organizations must figure out how to entice participants. Designing a rewards structure that encourages desired behaviors requires a look at the "relative value of rewards for the actions being incentivized," according to "Demystifying Enterprise Gamification for Business," a study conducted by Constellation Research.
Financial rewards certainly work, but they're not the only way to motivate participants. Offering points, status, rewards, voting power, and early access are all viable ways to motivate participants.
Bragging rights can also be a motivator, especially when social media or a group environment is involved. "The more social an experience becomes, the more valuable [things like] lead access and reputation are," says Scott Schnaars, director of sales for Badgeville.
Rewards may be about "access," which can be as simple as granting one-on-one time with a corporate chief, says Ray Wang, principal analyst and CEO of Constellation Research. Or they could come in the form of engagement, inviting customers to "be a part of our test phase" or "name our product," which would allow the winner to bask in the glow of having his idea selected from thousands.
Making a Case for Work-Play Balance
Enterprises are eyeing game mechanics for business and customer processes, but gamification as an industry whole is just emerging.
"I would not say this is a ubiquitous thing," maintains T.J. Keitt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "You do see, 'Jive reaches an agreement with Bunchball' or 'Spigit or Brightidea begin to use these techniques in their innovation management technology,' but this doesn't translate to companies as a whole saying, 'We're going to use these techniques (within) a given deployment.' There is interest…but there are a number of things that can stymie adoption."
For one, there are cultural considerations. Five generations now populate the workplace, Wang says, and Generations X and Y may be more apt to meld business and social personas than their Baby Boomer counterparts.
Steve DeMarco, vice president of corporate sales for Xactly, says that the automated sales compensation company has seen younger inside sales team members motivated by recognition and not only reward. "They should call [Gen Y] the Resume Generation," DeMarco says. "They get the 'I Was the Sales Rep of the Month Three Months in a Row' (honor) and it's up right away. It's on LinkedIn. It's everywhere. It's constantly updated for anything they deem an accolade."
The whole notion of the president's club and the leaderboard have been part of the sales culture for a long time. But within Xactly's inside sales team, usage has grown and evolved.
"Now it's about using the leaderboard on a more granular level and beginning to gamify daily, weekly, and monthly contests for various metrics that are being shown on the leaderboard," DeMarco explains. "It's making sure the results of (employees) winning the Call Volume Contest are fed back to the organization."
DeMarco has even seen Boomers get excited about awards and incentives because the competition gets creative juices flowing. "Things like making sure [employees'] CRM tool or administrative stuff is up to date…you might use game mechanics to drive that behavior, so it's not purely sales and revenue related, but maybe it's customer satisfaction related," DeMarco adds.
In addition to demographic considerations, changes in roles and responsibilities must also be factored in.
Getting in the Game
As with any technology implementation, organizations must clearly define a need for gamification. In the case of SAP Labs, social games have been a driver within its developer and user network community. Participants win points and level up when they contribute content to blogs and forums.
SAP Labs also looked at video games to see "what we can learn in the business and software world to improve our technology," says Mario Herger, senior innovation strategist at SAP Labs, who heads the gamification effort at SAP Labs across departments like Sustainability and On Demand.
Gamification opens new doors in behavior management and innovation. But the future of games in the enterprise will rely on how they're actually used.
"In a consumer environment, you have a choice to use a gamified application," Herger says, citing Amazon.com as an example. "If I don't like [the game mechanics], I can go to another Web site and buy the same book there. But an employee has no choice. If an employee has to interact with a system, [you have to look at,] 'Is it temporary?'or 'Is it continuously running, and what do I do with the data I collect inside my organization?'"
In addition to managing data volume, organizations will have to figure out where gamification fits into their budget and whether executive teams will be keen on adoption.
"If you can go to a CEO and say, 'Outbound call activity was X for the first five weeks and we had this contest, which resulted in a twenty percent increase across the board,' it's going to get their attention," DeMarco advises.
Gartner Research predicts that by 2014, more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will incorporate at least one gamified application or process. Though gamification can be driven by "novelty and hype," Gartner says it is a trend that will significantly unfold over the next five years.
Playing on the job may not sound productive, but gamification experts beg to differ. "This is not fluffy stuff that doesn't work," Wang points out. "This is about real brands doing real stuff."
Gamification has been called everything from "hype" to "fad," but it could earn its rightful place as a valid business tool. A number of niche game platforms have crept up, all laying claim to a specific effort to get users engaged.
Pledge4good is a social platform that turns good deeds into a social experience. Users pledge as little as one dollar to select nonprofits for performing everyday tasks, like losing a pound. Users can invite friends from social networks to sponsor their cause and applaud them once they've achieved and announced the accomplishment on the mobile platform.
Recyclebank has a similar model, but encourages users to go green and perform earth-friendly actions and get their friends involved. Participants earn points for rewards that include a discount on groceries.
Another game-centric platform, Payoff.com, recently raised $2 million in financing to expand its platform and its service to help users pay down their personal debt and to get their personal finances in order.
"At the end of the day, brands need consumers and consumers need brands," says Scott Saunders, founder of Payoff.com. "This is not just a feel-good thing. This is an enlightened self-interest thing for brands."
The way Payoff.com works is that users set a personal finance goal and gain a snapshot into their spending across various bank accounts. Payoff.com works with brands like Target and Starbucks to "design badges that will make people more likely to pay their bills, or more likely to switch from paper to digital statements," according to Saunders.
When a partner company awards a customer, that customer can share the news with friends on social networks or members of the Payoff community.
Where game platforms like Payoff and Pledge4good will fit into the world of Badgeville and Bunchball remains to be seen, but developers see it as favorable.
"For me, the more competition the better," says Jay Melone, president of Web design and mobile apps company DigitalXBridge. "Just as long as they don't cannibalize each other."
Associate Editor Kelly Liyakasa can be reached at email@example.com.