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Gamification comes to the contact center: game techniques keep agents happy, engaged, and better equipped to handle interactions.

When customers have problems that require them to contact customer service or support, they expect to experience that company at its best. That's not always easy, given that at most companies, front-line employees are often disengaged from their jobs.

A recent Gallup poll found that more than 70 percent of all U.S. workers are either actively or passively disengaged from their work. It's a particularly problematic situation for contact centers, where employee turnover is much higher than in most other industries.

"Answering support calls and working between ticket numbers and resolutions quickly gets repetitive and boring," says Vikram Bhaskaran, director of marketing communications at FreshDesk, a provider of online customer support and help desk software.

That prompts many agents to seek employment in other fields, but it also affects those who stick it out in their current jobs. "When support reps are bored or [un]motivated, they start making little errors, like typos or sounding irritable, without realizing it," Bhaskaran says. "Worse still, agents start sounding like lifeless robots reading out scripts."

The financial impact of such employee disengagement is staggering, costing the U.S. economy $370 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a recent Gallup poll. Additionally, disengaged workers are absent from work more often than engaged workers, more likely to engage in theft, have more safety incidents, and deliver poorer customer service, Gallup found.

Because disengaged contact center workers have such a negative effect on morale, customer satisfaction, and overall financial health, it is imperative that management regularly takes the pulse of employees and then finds ways to ensure that workers are properly engaged. One way they can do this is with gamification--borrowing from video games the principles of virtual challenges, contests, and quests for the purpose of racking up points, advancing to higher levels, or earning rewards. Gamification can be used as a means to get contact center employees more passionately involved with the companies for which they work. And that can be applied across the board, whether the contact center is in Miami, Montreal, Moscow, or Manila.

"People have fundamental needs and desires for reward, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism, among others," Scott Buchanan, head of solutions marketing at NICE Systems, told CRM magazine's sister Web site SmartCustomerService.com recently. "These needs are universal and span generations, demographics, culture, and gender."

The shift toward more competitive and engaging customer care environments through gamification is further validated by analysts. Gartner, in a recent report, called gamification "a powerful tool to engage employees, customers, and the public to change behaviors, develop skills, and drive innovation." The firm also predicted that by 2015, more than 40 percent of the top companies would be using gamification to transform their business operations.

The Conference Board expects gamification to become far more "pervasive" in 2014, which certainly comes as welcome news to providers of the technology, who are finally starting to see it pick up steam.

Badgeville, one of the leading providers of gamification technology, reported record growth in the third quarter of 2013. That growth, it said in October, is being fueled by demand from both new customer signings and expanded relationships with existing customers.

Founded in 2010, the company has more than 200 customers, including Phillips Electronics, American Express, CA Technologies, Citrix, Restaurant.com, and Ask.com.

And within just the past few months, Badgeville signed key partnerships with IBM, Oracle, and Verint Systems to bring its Behavior Platform, a suite of products that includes Game Mechanics for creating gamelike activities, Reputation Mechanics for promoting status in an online community, and Social Mechanics for using social networking techniques, into several of their CRM products. IBM is incorporating Badgeville into its Digital Marketing Network. Oracle announced at its OpenWorld user conference that it will make Badgeville available in the Oracle Cloud Network for Oracle Sales Cloud customers. Verint is incorporating Badgeville into its Impact 360 Workforce Optimization (WFO) software suite.

"Our customers are looking for more ways to engage a new generation of employees through collaboration to improve performance, compliance, and overall satisfaction," Chris Zaske, global vice president of enterprise workforce optimization at Verint Enterprise Intelligence Solutions, said in a statement. "By partnering with Badgeville, our customers can capitalize on the correlation between engaged, motivated, and high-performing employees and the delivery of better customer experiences and stronger sales results."

Roger Woolley, vice president of solutions marketing at Verint, says the contact center space is primed for gamification. "The contact center has become mission control for many organizations that seek to put the customer experience at the center of their business strategy. This starts with employee engagement. Happy employees that have the right training and tools to help customers often lead directly to a positive customer experience and improved financial performance."

These latest Badgeville integrations follow earlier deals with Salesforce.com, Omniture, the Adobe Marketing Cloud, and Jive, among others.

Also in the fall, LevelEleven, another provider of enterprise gamification and CRM solutions, completed a $2 million venture funding round that it says will be used to scale the LevelEleven team to meet rising demand from customers, increase sales and marketing efforts, and further product development. Recent product enhancements for LevelEleven's flagship gamification platform, Compete, include real-time feedback, an updated user interface, newly designed leaderboards, and real-time breaking news bursts for LeaderTV. The company also recently announced a mobile application and strategic integration with several top cloud-computing providers.

The company currently has more than 85 customers, including Delta Airlines, OpenTable, Stanley/Black & Decker, and Concur.

Bunchball's business is also rising sharply, and the company has already signed partnership agreements with Salesforce.com, social business platform providers Jive and 7Summits, and NICE Systems, which now offers Bunchball's technology as part of its WFO suite.

Buchanan says gamification is "fundamentally about measuring performance and motivating improvement, and that aligns with what NICE is trying to do with its performance management and compensation management products."

Among Bunchball's larger customers are Adobe Systems, Cisco Systems, Hasbro, HP, T-Mobile, and Warner Bros.

T-Mobile is using Bunchball gamification to motivate its 30,000 customer care agents and retail store associates to make its online social business community the go-to destination for answering customer questions. Within two weeks of its deployment, more than 15,000 front-line employees completed an array of "Getting Started" missions. After six weeks, T-Mobile saw user participation in its T-Community increase by 1,000 percent and the number of "likes" assigned by employees to indicate a helpful response increase by 6,000 percent. T-Mobile awarded more than 187,000 achievement badges during that time.

T-Mobile's gamification effort "is taking off like wildfire," according to Krissy Espindola, director of knowledge management and social customer support at T-Mobile.

Because of gamification, "customers on the phone get the answers they need on the first call," Espindola says, noting that T-Mobile's first contact resolution rates and customer satisfaction scores continue to climb month after month.

These early adopters are just the tip of the iceberg for the technology, which has been around--at least in theory--for quite some time.

"There's a lot of pent-up desire for [gamification]," says Abe Smith, director of business development at Badgeville. "People get it. They know they have to reach their workforces in a different way."

But while gamification is finally starting to make its way into the mainstream, Buchanan knows all too well that he still has his work cut out for him. "Gamification is hot as a topic, but it makes some of our customers a bit anxious because it's new in the contact center and service operations space," he says. "The key thing that we've found is that by reinforcing it fundamentally as [a way] to motivate employees, they get it. A big thing companies are struggling with is delivering a better customer experience.... They need more engaged employees, and this is a critical way to do that."

WHAT CAN BE GAMIFIED?

Companies can use gamification to reward incremental improvements in productivity, such as answering a set number of calls in an hour, reducing average call handling time by a certain percentage, or resolving customer issues without having to escalate calls. They can also recognize employees for improving service quality, as evidenced through customer surveys administered after interactions with agents; for increasing their knowledge through training; for responding to complaints or questions that come in through social media or email channels within a set period of time; or for driving traffic to company knowledge bases or online portals.

Steve Sims, founder of the Badgeville Behavior Lab and vice president of solutions and design at Badgeville, points out that anything that can be measured in the contact center can also be gamified. "But you have to tell the agents what you want them to do and why," he cautions.

In the contact center, gamification can be applied to many things, "from entering information in the knowledge base to logging and handling more phone calls, chats, or email," Sims says. The most basic contests can involve reducing average call handling time, raising Net Promoter Scores, and increasing first-call resolutions, he adds.

"Contact centers have evolved a whole bunch of KPIs [key performance indicators] over the years--call duration, number of tickets solved, number of calls handled, reassigns, escalations. The list is practically endless," Bhaskaran says. He also points out that all contact center activities come down to three basic metrics: speed of resolving an issue, accuracy of the response, and customer-reported satisfaction scores. However, he adds that contact centers should also periodically gamify other objectives, such as updating knowledge base entries.

Gamification, Bhaskaran mentions, can be instituted as a long-term strategy or implemented for shorter durations when managers see a need for improvements. "In the long term, gamification ensures processes and work flows do not end up getting monotonous over time. In the short term, gamifying tactical objectives allows the whole support team to step on the pedal and solve a temporary issue right away," he explains.

SET CLEAR IMPROVEMENT GOALS

One of the trickiest parts of an implementation, experts advise, could be determining the targets to be achieved. While setting lofty goals might appear to be a good motivator, employees will react negatively to unrealistic goals.

Ideally, a target should stretch employees to achieve a higher level of performance, but still be based in reality, using established industry best practices, the experts suggest. The goal must be consistent for all employees and across all customer interactions and then it must be clearly communicated to all employees.

When managers notice a slippage in one area, it is a good idea to implement contests to bring that number up again. Here, managers need to determine what percentage improvement is needed to close the gap between the current level and the benchmark.

Other special contests can be held monthly, quarterly, or yearly as needed or desired, Sims says. "You can implement [any contest] quickly, and you can easily change up what you reward for from one week to the next."

But, he and others caution, contests can lose their motivational power over time without personalization, transparency, and immediate feedback.

THE (LOWER THAN EXPECTED) COST OF GAMIFICATION

And the good news is that it doesn't take much to motivate and engage employees: For most, a kind word and public recognition go a lot farther than a hefty bonus, according to the "2013 Employee Recognition Study" by Make Their Day, an employee motivation consulting firm, and Badgeville. In the study, 70 percent of participants reported being motivated more by recognition and virtual rewards than by financial incentives, such as pay raises, bonuses, or company stock options.

In the same research, formal recognition by peers and supervisors was found to be the top draw. Other common rewards include online badges and titles or access to privileges like special parking spots or free lunches. Only 14 percent identified gifts or financial compensation valued at more than $1,000 as their preferred rewards.

According to Bhaskaran, some of FreshDesk's clients have offered gift cards and direct incentives to the top performers on their support teams, and a smaller number even tie the salary of support agents to their monthly game scores as a variable component on their paychecks.

"On a longer scale, though, intangible rewards, like seeing their names on top of a leaderboard and competing to win badges and bragging rights, are great motivators," he says.

Sims likens gamification to posting an employee of the month photo on the corkboard in the break room. "But we enable it to be digital and real time," he says. "You reward people for what they're doing and make it clear what they need to do next" to advance in the game.

For gamification to be an effective motivator, companies need to make all of the results public so team members can see where they stand compared to their colleagues, Bhaskaran advises. "Publishing scores for the whole company to see is probably not for everyone, but it definitely adds transparency and trust," he says.

This aligns with the Make Their Day study results. In that survey, 69 percent of employees said being recognized individually rather than as a team was more motivating; 76 percent were motivated by praise from their colleagues, and 88 percent found praise from their managers to be a big motivator.

That's why most gamification solutions offer a leaderboard feature. Freshdesk Arcade, for example, enables businesses to display a leaderboard of top performers in specific categories, such as speed in resolving an issue, accuracy in response, and customer-reported satisfaction scores, as well as the agent with the most overall points as the most valuable player.

Bunchball's Nitro solution also offers custom leaderboards that can be displayed publicly on dedicated monitors or TV screens. Or, with a single click on the user console, agents can see their current point totals, how many points they need to reach the next level, and the rewards toward which they are working.

Managers also have access to robust analytics and expert reports that can provide insight into what motivates service and support teams and to which challenges they respond the best.

Badgeville's Sims says posting the results to lighted displays where everyone can see them doesn't hurt, but notes that Web portals with real-time dashboards cost nothing to install and operate and can be just as effective.

QUICK ROI IS POSSIBLE

With most solutions now available in the cloud, the gamification apps themselves can also be very affordable, onboarding can be accomplished more quickly, and ROI can be realized in much less time.

Products from Bunchball, Badgeville, FreshDesk, and other vendors are software-as-a-service platforms rather than individual applications. As such, they can be easily customized to fit the individual needs of each company and enable the businesses to track behavior and activities across their Web and mobile properties. This also comes in handy, since every deployment will likely have different audiences and goals.

But for all their differences, there are some universal similarities.

Gamification "offers an easy and effective way for service organizations to engage and focus agents who daily face high volumes of calls and ever-increasing productivity goals ... and drive desirable behaviors that help cut costs, keep agents engaged, and improve customer service," says Joe Fisher, vice president of products at Bunchball.

Bhaskaran agrees. "The metric that really matters in the contact center is making the customer happy. Gamification makes sure that agents stay happy and focused, which means at the end of the day, customers are happy. And that's what really matters from a strategic point of view," he concludes.

News Editor Leonard Klie can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.
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Author:Klie, Leonard
Publication:CRM Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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