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How ‘Gamification’ Can Make Your Customer Service Worse (wired.com)
24 points by sunir on Nov 14, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 7 comments

It’s good to see someone taking a critical look at all the hype around “gamification.”

We (UserVoice) built our kudos and leaderboard system (which we hesitate to call “gamification”) based on the feedback we received from customer support agents who provide great Zappos-style customer service but felt they lacked any sense of accomplishment. We saw a lot of internal customer service reports in these organizations that used screenshots of positive support ticket threads to try and capture the sentiment that we now do with “kudos.”

It’s worth pointing out that there’s really two completely different worlds of customer service: the ugly, painful call center world and the much more humane version that’s coming out of internet companies like Klipfolio (check out my UserConf talk for more about this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKapwfmpvew&feature=relmf...). UserVoice users are decidedly from that latter group, so our “gamification” methods focus more on rewarding/ quantifying good work (driven by intrinsic motivations) agents are already doing. I, too, am skeptical that you could simply drop a leaderboard into a United Air Lines call center and get massively better output.

One final thing to note is that we go out of our way to make sure that kudos and our leaderboard are used for friendly agent-to-agent or agent-vs-self competition and do not become something on which managers base performance decisions. As soon as that happens, you end up with the “If you liked my service please give me a 10 in the follow-up survey call” that I’m increasingly hearing when I talk to the “old world” of customer service.

Richard White, CEO - UserVoice

> our “gamification” methods focus more on rewarding/ quantifying good work...

Great, but if I understand correctly these are still result-based. Is that correct?

Might I suggest that a better system would focus on rewarding effort rather than results? Results are out of my control, but my effort is something that I can repeat. There's some good research showing performance improves if you praise effort rather than result. I can't say whether this applies to gamification.

Why reward you if you're trying hard but doing terrible work?

You should be rewarding good service.

Agreed. My first reaction was thank the stars someone is addressing this fiasco. There are certainly good places for this kind of engagement but honestly I really think it's getting out of control.

As Richard said it’s good to see someone taking a critical look at how Gamification is applied to Customer Service.

Running a Call Center is not an easy task. The easy part is adapting to and using the technology needed to run it. The big challenge comes down to people related issues that are more psychological than technological. Call Centers are driven by metrics, which in itself is not a negative thing. The issue appears when managers forget how their agent’s emotion and motivation are behind the metrics. At the end of the day, business success depends on people’s performance, how Call Center managers and directors are able to manage employee expectations, motivation, and align their personal goals with company goals over time.

Call Centers are capable of generating large volumes of information every day, but this data is only available to a select few people. What about the Agents? I believe that data should be available on a personal level to empower learning and performance. Giving them access to this data will transform the Call Center by bringing transparency and meritocracy. Recognition becomes easy when this information is available.

Most Gamification platforms lack the necessary focus to understand business processes and problems that add real value to their customers. Instead, they are in the business to Gamify everything. I think this is wrong, you can’t transform the Customer Service industry just by giving points or posting agents on leaderboards.

We created PlayVox with the idea to make Call Centers better places to work. I know how difficult the work is and strongly believe that little changes will help transform this workplace and generate great results. We believe in a more meritocratic and more transparent place to work, where recognition, promotion and pay are based on performance and not politics. Gamification or not I think Call Centers need to humanize the metrics and recognize people for their contributions.

At the end of the day, I don’t think Gamification is right or wrong, it simply depends on the context, the problem and how techniques are applied to change people’s behavior for the better.

Oscar Giraldo, Founder & CEO, http://PlayVox.com

Gamification quite rightfully takes a lot of flak. Earning meaningless shiny coins in order to compete for some position in the leaderboards makes the process feel somewhat shallow, even silly. Successful games don't have this problem.

However, I don't believe that the emotional rewards of playing a well-crafted game that was at least tangentially based on some otherwise boring real-world activity are meaningless.

Some people might say that the folks who made DragonBox have essentially 'gamified' the learning of basic algebra - but I'd say they did a pretty solid job. I don't get the sense of conceptual shallowness from it that is usually present in such games.

Some things can be turned into games with an almost 1:1 map between game mechanics and the equivalent real world activity. Some games (like one I'm currently making, which involves somewhat more advanced mathematics) wouldn't work with such a map, but instead benefit from a more oblique approach. Consider how games like Sid Meier's Civilizations or Age of Empires teach history, or how the codex entries and galaxy map in Mass Effect might at least open some people's minds to concepts in frontier physics or planetary science, respectively. This is still quite unexplored territory.

I believe similar things can be achieved for more precise and even advanced concepts, although by imparting a more refined understanding to the player. The key is to carefully choose small sections of a subject that are amenable to being mapped obliquely (not 1:1) to game mechanics, while being careful to make the 'game' part feel 100% genuine.

The term 'gamification,' however, seems to imply that you can take a boring/repetitive/unpleasant thing in the real world, throw a half-decent game designer at it and some programmers, and you end up with a game that turns all aspects of that activity into something that not only produces the same real-world benefit, but is also fun. I don't think this is possible in general - only in very specific cases.

The point is that the information cost of turning something into a game is not zero, and is measured by the degree of simplification and loss of rigour or real-world value. As long as the gamifiers are willing to make subjective calculations like these, I'm all for it, but not if they claim that the gamified thing is functionally equivalent to the real thing.

Relevant: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0618001816

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes

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