With British MP Nigel Mills recently caught playing Candy Crush during a Parliamentary committee hearing in the Palace of Westminster, it would seem that no workplace is safe from the invasion of online gaming. But what if the psychological concepts that underpin such apps could be harnessed to the benefit – rather than the detriment – of the employer in question?
Well, it’s not quite as fanciful an idea as it first seems, with the theory of ‘gamification’ now steadily gaining traction in the corporate world. But what exactly is ‘gamification’ and can it really work? Here at IDC we define the concept as a business strategy – enabled by technology – that applies game theory and mechanics to non-game situations in order to drive or change specific behaviours. And evidence is beginning to emerge that its implementation can deliver tangible results.
Gamification is already successfully being used to shape behaviours and achieve specific corporate goals in the areas of customer and employee engagement. Indeed, an increasing number of organisations across the vertical spectrum are creating enjoyable and engaging experiences – for employees and customers – that are designed to modify specific, predefined behaviours as a way of achieving a defined corporate goal.
To understand how gamification may be used, it’s vital to understand game mechanics. Gamification emerged from the computer and video game industry, so some of its fundamentals are closely tied to techniques utilised in these contexts. Game mechanics are the basic rule frameworks and feedback processes that produce an engaging game, and they tend to include the provision of challenges and points, the encouragement of community collaboration, and the public measurement of progress. Crucially, though, they also include the theory of blissful productivity; the idea that playing a game in conjunction with hard work can instill greater happiness than mere relaxation alone.
The concept of getting people to engage in ‘work’ without even realising they are doing so is well known to 5th Grade teachers the world over, but its application in the adult workplace is a truly intriguing development. In terms of employee engagement, gamification can be utilised to enhance the areas of sales productivity, performance and learning, participation and collaboration, technology use, and feedback. In the customer sphere, it can be used to draw clients into specific activities, increase loyalty, improve lead generation, and create a more active customer–company relationship.
One successful implementation that I am particularly familiar with involves a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider that serves a community of ISVs with subscription-based access to platform tools. In what is becoming a common approach to support, the company wanted to build a customer community that would enhance its customers’ experiences while reducing the company’s support burden. It also saw opportunities to encourage greater innovation and product feedback within this community.
In its quest to encourage and reward specific customer behaviours – engaging with content, utilising the knowledge base, completing surveys, participating in forums, reporting bugs, and submitting feature requests – the company turned to gamification. The solution it opted for included achievements to reward the aforementioned behaviours, and missions to draw customers into completing surveys and providing feedback. And as a result of this gamified community environment, the company saw a 20 per cent reduction in support tickets, a 40 per cent increase in forum and knowledge base use, and a 40 per cent reduction in ticket response time by its own support team.
Organisations such as this are at the forefront of the gamification movement, but they are increasingly being joined by many others. And internal corporate communities (or enterprise social networks) can also benefit from gamification, with EMC measuring a 41 per cent increase in activity in its employee community after introducing gamification to achieve that very aim.
However, I believe that gamification can be used beyond engaging with employees and customers. For example, it appears that partner engagement and motivation would be relatively similar to the other uses to which gamification is already being applied. In particular, the quest to drive greater partner participation in idea sourcing, marketing programmes, training, and the use of new technology all seem like natural fits for gamification.
So what is the next step? Well, those enterprises that have not yet considered gamification should begin to explore this approach to their relationships with customers, employees, and partners. I encourage them to play with the concept of gamification, experimenting with ad hoc, proof-of-concept projects before undertaking any concrete deployments. And before implementing gamification to bring about change, it is critical that the organisation clearly defines the behaviour to be changed, appreciates why changing this particular behavior is important from a business strategy standpoint, and understands how game theory will be used to bring about the desired results.
The use of experimental projects to gain information about how the enterprise might best use gamification will help create a viable action plan for exploiting gamification to secure a strategic advantage. And while its proponents can’t promise that the world’s politicians will suddenly start paying attention in ‘class’, one can hope that gamification will enable them to do something slightly more productive with their time than playing with virtual sweets.
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