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Gamification: Using play to motivate employees and engage customers

Robert Strohmeyer | Aug. 29, 2013
Turning business goals into games, with points and prizes, can boost results—if you do it right.


Smart businesspeople have long understood the value of competition as a motivator. Performance leaderboards hold a prominent place in sales offices, on factory floors, and in other business environments. Academic institutions use GPAs and class rankings to inspire a competitive edge. In a famous scene from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, the managers of a fictional real estate company spiced up their monthly sales contest with a tough-love pep talk from Alec Baldwin [NSFW].

Over the past decade or so, tech-savvy companies have begun exploring, adopting, and refining the principles of game mechanics in increasingly sophisticated ways to get better performance from their staffers and to encourage desired behavior from their customers. And although the term gamification has all the hallmarks of a shallow marketing buzzword, experts across the tech industry agree that there's no denying the data: When you make work more fun, you get more and better work. And when you reward customers for engaging in fun, easy activities, they engage more often and more deeply.

What is gamification?
Gamification is a long, awkward word, and some industry experts deride it as somewhat deceiving and inaccurate. But the concept it describes is simple—to make nongame activities more fun and engaging, you make them more like games. That idea can mean a lot of different things in practice, but here are a few of the most basic characteristics of gamification in action:

  • Simple, recognizable cues for next actions
  • Clear, instant feedback for actions taken
  • Easily identifiable markers for ranking and performance
  • Streamlined, accessible paths to further achievement

Think about any good video game. Take Angry Birds, for example. Within the game, you have a clear, overarching objective: Kill as many pigs as you can by flinging angry little birds at them with a slingshot. With every bird you fling, you get immediate feedback. You hear smashing upon impact, and grunting from the pigs. You see objects explode into bits. You hear the angry birds cheer. And you see points accrue for your various accomplishments. All these pieces of feedback work in concert to stimulate your subconscious into continuing play and striving to earn more points by constantly improving your talents for bird-flinging and pig-smashing.

Now think about sales-management software. Your overarching goal is to generate as much revenue as you can. In pursuit of that goal, you do lots of little things: You call customers, hold internal meetings, watch training videos about the product line, and so on. In a gamified model, you'd get points for all those things. Just made a cold call? Regardless of the outcome, ding! You win points. Was that your hundredth cold call of the week? DING! You just earned yourself a badge, you cold-calling maniac, and everyone on your team knows it. Your boss knows it. Just closed your biggest sale ever? DING! DING! DING! You're a closer, and coffee is for closers. You can share that badge on Facebook so that all your friends know what a stupendous butt-kicker you are.


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