Let’s Play

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI was quite skeptical about “gamification,” the use of gaming concepts to motivate desirable behavior among employees or customers. Playing “games” at work, I reasoned, would lower productivity and decrease profitability. And although applying gamification to customers might result in a short-term increase in brand involvement or purchases, I doubted if it was sustainable.

However, I am rethinking my initial assessment, because either by intent or accident, I was involved in a basic gamification effort a few years ago as a Netflix customer. When I posted my first movie review, I was given a “reviewer rank.” As I posted more reviews, my rank improved. At one point, I was ranked in the neighborhood of 5,000 out of several million reviewers. Improving my rank became a challenge for me, almost like a game. Yes, I enjoyed watching the movies and I found it rewarding to share my input with other Netflix customers, but the validation of my efforts came through watching my rank improve.

However, if it was a “game,” the problem was I didn’t know the rules; those details weren’t shared. I assumed that more reviews were good, more people reading my reviews was considered positively, and more people flagging my reviews as “helpful” in comparison to “not helpful” was also a factor. But this could not be verified, as everything I did was in relation to what others did. So if I engaged in activity to improve my reviewer rank but others did even more to improve theirs, my rank could actually decrease, despite the fact that I was engaging in desirable behavior.

Eventually I reviewed seventy-one movies, but I abruptly stopped when I realized I no longer enjoyed doing so. Despite posting no new reviews for over two years, my rank is still a respectable 24,387.

This initiative could have been improved by communicating to reviewers how the rank was calculated. It also would have been less discouraging to reward levels of participation – which could not be lost – as opposed to assigning a rank – that could be lost. This would have allowed me to compete against the system, which was static, as opposed to fellow reviewers, whose ranks were always in a state of flux.

Despite this, Netflix’s reviewer rank did motivate me to contribute user-generated content, thereby enhancing the movie selection process of other customers. I think that was their goal.

More recently, I posted three book reviews on Amazon.com. My rank is 886,600, and I’m wondering what it will take to improve it.

More importantly, I wonder if gamification can be applied to the call center. My worry is that there are intangibles that can’t be measured, possibly motivating agents to skip activities that are not factored into the game, thus placing game results above customer service outcomes.

I hope I’m wrong, but I need your input to confirm or refute my suspicions. If you’re applying gamification techniques in your call center, please email me (peter@connectionsmagazine.com) about your experiences; I’d love to hear from you.

[Read more about gamification.]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine September 2012]

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