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Scott Buchanan

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Is gamification the answer to improving customer service performance?


Call it gamification, call it serious games, it can make a real difference to your business performance, says Scott Buchanan.

The issue of employee engagement is not a game. It describes a growing source of tension for service organisations. As customers increasingly resolve their most basic problems themselves, they contact companies with only their most complex issues. In turn, these issues require more skilled and engaged employees to answer these customer service calls.  The problem is that service worker engagement is actually declining. According to the Gallup Employee Engagement Index, “service worker” is the only category of worker less engaged today than in 2009.

It turns out that gamification is a great place to start driving employee engagement because it speaks to three dimensions of how an employee interacts with her work and her colleagues: commitment, competition and collaboration.


To effectively handle more complex customer issues, organisations need more skilled agents. This normally requires formal training sessions, which take people away from their desks and cost the company valuable staff hours.  But gamification offers an alternative. Instead of scheduling training sessions, try creating a ‘Product X Guru’ badge. To earn the badge, employees must: (a) review product documentation; (b) score 80% or higher on the product knowledge quiz; and (c) earn customer satisfaction scores of 9 (out-of-10) or higher on five consecutive calls. Upon completion, that badge will sits proudly on the employee’s profile page for all co-workers to see. Rather than be pulled away from their desks for two to 20 hours for classroom training, employees can progress against gamification objectives in pockets of free time through the day.

One call centre we worked with dumped standard training in favour of gamification for its 20,000 frontline agents. 80 percent of agents chose to complete training via gamification, and 72% even volunteered to complete skills courses that weren’t required. Customer satisfaction improved 10 points as handle time for service centre calls dropped 15% in just three months.


The majority (88%) of organisations run contests on whiteboards and by email, but more than two-thirds of them do so less than once a month, according to a performance management benchmarking study of 120 organisations my company conducted in 2013. Gamification provides an alternative to these existing programs, but rather than running contests once per month, organisations can engage their people in multiple quests and contests simultaneously.

Here’s an idea for a competitive contest with business advantages: create an Average Handle Time “crown” and let employees compete for it weekly. Then kick off an ongoing contest for the best customer feedback scores. A well designed gamification application will allow all competitors to see a leaderboard - for their team, site, or across sites - from their personal portal.

Research has found that 65% of employees would work harder if they were better recognised, according to a 2011 Globoforce Mood Tracker report. It’s powerful when recognition comes from achievements that are tightly aligned with company goals. That’s why companies that deploy gamification see annual revenue grow nearly twice as fast as their peers, according to a report last year by Aberdeen Research.


Finally, gamification can be a powerful driver of collaboration. Identify your top performers and encourage them to publish their best practices in a central library for others to view—maybe even with badges for top-rated content. For example, the employee who won a recent sales competition can document and share their approach to cross-selling. Or, the individual with the top customer satisfaction scores can describe how they turn frustrated callers into advocates.

Gamification also allows employees to seek out one another. If a new hire is working toward earning a “first call resolution” badge and is stumped by one objective, gamification makes it easy to identify colleagues who have already earned the distinction and solicit their advice.

At one major auto manufacturer, gamification drove the creation of four times more best practices than previously, including hundreds of entries from top performers. Younger employees reached out to more seasoned staff 40% more often for guidance and support. Internal network traffic in three months exceeded all the visits to best practice documentation from the previous year.

Bottom-line business impact

If you want to drive employee engagement and unlock the potential of your people, get in the game. Gamification is not just entertainment; it is a powerful way to measure and motivate your people. In our experience, companies see real business impact across this progression:

  • Onboarding - Organisations that create simple, modular training levels lead new hires through the right progression of documents, activities and benchmarks. We have seen organisations reduce ramp-up time by more than 90 percent (four weeks to 14 hours).
  • Engagement - Gamification is a powerful way to combat disengaged employees and further engage your best performers. It motivates employees with healthy competition and recognition for great performance.
  • Retention - Employees work hard to earn badges, and when they are well recognised (and decorated) they stay longer on the job. 78%  of US  workers surveyed said that being recognised motivates them to stay at their company, according to the Globoforce report.

The concept of gamification speaks to workers as people and sets their imaginations alight. And as more companies recognise its potential to engage their employees, the quality of their customer service is increasing exponentially, and at greatly reduced cost.

This article first appeared on our sister site for CRM professionals,

Scott Buchanan is head of marketing for workforce optimisation solutions at NICE Systems.


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