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Should you gamify IT support?

Last month I was part of a panel charged with discussing trends that were likely to impact IT service management in the next few years. The usual suspects of Cloud, BYOD and customer-centricity were popular topics but we ran out of time before we could properly discuss something I was keen to explore – gamification.

I don’t know if gamification will, or should, become a trend or remain a blip, but if you’d like to learn a bit about what’s happening in the space of IT gamification, read on and I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

What is this gamification thing?

Gamification (pronounced game-ification, not gamm-ification as my fellow panellist insisted on calling it) has nothing to do with legs or whales (Google “define gam”) but refers to the act of adding gaming elements to a non-gaming activity.

The goal of gamification in an IT support context is to improve staff productivity, make customer support more fun and reduce burnout and turnover.

Gamification is being realised via customer support software that awards points to staff for first level resolutions, quick resolutions, satisfying customers and writing knowledge articles – basically, any behaviour that you want to promote. The accumulation of these points enables analysts to earn badges (e.g. “Customer Superstar” or “Fastest Troubleshooter in the West”) and  compete against each other in leaderboards like this one:

Example of a leaderboard from the UserVoice customer support software

If you’re interested in how points are earnt, have a quick look at the way gamification is implemented in Freshdesk, one of a group of newer/funkier (but limited) customer support tools: Freshdesk – Four Reasons to Gamify your Help Desk/

You can see gamification trending by the growth in Google searches for the term (trending steeply up since 2010) and by the increasing amount of software that includes or enables gamification.

In addition to Freshdesk, there’s UserVoice and PlayVox, as well as tools that help integrate gaming elements into other software, such as Badgeville and Bunchball Nitro. And the use of gamified-tools doesn’t seem to be confined to the realms of the three-person web start-up. For example, Deloitte have successfully built gaming mechanics into an executive training portal used by thousands of executives worldwide (HBR How Deloitte Made Learning a Game).

But the jury is still out on the gamification front…

One of my favourite books of recent times is ‘Drive’ by Dan Pink. If you have staff reporting to you and you haven’t read it, you really should. At the very least, watch this 10 minute summary on YouTube: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.

‘Drive’ is all about what motivates people and describes compelling research that shows that traditional incentives used by businesses to reward employees (e.g. bonuses) are not only ineffective but potentially detrimental. And their conclusion was that the most powerful motivators for employees are intrinsic in nature – the joy of the task itself (e.g. the love of providing great customer service) – not extrinsic, like money. Or points. Or badges.

Another reason that the jury is still out on gamification, is that there’s a danger of it being a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It may be implemented under the guise of making work more rewarding for support staff, but with the real (and possibly transparent) goal of converting individual performance into a simple points system to be used by HR for ‘performance management’ purposes.

For example, Groupon have said this about their use of PlayVox, “PlayVox lets us detect and make a quick diagnosis of underperforming agents or those who ignore certain important procedures in serving our customers”. And I suspect that if an organisation’s primary driver for gamifying IT support is not the same as Groupon’s, they’d still have their work cut out in convincing employees of their true goals.

Now if I was a senior Gartner or Forrester analyst I could make the gamification of IT become a trend just by writing about it, but as the MD of a boutique consultancy I have no such power. So I’ll leave it to you to determine whether gamification is good or evil and seal its fate by electing to embrace it or shun it.

What do you think?

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