It’s Time to Play! Leverage the Power of Games to Promote Service Outcomes

by Michael Wiles

“Life is more fun if you play games” – Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald

gamebannerHow do you engage your customers?  Motivate your employees?  Make it a game!  Service firms are increasingly turning to gamification to enhance consumer and employee outcomes.

It isn’t just teenage boys who care about games. Industry estimates are that over 70 percent of U.S. households play video games, and over 80 percent of gamers are adults. Further, around 40 percent of gamers are women. As video gaming has become more prevalent and ubiquitous on smart phones, individuals are becoming more accepting of game-like experiences in other contexts.

Broadly speaking, gamification refers to the inclusion of game design principles into the firm’s offerings to motivate specific behavior. Games are rule-based, with a clear goal, and provide rewards for success. Games are often social, making gamification a perfect component for firms’ social media offerings, but game principles can be embedded anywhere to promote participation. With games, individuals are motivated in part for fun of the experience and for a sense of achievement, but also because of the competitive nature of games and desire for status and rewards.

More commonly, gamification is often thought in terms of game mechanics or the suite of tools that firms use to promote this engagement. For instance, firms may award users status symbols such as badges for participating in some tasks (e.g., checking in, writing a review, or providing suggestions). Users may progress through achievement levels with particular milestones for accomplishments, or there may be a leader board tracking (and motivating) progress. For instance, Yelp provides an Elite badge to recognize and reward reviewers who extensively contribute to the site and the larger Yelp community by posting reviews and commenting on other reviewers. Status bars, such as LinkedIn’s, show user completion percentages and are another frequently employed tactic to spur compliance. Game dynamics may be utilized to incent all sorts of customer behavior, which suggests that gamification may be a key mechanism for promoting customer self-service, or perhaps the adoption of new service technologies. For instance, Starwood offered its loyalty program members bonus points for bookings on its iPhone app.

Gamification can be a valuable tool for shaping employees’ behavior as well. Deloitte consulting’s Who-What-Where program was designed to promote use of their social intranet and to enhance employee collaboration and knowledge sharing by rewarding consultants with badges and status rewards for posting about who they are meeting with, where, and what topics they discussed. Finally, sometimes gamification involves providing an actual game. For instance, Marriott developed a web-based video game, My Marriott HotelTM, to attract candidates to consider hospitality management as a potential career. In the game, individuals ran a hotel kitchen, an area where hotel managers frequently get their start. Individuals planned and organized their kitchen equipment, managed staff, and operated the restaurant, while competing on metrics such as customer satisfaction and restaurant operating profits. Marriott found this to be a fun and engaging way to raise awareness about career in hospitality and attract prospective associates.

As these examples illustrate, gamification can be an incredibly valuable tool for service firms to engage customers and employees.  For instance, badges could be an effective way to prompt trial of new service offerings or to motivate employees to learn new skills. These game mechanics may also provide the right mix of incentives to spur customer co-production and the adoption of new service technologies, two of the more difficult service operations challenges.

So… do you want to play?

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