One way that many sales teams, customer contact centers, and even back office operations units drive performance is through the use of gamification. Gamification is the use of fun contests or systematized rewards and incentives to drive the behavior of employees or customers (let’s call them “users” for the purposes of this article). Though this technique has been used in some way or another since time immemorial, it has only recently become a discipline in its own right. 

Technology has enabled gamification to take off and be utilized in new, innovative ways. Digital badges and virtual contests motivate users, and gamification processes can be automated to minimize cost and effort. And with the advent of social media, can users share their accomplishments and successes with the wider world. When gamification "players" do this, they give your brand free, credible advertising, and in many ways, an endorsement. 

However, despite the benefits, there are many ways gamification initiatives can go awry. Here are six pitfalls to avoid at all costs.

1) Failing to Match Outcomes With Desired Behavior

It is important to design the gamification program to match the desired behaviors and outcomes from the users. If a workplace groups its employees into teams, for example, then gamification should foster cooperation among team members. On the other hand, there are cases where program moderators seek to maximize individual performance, such as in a traditional real estate office, or with independent salespeople.

2) Confusing Behavior With Results

According to Alejandro Morales, CEO of CRMGamified, there is a common temptation to confuse behaviors with effects in gamification. For example, let's say you want to boost the number of deals closed. While it might seem natural to create a contest or launch a gamification initiative rewarding the person who closes the most deals, this isn't the best idea. Think about it: What behavior leads to the result of more closed deals? Through this lens, the behavior springs into focus -- making more calls.

By focusing on results instead of behaviors, you run the risk of discouraging necessary behaviors, or reducing customer satisfaction by driving the wrong actions. "Match your business process and goals with what could be attractive for your people,” says Morales.

3) Bending the Rules

“Also vital is to be clear on the ‘rules of the game’ and respect them without exception," Morales says. "We usually advise our customers to launch a gamified incentive program. For example, we have a customer that is using its CRM system to track the prompt recording of employee timesheets and is paying bonuses based on the accumulation of compliance points.

"If the person doesn’t complete the timesheet within two days, his or her account returns to zero," he continues. "Everybody was warned about this rule. You can either respect it and be economically rewarded, or you won’t.”

4) It’s Not All About the Money

The most obvious motivator is a cash award, and while money is important -- especially in sales environments -- employee engagement is a complex beast. Things that to the uninitiated may seem trivial can actually be incredibly important and rewarding.

When launching a gamification program, consider offering rewards other than cash. Here are some ideas:

  • Preferred parking spots. This incentive is especially motivating in downtown locations or areas where parking is a premium.
  • Dinner with the CEO or division head. This gives the employee exposure and the ability to share his or her ideas with senior leaders.
  • Paid time off. Sweeten the pot with entertainment passes or vouchers for the entire family.

5) Measuring the Wrong Metrics

People don’t always appreciate feeling closely measured or observed. Still, when we have a clear idea of what it means to do a good job, we can perform better. In addition, we're usually more satisfied with our jobs because we understand the system is fair and objective.

When gamification is employed, it's important to provide each audience with the relevant key performance indicators to their function. Managers need to monitor the impact of gamification on the bottom line, and line employees need to understand where they stand today and where they can improve. Performance metrics should be framed as a journey -- not “you are good or bad” but “this is where you are, and this is how far you need to go to reach the next level of performance, reward, etc.”

6) Frustrating Beginners

Gamification should not simply reward the “rockstar performers” and leave everyone else behind. Don’t make achievement levels so high that new employees or average performers become demotivated. Overly ambitious targets turn gamification into “shamification." Build missions, levels, categories, and even handicaps into your gamification initiative so employees of all experience and skill levels feel that progress is attainable.

What can you do to sidestep these pitfalls and get your gamification program off on the right foot? According to Morales, four principles -- dubbed the “four S's” -- are key to gamification’s success.

  1. Success. The gamification program enables the user to overcome challenges and attain victory.
  2. Structure. The game features simple and clear rules so that players feel the odds are not stacked against them. If any traveler has been frustrated or confused when trying to understand an airline’s frequent flyer program, he or she will understand why this is so important.
  3. Smart. Users like to demonstrate -- consciously or unconsciously -- how smart and clever they are. This is where social media is important, as well as leaderboards and scoreboards inside the contact center or on the sales floor.
  4. Social. People are social creatures, with a strong need to belong to a group. When used properly, gamification can promote team bonding, or what the military calls “unit cohesion.” The sharing of results, status, and accomplishments is an important human societal need, and gamification leverages this need to drive performance.

In summary, technology allows contact centers, sales forces, service organizations, and even back office teams a fun and effective way to drive performance while fostering a positive and engaging workplace culture. Key to success is incentivizing the right behaviors, and knowing what to measure. To ensure your program's success, it is best to consult with a professional specialist when implementing a technology-enabled gamification initiative.

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Originally published Aug 20, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

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