Last year, in the March 2016 issue of this magazine, I wrote a column about gamification and called it, “The Game is Afoot! Contact Center Gamification in the Post-Sherlockian Era.” I thought it was a pretty clever title since I’ve been kind of a Sherlock Holmes geek since I was a teenager. My hypothesis when writing that column was that Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, would have been fascinated by gamification as it is applied in the contact center.
Gamification isn’t a new concept for the contact center, but it is one that has yet to really catch on. I first learned about the theory and application of gamification about a decade ago at the Saddletree Research Summit in Carefree, Ariz. I did two Saddletree Research Summit events in years past; one in 2005 and one in 2006. The idea was to gather intellectually curious contact center professionals in a relaxed environment to discuss the strategic implications of evolving technologies and management tactics in the contact center environment.
The motivation behind the Saddletree Summits was to rekindle the kind of intellectually stimulating and forward-looking conference sessions that used to be common in contact center trade shows in the 1990s and early 2000s, before most major industry conferences and trade events became homogenized. The objective was to attract industry professionals who perhaps felt that the current crop of trade conferences had evolved in a direction that no longer interested them. We had visionary companies like Verint and Aspect as Saddletree Summit sponsors and some very interesting delegates in attendance.
One of the most interesting attendees at the 2006 Saddletree Research Summit was a professor from the University of Wyoming, Brooks Mitchell, Ph.D. I had never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Mitchell before the Saddletree Summit, but he turned out to hold a wealth of knowledge regarding gamification, and he was interested in applying that knowledge to the contact center industry.
If you go to YouTube and search for “Brooks Mitchell gamification” you’ll find a couple of videos in which Dr. Mitchell discusses the history of workforce gamification. I don’t want to spoil any surprises for you, but according to Dr. Mitchell, the concept of gamification has been around since 1974. These videos are worth watching, especially for the historical perspective they provide on a solution that we tend to think is a fairly new phenomenon. And don’t miss the story of Howard Hughes’ Christmas turkey gone wrong.
So why is it important to talk about gamification again, especially since I just wrote about it a year ago? I believe it’s important because of industry attitudes in 2017, which indicate that gamification may be the solution much of the industry is looking for to smooth out some contact center wrinkles that have confounded it for decades.
Regular readers of this column will recall that last month I wrote about contact center people issues that were uncovered during a series of year-end interviews I conducted with members of the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) during December. For more information on this interview exercise, be sure to read my February column; but in a nutshell, I asked survey participants what their primary concern was regarding their contact center as we began the year 2017. The answer wasn’t customer experience optimization. The answer wasn’t contact center cloud. It wasn’t omnichannel customer communications. In fact, it wasn’t anything to do with technology or the latest industry techno-babble. The overwhelming answer was “people issues.”
Agent turnover in the U.S. contact center still averages around 40% per year. When we research turnover rates, we look at percentage ranges so putting a finger on the exact turnover percentage is difficult, but we’re confident in our estimate. We believe it costs, on average, about $6,000 to recruit, hire, train and on-board an agent. If you pull out your calculator and do the math on any contact center, even the ones with relatively low turnover rates, the annual cost of agent turnover can be staggering.
Not only is agent turnover costly, it is disruptive. Consistency in customer service practice is critically important to the success of any contact center and if you have to constantly deal with a parade of new agents on the phone, it just adds to the stress level.
Given the cost factors of agent turnover, it should be fairly easy to justify the cost of implementing a gamification solution in the contact center. But beyond the financial justification, there is also a human nature factor at play here. People like to be recognized and rewarded for a job well done. If they feel they’re not appreciated or valued as a part of the organization, they’ll usually be out the door and completing an application at the contact center down the road in short order.
Most of the contact center executives I spoke with in December confirmed that they had employee performance recognition programs in force at their contact centers. In fact, one of them even gave away a new television to the top performer every week. The beauty of gamification, however, is that it spreads the distribution of reward and recognition to a much greater percentage of the agent population. An agent doesn’t have to be the top team performer in order to receive performance recognition and reward through the achievement of markers or badges that can be displayed as a point of pride or later redeemed for tangible prizes, if that’s what a particular contact center wants to do.
Gamification is no longer a niche product offered by a handful of specialty vendors. Today gamification is an integral component of any comprehensive workforce optimization (WFO) software suite. The confluence of demand and availability indicates that gamification is a solution whose time has come.
As employee engagement continues to climb the spectrum of operational importance on its way to meet customer experience optimization at the top, the industry will continue to turn toward new solutions to address its overriding problems. Gamification is already here, it’s proven and it’s ready to roll. If you have people issues in your contact center, it’s time to take a hard look at how gamification might work for you. The time is right for gamification in the contact center.
So, let the games begin!