More than just fun and games

One of the outsourcing industry’s fastest growing business trends, gamification is helping firms to improve their employees’ working practices, as Jason Hesse discovers


When gamification is discussed, many people immediately think of games. Yet it extends much further. Gamification is defined as the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems.

It isn’t about turning everything into a game, explains Gabe Zichermann, author of Game-Based Marketing. “This is a very common misconception, but not every situation is suitable to turn into a game. What we want to do is to take the best ideas out of games, which often don’t look like games at all.”

Why is gamification one of the hottest trends in the business outsourcing industry? The industry has been a gamification pioneer for many years, using game-based concepts to motivate and challenge employees.

Much business process outsourcing work is “boring”, says Mr Zichermann. “Jobs tend to be low or middle-level tasks, such as data entry or fielding calls. By using gamification techniques, many outsourcers can get their employees to do the job better and more effectively, cutting down on errors and increasing throughput.”

The most popular gamification tool is a leader board, where staff compete against one another based on certain criteria

A recent white paper by IT services firm Cognizant recognises this. According to the report, most people are inspired by a challenge or the promise of a reward and they feel gratified when they win something. “These basic human tendencies can be channelled into behaviours that are rewarding not just to the users – be they employees, customers or business partners – but also to the company itself. For most companies, it makes business sense to invest in strategies and process enablers that reinforce behaviours which meet corporate objectives, rather than merely executing processes.”

For outsourcers, the most popular gamification tool is a leader board, where staff compete against one another based on certain criteria; for example, the number of calls or the number of sales conversions.

A leader board is proven to boost employee productivity, says Toby Beresford, a gamification expert and founder of leader board software company Leaderboarded. “It’s a simple but effective way for outsourcers to engage employees,” he says. “You can get quick improvements out of these game mechanics.” Other gamification concepts revolve around contests, challenges and team play.

The primary benefit of using gamification techniques is improving employees’ job satisfaction and, therefore, cutting down on attrition. Mario Herger, a senior innovation strategist at enterprise software giant SAP, says gamification’s “dirty secret” is feedback.

He explains: “In a game, you’re constantly getting feedback about how you and others are doing. But in work, this is often not the case; employees might just get an annual performance review. By providing continuous feedback through game-like tools, workers can learn and understand how to improve. If they have the feeling that they’re progressing and learning, it’s extremely satisfying for them.”

Gamification can help make outsourcing work more interesting. “Typically, being a call-centre agent is not satisfying,” says Mr Herger. “But with a gamified approach to work, they can become more engaged, motivated and encouraged. They will learn and improve, receiving feedback from peers and clients.”

This not only improves employee job satisfaction, but it also benefits the business outsourcer and its customers directly. “By making a job more interesting and satisfying, employees will enjoy what they do and the customers feel that. Customers can tell when someone is going the extra mile; it’s very positive for the whole company and will be reflected in customer satisfaction.”

Mr Zichermann adds: “At the end of the day, the job still has to be done; someone still has to sit there for eight hours and work. But instead of coercing employees into it, you can engineer their job so it becomes more engaging. It’s about finding what sort of incentive system you can build to deliver the right throughput and to maximise outcomes.”