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What is gamification? And how can we use it?

At ICMI’s November Symposium in Orlando, I was asking a class for some feedback on gamification elements I had put into a new course, and someone asked, “what is gamification?” I was being a typical professional in my field and using a term that a lot of people are not familiar with. It does not mean making a game out of training. Rather, gamification is about applying elements of game design and principles of game-playing to non-game contexts.

Points, leaderboards, and badges are the usual game mechanics that people think of when they think of gamifying an activity. They are fine as far as they go, but not everyone finds them motivating. In fact, most game mechanics are only motivating and engaging for some people and not everyone. Combining different game mechanics that appeal to different people is your best bet to keep people engaged and motivated.


Hundreds of different game mechanics exist, so I can’t begin to cover even a fraction, but here are a few of my favorites.


When it comes to story and games, I immediately think of the once-popular Angry Birds game which involved angry birds dropping things on greedy pigs. People wanted to know more about the story, so eventually, we ended up with The Angry Birds Movie.

I am currently obsessed with a word puzzle challenge where I am freeing creatures who got lazy (from overwork) and angered a bird god. Each creature has a name and a character sketch. I’d enjoy the word puzzle without all of this, but the characters and story make the game more colorful and engaging.

How can we use this to our advantage in contact centers? Well, the easy answer is to tell stories! Tell the stories of success and the redemption of failures. Tell your customers’ stories. At ICMI’s 2016 Contact Center Demo, USAA Sr. Vice President Tom Grotheus told us how they start every meeting by sharing a customer story just to keep the customer experience in mind. What stories do you have that would be good to share with others?

In ICMI’s Business Acumen for Contact Center Leaders, I created two short animated videos. One involved two peers who had been charged to work on a project together and who did not handle things well. After talking about office politics and negotiating, participants in the class are asked to rewrite the scene with a better outcome. The other animated video showed an interaction between a boss and his subordinate. Participants are asked to identify ways that the subordinate managed up. Creating the animated videos turned out to be simple with the animation programs out on the web, and they provided a great example with which the participants identified.

Think back upon your own experiences and use them to create stories with the ring of truth to them. Use them creatively to make points and illustrate issues you want to address. Stories are not just for the classroom in that they appeal to all kinds of people. True stories with real people are best, but fictionalized stories with the ring of truth work well, too. This is gamification.


Yes, you are gamifying when you do role-playing! It is a perennial favorite in contact centers since role-playing allows people to practice their skills in a safe environment. It’s also role-playing when you ask a question beginning with “What if…” What if you were this customer who had been through 18 months of chemotherapy and radiation and was now having an issue with their oncologist filing for payment? What might you be feeling? Why might your frustration level be a bit high? What could we do to help this person resolve their issue faster? These are all forms of role-playing.

These “what if…” questions aren’t just for agents directly interacting with the customer but for anyone who does anything that impacts the customer. What are some creative ways you can apply role-playing? What kind of “what if…” questions might spark new ideas or deeper understandings of processes and people? This is gamification.

Other Mechanics

Other game mechanics that I sometimes use include: betting or wagering, auctions and bidding, avatars, issue debates, branching choices, challenges, deadlines, easter eggs, hints, levels of challenge, natural consequences when things go awry, puzzles, quests, races to complete a mission, and voting to give “players” a voice in direction and outcomes. Surrounding these mechanics with a little “drama” in the form of a story or by allowing people to assume other roles, increases their effectiveness.

When applying game mechanics, I have to take care that I use mechanics that motivate other people and not just those I find motivating. We all tend to think people are just like us when in reality, we are vastly different – which we all know but somehow forget when doing gamification. For instance, competing only for the sake of winning the competition does not appeal to me, but I do like achieving, and am very motivated by helping others succeed. So when I’m gamifying an activity, I try to incorporate several different mechanics to appeal to those who are like me as well as those who are not. I may have teams competing to achieve a goal to include elements of competition, collaboration, and achievement.

Pay attention the next time you play a game. What do they do to keep you engaged? How can you use some of those techniques to engage people in your contact center?