Gamification: Motivation or Inspiration?

There's been a lot of talk about gamification being the future - specifically, the future of increasing customer engagement and retention. But before a single resource is put toward the emerging trend, there's something important to understand: Gamification is not about creating motivation, it's about reminding people of their inspiration.

Gamification is a tricky term. It immediately brings to mind meaningless badges and points, as well as companies struggling to make their products relevant.

Let's be clear: Gamification cannot motivate people to use your product if they don't already have an interest in doing so. I know that's what the gamification gurus want you to think, but it's simply not true. An unengaging product is just that, an unengaging product, but gamification can be effective if it reminds someone why they're inspired to use something.

Zappos recently wrote a great blog post called "Motivation is Not the Answer". In it, the company states:

"It constantly amazes me how many people I meet who say they want more information on how to motivate their team members. I believe that motivation is necessary; however, when I feel that I need to motivate myself, it's usually to do something that I really didn't want to do in the first place. It may seem that motivation is a good thing, and it is, if it's coming from the right place."

Instead of trying to force motivation, Zappos argues you need to inspire people. Inspiration motivates like nothing else. People worked hard for Steve Jobs because he was inspiring. He may have been a questionable human being, but they sure respected him. They're not going to work hard for his successor, Tim Cook, unless he does the same...even if he chooses to give them points, badges or bonuses.

Foursquare badges are a classic gamification example. They motivate people because they reflect the inspiration behind their real-life activities. I genuinely felt pride to get the JetSetter badge, because I have been flying all over the country (like a boss). They're not arbitrary badges. They remind me that I've succeeded at something. Part of the growing distrust of gamification is the number of companies attaching it to "boring" products. A recent Wired article was largely skeptical of gamification in customer service, arguing that customer service is a tough job, and badges aren't going to make it less tough. Sure, but you can still gamify your customer support by reminding reps why they do what they do and when they actually do a good job at it.

Yes, you'd probably still give points (maybe even badges), but you wouldn't solely be focusing on simply awarding support agents for finishing tasks. Responding to 100 support tickets doesn't mean you did a great job answering them ("Sorry, can't help you" shouldn't earn you much). Instead, you'd give one or two points for replying to a customer support ticket, but give three for responding within one hour, which our data says is the key window in which to respond, and 15 when a customer chooses to say "Thanks."

Yes, customer service can be a tough job, but most folks keep at it because they genuinely like helping people. There's your inspiration. Trying tocreate motivation is going to fail. Getting a badge doesn't make a day dealing with angry customers worth the effort. Making someone happy absolutely does.

If you are trying to get your users more engaged, take a deep look into what inspires them. Then try building in gamification that evokes that inspiration and reminds them of why they're doing what they're doing. That's worth far, far more than an arbitrary badge.

About the author: Evan Hamilton is head of community for UserVoice, providers of a complete customer service solution on the Web.

 :: Gamification in Action ::  

Gartner is predicting that 50 percent of companies involved in innovation and new product development (NPD) will "gamify" those processes by 2015. In addition, by next year (2014), the technology research company believes more than 70 percent of the world's biggest organizations will have at least one gamified application.

Gamification is an important trend, but few explore how the technique can be used within their own enterprise. Let these recent developments act as inspiration:

- Gamification platform Badgeville and Get Satisfaction have partnered to bring game, reputation and social mechanics to Get Satisfaction customers. The Badgeville platform will enable companies to increase engagement through their GetSatisfaction communities by rewarding customers for specific user behaviors and contributions.

- ConferenceIQ is now powering its site using Bunchball's Nitro platform, incorporating motivation techniques and game mechanics to motivate attendees, speakers and event organizers to share their insights and opinions both on and on their favorite social media platforms.