The past few years have seen companies add game-like features into their products to enhance the customer experience, boosting engagement rates by as much as 150%. Starbucks’ new reward program gamifies the purchasing process by allowing users to view a drink as an opportunity to earn stars instead of spending dollars. MOOCs like Codecademy treat courses as games, with smaller milestones and a reward at the end of the class.

Gamification is the idea of increasing customer engagement by adding game-like features to products or brands. By imitating the engagement of games in customer experience, gamification has boosted engagement across multiple sectors, from healthcare to electronics. Gamification’s primary purpose isn’t to acquire customers, but to increase engagement with existing customers,says customer software support company UserVoice. Gamification could manifest itself in many ways, like a leaderboard between friends, or badges that are awarded with increased use of a product (think FourSquare). Market research company TechNavio predicts the global gamification market to grow by almost 70% in the next four years.

Gamification in CX

Despite its popularity, technology firm Gartner estimates that 80% of gamification efforts won’t reach business needs, largely due to poor design. Unlike a standard loyalty program, employing gamification means recreating aspects of games like earning rewards, competing with others and cooperating with teammates. Brian Burke, a Gartner analyst who wrote a book entitled “Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things,” says companies might be too obvious in their gamification efforts. By “slapping meaningless badges on activities” or gamifying in a way that is “simply not engaging for the target audience,” companies fail to keep visitor engaged.

Consider FourSquare: its premise was entirely based on a gamification model of earning badges. VentureBeat looked at interest over time and found that after peaking in 2011, searches for FourSquare started to decline significantly, tapering off to less than a third of the volume by 2014. While this decline may be caused by factors such as lack of innovation or poor design, it proves that the concept of gamification alone will not keep consumers enticed. Factors like the longevity, user experience, and viral factor of the “game” must also be considered.

Similarly, think of the number of rewards programs or challenges you’ve signed up for a clothing stores or food chains. How many of those programs kept you engaged the whole time? When making checkins or remembering to enter rewards online gets cumbersome or boring, the game fails to fulfill its purpose.

What’s the Best Way to Gamify the Customer Experience?

From Angry Birds to Candy Crush, most popular games share similar qualities: they’re competitive, they include rewards, and they get more difficult as the player progresses. Likewise, similar tactics can be used in gamifying the customer experience for business purposes:

  • Set specific goals: When starting a gamification strategy, think about what you want to accomplish in the first place – it can do more than just boost customer engagement. Gamification can be a powerful force to changing customer perceptions or increase brand awareness. Setting the right goals can affect every part of the strategy, from the design of the game to the type of user data tracked.
  • Real-Time Interactions: According to Adobe, by having users engage with the product in a way that’s location – or time- based, you can better understand and shape user behavior, For example, if Starbucks sent a push alert every time you were within 10 feet of a store, they could capture more customers and observe how users respond to the alerts. The ability to obtain and analyze real-time data is a huge advantage, and gamification makes possible the necessary volume to analyze these movements. If people get rewards or points for sharing their location or using an app, they’re more likely to be inclined to provide personal data, thus allowing companies to develop valuable insights.
  • Standings: Competition brings out the greatest engagement.  according to one Wharton professor, by showing users where they stand in comparison to everyone else, you provide extra incentives to the users with engaging challenges and reward structures,. Additionally, many games involve teamwork, which could boost user engagement. Adding a comparative feature gives users an opportunity to interact with a product for more than just fulfilling the initial need.
  • Data, data, data: Many companies have had success with implementing gamification tactics with their customers, but this can only be measured with the right data. Gamification software company Badgeville recommends tracking engagement, influence, loyalty and time spent with the product. For example, listening apps like Spotify tracks how many minutes you spend listening on their app during a particular session. Make sure the data you track reflects your initial gamification goals.

The Future of Gamification

While many companies have had success with employing gamification tactics, not all experts agree that they work. Some argue that gamification can turn customers away from a product. Game designer Kathy Sierra highlights that gamification takes existing rewards like autonomy away and replaces them with badges and points. By depriving customers of the positive emotions they associate with a good experience with a product, they become less satisfied, no matter how many points they’re earning. Despite that, it’s hard to argue the benefits of the analytics and increased loyalty – it’s much easier to justify an extra coffee when you can say it earns points!

Technology stakeholders seem to think the trend will continue to grow. A Pew study showed that 53% believed “there will have been significant advances in the adoption and use of gamification” by 2020. However, gamification can only advance as far as the intelligence allows. Futurist John Smart says educational software “remains pitifully poor at creating games that improve rather than distract from learning,” and the same could be applied to customer experience gamification as companies continue experimenting with the technology. Regardless, viewing purchases like a drink at Starbucks as a way to gain stars and earn rewards is an effective strategy that shows how gamification is still growing today.

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