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Gamification: The Key to Preventing Support Agent Burnout


Software Advice Analyst Lauren Carlson wrote a piece discussing how the adoption of sales force automation (SFA) software could be improved by adding gaming elements, or “gamifying” it. At the time, the idea was fairly novel. Today, gamification—the process of adding gaming elements to a non-gaming activity to encourage action and participation—is an idea that is moving beyond acceptance and into development. We’ve seen this evidenced by the growth of companies like Lithium. This led me to wonder, What other enterprise systems could be enhanced with gaming elements?

Help desk software came to mind. The support team environment is a demanding one, where support agents can get easily burned out, leading to a high turnover rate. Richard White, CEO of customer support software vendor UserVoice, conducted interviews with some of the biggest support teams in the nation to find out more about this issue.

“We found that part of the reason for the high turnover rate is that there’s no sense of accomplishment for the agents. If you ask a guy in support, ‘What did you do today?’ He'll say, ‘I answered support tickets.’ If you ask him, ‘What are you going to do tomorrow?’ He'll say, ‘I'm answering support tickets.’ They have no concept of, ‘Am I getting better at this? Am I achieving anything?’ Many feel like they just get on a treadmill and run every day.”

In this article, I focus on how adding gaming elements can can boost employee retention by providing help desk agents with a sense of accomplishment. I look at three processes that appeal to what Ray Wang of Constellation Research identifies as the core pillars of gamification: measurable action, reputation and incentives.

Below are some sketches that illustrate what those processes might look like. These are simply meant to be food for thought. Please let us know what you think in the comment section below.

1. Accomplishment Metrics

Because the focus is on providing a sense of accomplishment, I chose the three metrics that I believe matter most to the individual agent: number of support ticket resolutions, number of “quick” resolutions, and positive customer feedback. The sketch above is a typical UI for an agent’s queue, with navigation to the left and tickets in the center. But across the top, we added a counter tracking those metrics.

Every time the agent resolves a ticket, the Resolutions tally increments by one. Quick Resolutions are a variable metric that will differ from help desk to help desk. When UserVoice conducted their research, they found that the majority of customers left favorable feedback when the resolution took 15 minutes or less. So, maybe you set your Quick Resolutions metric to be those tickets resolved in under 15 minutes for Tier 1 issues, 30 minutes for Tier 2, and so on. Or you could set times that are relative to the average resolution time for tickets of that category.

“Thumbs Up” indicates how many people left positive feedback. A great way to track this is to add a link to the bottom of every resolution ticket that invites customers to leave feedback, e.g., “Was your issue resolved properly and in a timely manner? Give us a thumbs up!” For every person that gives a “Thumbs Up,” the agent will see the Thumbs Up counter increase. Adding this element will show the agent exactly what they are getting done, and with the added Thumbs Up feature, they will be motivated to continually improve their performance.

2. Leaderboards


A little bit of healthy competition can be a great motivator. Above is an example of a leaderboard. The leaderboard aggregates the metrics of every agent on the team and sorts them from highest to lowest.

We also added “Score,” an aggregate value of the three metrics. Similar to the Quick Resolutions metric, the Score will be variably weighted based on what is most important to your organization. For example, if your team is focused on quick close rates, you would want to weight Quick Resolutions more than Resolutions or Thumbs Up.

Another idea is a team leaderboard. Most organizations have parallel help desk operations. For example, customer service superstar Zappos has multiple help desk teams that are all working to answer service tickets across the organization. Each team tracks their own metrics, and most of the team leads choose to make their metrics public because they enjoy the healthy competition it creates.

The team leaderboard takes this idea and puts it into a help desk UI. This would allow teams to benchmark their performance against their peers, and compete to be at the top of their game. Organizations could opt to provide some sort of reward to the top-performing teams.

3. Training

Instilling a sense of accomplishment should start from the beginning, with training. The benefit of this is twofold. Gamifying the training process allows new agents to feel like they are making progress in their onboarding process. It also addresses one of the major concerns for all help desks: agent training time. When agents are training, they aren’t serving customers.

We imagine turning the training process into a timed game. Use gaming terminology, refer to training modules as “challenges.” Then, add a timer to each challenge, letting the agent know they only have so much time to complete it, and need to prove their mastery of the material at various stages. Because everything is tracked in the system, the manager can go back, identify issues and errors, and review them with the new agent.

To be sure, you cannot simply add gaming elements to a system and expect success. You have to take a closer look. Who is your user? What is their motivation? How does that align with the success of the company? When coming up with our ideas, this is where we started, and as software vendors begin to embrace the idea of gamification, this is where they will need to start, too.

Special thanks to Tony Ventice, Lead Game Designer at Badgeville, for lending his expertise to this article. Thumbnail image created by Futurilla.

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Lauren Carlson

About the Author

Lauren writes about various topics related to CRM software, with particular interest in sales force automation, marketing automation, and customer service. She has a background in the music industry, and when she isn't writing about software, you can find her running at Town Lake and singing at local venues. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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