Posted by David Scult

servicesignCustomer support can be a tough, unrewarding role due to angry callers and stressful work expectations. A Wired article about efforts to improve customer service call center performance recently caught my eye, as it raised some interesting questions about how leaders can motivate employees who may be dealing with frustrated callers all day long.

According to the article, many companies are implementing gamification into contact center and customer management software. Gamification applies familiar elements from electronic games to everyday processes, so, for instance, employees might complete tasks to earn points that then turn into rewards or prizes. While this approach can generate an adrenaline rush and encourage employees to rack up points for good performance, it may be distracting from the original purpose. In fact, a recent Gartner report showed that, by 2014, 80 percent of gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives.

Some experts such as game designer Kathy Sierra have noted that gamification replaces an intrinsic reward (i.e. the satisfaction of helping a customer solve a problem) with an extrinsic one (earning points). The problem with gamification, in the case of customer service at least, is that you risk incentivizing an end result rather than the behavior that metric may have originally been intended to track. For this reason, Sierra recommended avoiding incentive tactics such as a performance leaderboard.

"It brings in that part of the brain that - subconsciously - says this is why I do this: for the leaderboard status," she told Wired.

Gamification can be more useful, she explained, for rote tasks that are not intrinsically rewarding, such as memorizing policies. However, for customer service, managers should instead focus on developing ways to make the process itself more engaging for employees.

Wired noted that some companies, such as Zappos, have improved their customer service by giving employees more discretion in the decision-making process. The publication also highlighted a Stanford study showing that employees in a Chinese call center were happier and more productive when they were allowed to work from home.

The bottom line is that business leaders need to focus on giving customer service employees tools to make their job easier, not on coming up with incentives designed to goad staff into hitting some metric of end results. Unified communications tools such as real-time presence, chat, click-to-call, and screen share give customer service representatives the tools they need to make decisions faster. Need to collaborate with someone in a different department, collaboration tools make that easy to do, and it helps to serve the customer faster. By improving the customer support process and the focusing on the motivations that underlie it, organizations will create the results they want organically.