by William Ng | March 30, 2011
Gamification, the term used to describe the adoption of game-play elements from online social games like FarmVille for business applications, is expected to be the new big trend in the design of customer engagement and loyalty programs. Recently on our site  we wrote about how numerous retailers, including the fashion-oriented and to name two, are now awarding social merit badges to their e-commerce visitors who interact with their websites the most. Some are even offering real-life rewards to those who complete the most loyalty tasks online.  

But Barry Kirk (pictured), solution vice president of consumer loyalty at Maritz Loyalty & Motivation, says gamification is also finding applications in employee engagement programs. Somewhat unexpectedly, “while gamification is getting a lot of play in consumer loyalty, we are experiencing significant traction in the channel sales and employee engagement space,” says Kirk. He says Maritz is currently in negotiations to bring gamification to an employee recognition program for a technology firm, and to a channel sales incentive for another client. 

In fact, the Incentive Research Foundation, in its “Top 11 Incentive Trends for 2011” white paper, identified gamification as being explored, if not being implemented already, into employee and channel engagement programs.

Many successful employee and channel engagement programs already kindle competition with points leaderboards on custom program websites, but many other virtual game mechanics can be leveraged. Awarding badges to program contestants and letting them display their patches on the program website engages people’s needs for achievement, status, competition, and self-expression.

Meanwhile, there are discovery and scarcity mechanics for the thrill of uncovering something exclusive and valued, random coopetitions that let participants barter their skills to achieve an overarching program goal, and catchy graphical progress bars to reinforce and motivate individuals to complete program-related tasks—for badges, virtual points, or even redeemable points. 

All of this is designed to provide a constant stream of motivation and keep participants engaged throughout the program lifecycle, up to the real redemption or award period, and even beyond. 

Maritz last fall established a partnership with San Jose, CA-based Bunchball, which supplies gamification consulting and Nitro, a software platform that “gamifies” websites and e-commerce portals and also crunches visitors’ game-play data. The alliance intends to take advantage of Maritz’s consumer and employee loyalty and incentive management services and Bunchball’s software tools and game mechanics know-how, giving clients one-stop solutions.

“In the employee recognition space, we will leverage the social aspects of gamification, like coopetition, and we will leverage competition in the sales and channel contexts,” notes Kirk. 

Work Can Be a Game Too
Turning mundane office tasks into challenges to earn material rewards or just a new status level is another potential application of game psychology, which Kirk dubs “enterprise gamification.” The process has the ability to rewrite employee behaviors and even the complete employee experience within an organization. 

“For instance, I’m the worst at turning in timesheets and expense reports, but these can be turned into a game, and how you do in the company wellness program, the results all go back to your singular profile in the company employee directory and what you can do to ‘unlock’ the next level,” says Kirk, in explaining some possibilities. Employees could contest each other to reach various statuses first, or they can motivate wellness initiative peers to get healthier by gifting an online calorie counter. “The gamification technology available now makes it easy to put game mechanics into enterprise work systems.” 

Another gamification firm, Palo Alto, CA-based Seriosity, is attacking information overload for burdened employees. Its free beta-level Attent software gamifies Microsoft Outlook with a token monetary system for prioritizing work-related e-mails. 

Message senders signal their mail’s importance by attaching currency (called Serios), and recipients can prioritize their messages by monetary value. Recipients can also assign Serios to their responses, and employees’ account balances are updated in real time. Badges are awarded to those who become adept or creative at using the currency. 

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Read Barry Kirk's perspectives on gamification in consumer loyalty programs at