Customer service

Good customer service is at the heart of any business, and businesses that have incorporated it into their culture are truly exceptional: think of Southwest Airlines or Zappos.

Recently, we have been taking the time to think more about Customer Service and Gamification. We feel that customer service gamification in call centers is so much more than giving employees rewards for completing basic activities;  it is certainly more than driving employees with a variety of competition-centric game mechanics. Why is that? The answer is simple: simplistic gamification of customer service tasks has nothing to do with delighting customers or customer service employees.

That’s why I began reading Steve Curtin’s “Delight Your Customers – 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary”. Curtin writes about “old fashioned” service industries: restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, taxis and sports clubs. While enterprise gamification is typically about how to place digital game mechanics on top of enterprise applications –  a long cry from the realities of the service industries Curtin describes – I thought that the common sense, non-digital approach Curtin has can teach us a lot about what customer service gamification should aspire to be.

Job Essence vs Job Function

Curtin begins with a great distinction between two elements of work:

  • Job Function: the duties or tasks associated with the employee’s job roles
  • Job Essence: the employee’s highest priority at work

If you ask a waiter what they are supposed to do in their job, they will typically describe their job function: clearing tables, taking orders, serving food. Most often, they won’t mention their job essence at all. But job essence is important. In this case it is to provide service that will keep people coming back to the restaurant. Job functions (clearing tables, collecting payments etc) are what is needed to make the restaurant’s service work. After all, guests won’t be coming back to a restaurant where they eat at dirty tables among mountains of discarded plates and napkins. But job essence is what will really make restaurant patrons come back – the feeling they are valued customers that are listened to and even, to some degree, cosseted.

Customer Service Job Essence

The job essence of customer service, says Curtin, is that customers should be delighted, so that they will recommend the company’s products or services, buy them again and be less inclined to be wooed by the competition.

Without the focus on the greater goal – the job essence –  both the customer service rep and the customer experience are stuck in a transactional service experience that, at best, leaves the customer unimpressed. It also causes the human provider of the service – the customer service rep – to feel their work is repetitious and unrewarding. As employee engagement levels drop, service does too.  Experiencing customer support as repetitious “factory work” is a bane of the call center and customer service industry.

Gamification should be about job essence AND job function

So the lesson is that enterprise gamification for customer service should focus on both the job function and the job essence.

Focusing on job function means tracking what matters

Track average handling time (AHT), first call resolution (FCR) and more. Gamification of the job function provides service reps with powerful feedback about their work and guidance how to do better. It helps them balance their work – balance short handling times while still resolving customer issues (or else, short AHT goals can be made by “gaming” the system and not trying to resolve customer issues).

But gamification can be used to do much more than just make “factory work” better. Acting robotically, like a human manufacturing machine cannot work in a service environment. We’re not made to be delighted by machines but rather by humans. This is where job essence gamification enter the game.

Take a person whose job is to bag groceries at the supermarket. They can bag the groceries, and hand them to supermarket patrons. But what if they did the same thing but also offered to carry them outside, or help with a cart? In that case, the supermarket patron would feel noticed, and the service experience would improve.

But job essence doesn’t work when job functions are ignored. Striving to delight a customer but forgetting job function (resolving the problem the customer actually had) won’t work.

Curtin says that job essence– delighting the customer – is what delivers better service. And the news is that is costs nothing.

Using job essence to create happier employees

Gamification can be used to clearly communicate job essence. If gamification measures it – for instance measuring positive customer feedback – it matters. You can gamify those “random” acts of kindness that constitute great customer service.

Curtin says that job essence can and should be communicated: through modelling, feedback, pre-shift meetings and more.  Although job essence is mostly voluntary, outside the realm of the job function, relating to the anticipation of customer needs, paying attention to detail and displaying a sense of urgency, it can be gamified.  Just like customer stories can help encourage employees to perform better, gamification can work to enforce job essence. Think about “karma” points for exceptional service, the recognition of exceptional service and the resulting positive communication loop that will encourage employees to go the extra mile.

What’s more interesting is that communicating job essence will make employees happier, because it attaches a meaning to what it sometimes repetitive work.

Food for thought

Next time you think of customer service gamification, remember that game rules should go beyond job function and include job essence. Not focusing on the essence is an expensive mistake. It means that the employee is transaction focused, treats the customer like they’d never come again, forgetting that the goal is to have the customer come again. And again.

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