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When Winner Takes All, Everybody Loses: How One Call Center Built a Winning Team with Gamification

When Winner Takes All, Everybody Loses: How One Call Center Built a Winning Team with Gamification

Erika Blaney


Vice President, Marketing

Contests have been a motivational staple in the workplace for years, ranging from sales “president club” competitions to dumb-luck drawings for random prizes. And while the approaches have been varied, one thing has always been true: when there is only one winner, there are scores of losers, and you have little control over which label you get. Where’s the motivation in that?

This isn’t any huge insight. I mean, anyone who has ever watched a single episode of a reality TV show can see the underbelly of winner-takes-all contests. What starts as fun and games to motivate collaboration and camaraderie quickly dissolves into something far more destructive, because no one wants to be a loser.  

That’s why innovative enterprises are doing away with workplace contests that pit employees against each other for big, one-time prizes; and just in time, according to Joel MacCharles, vice president of innovation for Allied Global. At the recent ICMI Contact Center Demo & Conference, Joel gave a presentation titled, “Take This Job And Love It! Using Gamification to Improve Motivation and Performance,” in which he shared examples from Allied Global’s implementation of gamification, powered by Bunchball Nitro. He discussed insights gleaned from Allied Global’s own experience about how to use gamification to create compelling and engaging experiences for employees that improve performance.

Contests are commonly geared towards top performers, but as Joel explained, your top performers were already performing without the sales contest. With most motivation contests “the closer you get to the end of the contest, it becomes obvious who is competing to win and who has no chance of winning,” he said, “middle performers and low performers in this case are giving up far too early, that is exactly why contests need to focus on an individual competing against their personal best rather than competing against their peers.”

In the talk Joel also reviewed for the audience the ways that outdated contests fail to motivate employees:

  1. The same person wins all the time. Top performers almost always remain top performers. How many times have you heard someone say, “What’s the point? I never win these things.” One person being known as the de facto winner can create a sour attitude and can even make the winner feel guilty that he or she is beating out colleagues and friends.
  2. Contests can incentivize the wrong behavior. If employees think they have a better chance of winning, they might take action that is not in the customer’s or the company’s best interest. 
  3. They make folks feel like losers. By the end of any big contest, only a few people are motivated because the lower performers have no chance of beating the top performers. When the contest is over, you have one happy grand prize winner but a whole team of disillusioned or apathetic employees.
  4. They frequently can’t see or control their progress. There’s a threat of competition fatigue, and a lack of control. When the data and insight into their contributions are held by management, they can’t self-regulate, and success seems like a “lucky” outcome, because they can’t see their own progress. It is outside of the vision and, to some degree, their control.
  5. The extrinsic gift cheapens the intrinsic motivator. When we go into an organization, 99 percent of the employees coming to work wanting to do a great job -- they want to be a good team player, contribute to business success and be acknowledged for their contributions. It’s why they took the job in the first place. So, when we motivate with some big, fantastic “prize,” we actually run the risk of cheapening their motivation. Sometimes, a gadget or gift card cheapens the bigger and more meaningful pay-off, which is frequently as simple as shining a spotlight on a job well done.

Joel discussed how Instead of sticking to these outdated tactics that tend to make up the call center status quo, Allied Global blazed their own trail to ignite employee engagement, enhance performance and improve retention. Joel shared their secrets for success:

  1. Create a “personal best” mentality: Instead of only competing against each other, Allied Global employees compete against their own “personal bests;” providing more opportunities for recognition, advancement and prizes among employees of varying skill and experience levels.
  2. Reward employees for a variety of small “wins.” Allied Global employees are not only recognized for getting the job done but also for doing it well, learning new skills and hitting  milestones in their careers.
  3. Offer prizes designed to foster teamwork and social interaction. Instead of one giant prize like a golfing trip or big screen, Allied Global offers experiential and group prizes like wine and cheese tastings or a month of free coffee for the winner and five officemates.

By leveraging gamification strategies from Bunchball, Allied Global has rejected the call center ways of yesterday that resulted in high-turnover and performance issues. They have embraced a new way to engage employees and are reaping the benefits.

To get more insights from Joel around call center management, check out his recent article on the subject.

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