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How Gamification Is Engaging Customers and Employees Alike Are you using this tool? It may be just what your business is looking for.

By John Boitnott Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Lots of people get confused by the term "gamification." The "game" part of the dictionary-recognized word can be considered somewhat of a misnomer. Many associate gamification with gaming (the kind that entails either gambling and/or long hours in a dark room).

Related: Why You Should Supercharge Your Workplace With Gamification

Gamification, however, is actually quite different and quite a bit more scientific than those activities: It's the practice of synthesizing the best ideas from gaming, loyalty programs and behavioral economics, with the aim of driving user engagement over indifference.

Gamification's appeal derives from memories and skills many people have learned from games since childhood. The same fundamental motivations, choices, engagement and rewards make up today's sophisticated gamification applications: Salespeople, for example, can win rewards when they reach certain goals, and compete with one other to attain those rewards.

Recognition and a sense of competition are all strong motivators, and gamification works because it taps into all of these to keep sales teams engaged.

Gamification going global

In some industries, gamification has begun replacing long-standing marketing and educational techniques that have lost effectiveness in areas like organizational performance, social change, brand relationships and talent development.

This is turning gamification itself into a massive industry expected to grow to $2.8 billion by 2016, according to experts.

The movement is a global one. India recently established its National e-Governance Division (NeGD), inviting digital media and gamification agencies to help transform that country into a "digitally empowered society and knowledge economy." And social meetup groups are thriving: Holland's "Gamification World Meetup Netherlands" boasts more than 250 members either working in the field of gamification or seeking to implement it within their organizations.

The Gartner Group, in fact, projected that 50 percent of corporate innovation would be "gamified" by this year. All of this interest is occurring because the concept has been proven to motivate employees and customers. SAP, for one, is using gamification to change the way it engages its 282,000 customers.

"Gamification in the work environment is really about how to make people's jobs better and how to make people's work life better," Gabe Zichermann, industry expert and chair of the Gamification Summit, explains. "We often hear, "You should do what you love and follow your passion.' The vast majority of people don't actually get to do that as part of their work life."

Related: How Three Businesses Scored Big with Gamification

Gamification's sweet spot: engagement

Gamification is also being used in the organizational work environment to help make training, feedback and processes more engaging, improving the quality and efficiency of work. At the same time, it is transforming productivity into something much more fun.

The Advanced Learning Institute identified eight ways organizations are using gamification, to:

  1. Increase employee engagement: Using gamification technology to further engage employees in their everyday tasks.
  2. Increase morale: Programs that bring productive fun into the workplace.
  3. Recruit and onboard top talent: Creating a more enthusiastic and highly engaged workforce, leading in the long run to higher productivity and retention rates.
  4. Build brand loyalty: Making employees feel like they are part of something important, so they tell others and become brand ambassadors.
  5. Create better employee training programs: Gamifying the training process to re-engage and re-energize the learning process.
  6. Increase healthy workplace competition: Being a catalyst for creating healthy competition and driving higher productivity.
  7. Promote and influence desired behaviors among employees
  8. Improve employee collaboration: Driving user-adoption of tools, for both customers and employees

At the enterprise level, effective gamification integrates engagement software into existing tools and processes. "We expect to see more companies adopt technologies that integrate gamification with platforms like Salesforce as it provides incentives and employs the same techniques game designers use to keep players interested, in order to achieve the engagement needed for sales teams to exceed their quotas," says Jonathan Gale, CEO of NewVoiceMedia.

The gamification industry has become an increasingly hot topic among the luminaries attending leading conferences, like Dreamforce, the Gamification Summit and Gamification World Congress, which in recent years have been useful vehicles for spreading the word on best practices and new products.

Solving long-standing work problems

But what may be the biggest factor driving gamification's business adoption is how it helps solve some deep-seated problems in modern office life. People are overwhelmingly distracted with today's social and mobile toys, and, meanwhile, work entails a lot of tedium. One is much more appealing than the other, and gamification is being used to transform that.

"One of my favorite examples comes from Delta Airlines," Zichermann says. "They had a project called "Ready, Set, Jet' at Delta, where Delta on-shored their call centers and needed to find a way to get call-center employees to do more training and to learn more." The company's campaign featured mini games, called "Ready, Set, Jet," that got Delta employees to do four years' worth of training in a single year.

With results like that, I have no doubt we will be reading a lot more about gamification in the coming years.

Related: What This Business Owner Did to Get His Team Out of a Sales Rut

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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