Foursquare Jetsetter badgeThere’s been a lot of talk about gamification being the future…specifically, the future of increasing customer engagement and retention. But there’s something important to keep in mind: gamification is not about creating motivation – it’s about reminding people of their inspiration.

“Gamification” is a tricky term. It immediately brings to mind badges, points that mean nothing, and companies struggling to make their product relevant.

Let’s be clear: gamification cannot motivate people to use your product if they don’t already have interest in doing so. I know that’s what the gamification gurus want you to think, but it’s simply not true. A unengaging product is an unengaging product. But gamification can be effective if it reminds you of why you’re inspired to use something.

Zappos recently wrote a great post called “Motivation is Not the Answer”. In it, they say:

“It constantly amazes me how many people I meet who say they want more information on how to motivate their team members. I believe that motivation is necessary; however, when I feel that I need to motivate myself, it’s usually to do something that I really didn’t want to do in the first place. It may seem that motivation is a good thing, and it is, if it’s coming from the right place.”

Instead of trying to force motivation, they argue, you need to inspire people. Inspiration motivates like nothing else. People worked their asses off for Steve Jobs because he was inspiring. He may have been a questionable human being, but they sure respected him. They’re not going to work their asses off for Tim Cook unless he does the same…even if he chooses to give them points, badges, or bonuses.

Foursquare badges – a classic gamification example – motivate people because they reflect the inspiration behind their real-life activities. I genuinely feel pride to get the Jetsetter badge because I have been flying all over the country (like a boss). They’re not arbitrary badges…they’re badges that remind me that I’ve succeeded at something (even if that something is drinking too much).

Part of the growing distrust of gamification is the number of companies attaching it to “boring” products. WIRED recently ran an article that was largely skeptical of gamification in customer service. They argue that customer service is a tough job, and badges aren’t going to make it less tough. Sure. But you can still gamify your customer service by reminding customer service reps why they do what they do…and when they actually do a good job at it. Which is why the gamification features in our helpdesk product are about reminding customer service reps why they do what they do: because they like making people happy.

UserVoice gamification leaderboard

Our leaderboard does give points, yes. But they’re not focused on simply awarding support agents for finishing tasks. Responding to 100 support tickets doesn’t mean you did a great job with them (“sorry, can’t help you” shouldn’t earn you much). Instead, you get one point for replying to a customer support ticket…but you get 3 for responding within 1 hour (which our data says is the key window in which to respond) and you get fifteen when a customer chooses to give you a kudos. And the result? Customer support reps love these points.



Yes, customer service can be a tough job. But most folks who do it for an extended period of time because they like helping people. There’s your inspiration. Our leaderboard strives to remind them of that inspiration: “look, you just got a kudos because you made someone happy.” Trying to create motivation is going to fail. Getting a badge doesn’t make a day dealing with angry customers worth the effort. Making someone happy does.

Trying to get your users more engaged? Take a deep look at what inspires them. Then try building in gamification that evokes that inspiration, that reminds them of why they’re doing what they’re doing. That’s worth far, far more than an arbitrary badge.

Originally published in Website Magazine.

Controller photo courtesy of Bea Represa.