By Kaitlyn Wallace
These days, it’s pretty difficult to find someone who doesn’t have a single game on their phone. Despite the skyrocketing popularity of social media over the past few years, most of us have yet to get rid of that last gaming app on our phones. Why do we hold on to these games, despite their productivity drain? The answer is simple: online games are fun, and they are very addictive. And if Candy Crush and Solitaire can exploit these characteristics for customer loyalty, why can’t we?
In fact, we can! The travel and hospitality industry has been slowly easing into gamification for the last decade– with some initiatives being more successful than others. Gamification aims to make aspects of the hospitality experience more enjoyable and more rewarding for the consumer. The benefits of gamification are numerous; it can increase customer loyalty, incentivize employees to increase their quality of work and education levels, increase website traffic, and distinguish your organization from competitors. Gamification is projected to continue to increase in popularity over the next decade and has experienced different trends under its two main domains: gamification for consumers and gamification for employees.
Gamifying for Consumers
In the era of smartphone and social media universalization, gamification in advertising has been increasingly popular. The most common (and oldest) form of gamifying advertising is the “stamp card” which has been revamped by many companies (most notably, by Starbucks) to include stars, badges, and rewards to incentivize customer loyalty. This method is increasingly popular with hotels and airlines and has been revamped with good success by Air Canada with their “Earn Your Wings” promotion. Though structured like a traditional customer loyalty program, Air Canada’s program added a leaderboard of top fliers according to a variety of measures, as well as a prize of 10 million miles. These promotions increased registration by double the predicted enrollment.
The potential for creativity in gamification is endless. Lopesan Hotel Group, for example, released a Halloween promotion that used a themed memory game to award customers discounts for future stays. The game caught the attention of users browsing the site, then solidified their interest with the promise of a reward. With customer-facing gamification, the sky’s the limit– any aspect of the hospitality experience can be made more fun, more addictive, and ultimately, more profitable.
Gamifying for Employees
Despite predictions to the contrary, gamification in the hotel industry has largely taken off in the employee-facing domain in recent years. This is largely due to the rise in gamified education, which can streamline and speed up employee training and increase customer service quality. For example, Freshdesk, a cloud-based customer support software, has successfully used gamification to motivate employees to increase customer service quality by introducing a point system with different achievement levels. This system is particularly effective with an online platform, as data can be collected quickly and effectively, and employees can gain clear insight into which performance metrics can be productively improved.
Another example of successful employee-facing gamification is Cisco’s social media training program. To incentivize employees to independently increase their social media proficiency, Cisco has implemented progression loops (advancement through many learning levels) and team challenges with gamified rewards. Their progression loops include a core learning track with three levels (specialist, strategist, and master) as well as several sub-specializations (HR, Sales, Executive Communication Managers, and Internal Partner Teams) to encourage employees to complete as many of the 46 available tracks as possible. These strategies have led to the certification of over 650 employees, with over 13,000 courses taken total.
Hilton has taken an even more creative approach with their gamified “Hotel Immersion Program,” which aims to promote understanding between different roles in the industry and introduce new hires without hands-on experience in service to the day-to-day reality of hospitality staff. For example, one training aimed to foster empathy between executives and housekeeping staff by allowing trainees to use VR to complete timed housekeeping tasks. Another training used VR to simulate an interaction between front desk staff and a frustrated customer. 75% of employees that completed these trainings reported that they believed their customer service skills and problem resolution skills to be significantly improved, and 94% reported that their sense of empathy had been significantly increased.
So why is employee-facing gamification so much more popular than expected? For one, the risk to benefit ratio is much higher. Testing out gamification with employees saves the organization marketing and implementation costs, while decreasing public embarrassment should the initiative fail. The benefits of implementing employee-facing gamified learning also have the potential to be more robust than customer-facing gamification; increasing quality of service, employee morale, and level of education is likely to increase value over a longer time period than a simple gamified promotion or advertisement. These qualities are reflected in employee-facing gamification’s popularity; in 2020, the gamified education industry has risen to an estimated $700 million value, with a 25% predicted continued growth rate through 2027.
Though gamification is a promising technique, it is not without its drawbacks. An overly competitive environment can be just as draining as an unmotivated one; we want to make sure our employees are still looking to gain rewards and exceed in the “game” as a team. Poorly designed gamification initiatives can also suck time and money away from more reliable promotions. In short, gamification, like any other technique, is successful only when it is well-designed and researched with a specific consumer in mind.
With those caveats in mind, you’ll be able to design a gamified experience tailored to meet and exceed your marketing or education goals. Remember that gamification is all about enjoyability. Design a game that you’d want to play and use it to accomplish your goals. Go forth and gamify!
Kaitlyn Wallace is a contributing writer from St. Louis.