Can a gamified CRM really be fun to use?


Fresh from my talk at the Gamification World Congress in Barcelona last week, here are the slides from my talk and a rough transcript of what I said:

A few weeks ago I had a client contact me in a bit of a panic because the gamification-based CRM we’d built for them was working too well! More on that in a bit…

I’ve always craved feedback and recognition for whatever I’m doing. When I was young I got lots of praise and feedback from my parents, from my teachers and from the games I was playing. I reckon this was when I got addicted to receiving feedback and recognition. I get pretty demotivated if I don’t get it.

Indeed, this craving for feedback has skewed my choices in life, I’ll take on projects and causes for the recognition and cool job titles rather than for the money. Much to my wife Jacqui’s ongoing despair!

Fifteen years ago I started selling, customising and supporting CRM systems. CRMs are Customer Relationship Management systems which should help a business look after their prospects, win business and provide great customer service and thence win repeat business.

All the CRMs I’ve worked with are big systems, which are packed full of useful features. All those features are what clients want to use in their businesses. I practiced what I preached and we used the biggest and best of these CRMs in house. I was excited by what was possible technically and I would try to use all these cool features and get the best out of the system for our own business.

What actually happened to me and my team, and often happened even faster to our clients, is that less and less features got used over time!

There are a number of reasons for this but it often boiled down to the systems feeling too big and complicated. Which meant that a majority of staff weren’t comfortable with the features, or were even scared to use them for fear of ‘breaking something’ or making a mistake. Also, whatever the really useful features were in each CRM many staff weren’t aware of the personal benefits to them of using them. It was in this respect that I myself began to feel that there was something lacking in our CRMs and I went looking for a way to fix it.

At the start of 2013 I discovered and started Kevin Werbach’s Coursera course on gamification and I immediately started comparing CRMs to the video games I’d played all my life. I saw that video games were big and complicated systems (like CRMs) but that they were still fun to play. I realised that if it was possible to gamify a CRM then that should be the answer to getting the most out of using one.

I had a look to see what was out there and found a CRM called Zurmo that had been built from the ground up around the concepts of gamification. Within seconds of completing the gamification course I’d set up Zurmo for use as our in-house CRM system. I experimented on my own staff first. With the previous CRM I had to spend a couple of days training my staff to be comfortable in using it, with the new gamified CRM I simply gave new staff a username and password and told them to get on with using it. Within a couple of hours they were as comfortable using Zurmo as compared to needing 2 days of training in the old CRM!

Within a few months we’d become the first UK Partner for Zurmo, and I’d sold off our company’s telecoms division to give us the resources to concentrate on gamification. Zurmo got bought earlier this year and has been renamed

I’ve now had some clients using a gamified CRM for over 2 years and I’m going to let you know which game mechanics we’ve used and which have worked best.

You are all Gamifiers here, so I’m going to whizz through the game mechanics used in

Aesthetics – minimalist design ethos, keeping the visible options or choices to a minimum where possible

Customisable theme – choose colours and textures, you can unlock more and more choices as you progress. One of my staff was a fanatical Brighton & Hove Albion football supporter, and being able to make the CRM colours match his team’s colours made him very happy. Though he did try to change them for the whole company, which I had to put a stop to!

Customisable dashboard – easy for the user to do, indeed you can set up multiple dashboards one for each of your roles

Badges – the first form of feedback you experience in the system, received for a wide range of activities. You can also brag about your achievements.

Levels – a progressively harder to achieve form of feedback about your overall usage of the CRM.

Currency – collect coins which the system awards randomly, upon going up levels and when completing collections. Collecting a coin also adds a new sensory experience as it makes a lovely kerchink sound. I’ve watched my staff pause their work, turn up the sound on their speakers and then collect the coin, then seen my other staff suddenly increase their activity levels as they want to win a coin too!

Virtual goods – these appear seemingly at random but in actual fact are rewarding you for exploring the system. The more you explore, the more comfortable you get with the system, the more likely you are to use the features. Oh and these play a nice little tune too.

Collections – you can try to complete collections of these virtual goods to further encourage the exploration of the CRM. You gain extra coins for completing a collection.

Incentives – cash in your virtual coins for real rewards, different for each company we work with – you may have vouchers, experiences, food, time off and team rewards. Lunch with the boss never seems to be claimed.

Leaderboard – points are awarded for every activity in the system and this shows the overall points score. It defaults to showing weekly, but you can also see monthly and overall totals and leaderboards.

Points & Skills – the system breaks it down further by tracking points for certain types of activities within the system – thus giving you feedback about where your strengths lie and you can choose where to develop next.

Game Dashboard – not in your face, you have to make an effort to view it, but feedback about all the different elements of the game is available here.

Then we have some social mechanics designed to help you feel part of a bigger team and to make collaboration happen more easily.

Activities Feed – auto-generated feed based on all work based activities in the system.

What’s Going On Feed – filled with brags about game achievements and also allows personal status updates and commenting on others achievements.

Conversations – a quick and easy to use brainstorming tool for impromptu teams.

Missions – set up a mission, with a description and a reward and it is promoted to all staff. You can only volunteer for a mission, it can’t be forced upon you (through the system anyway).

So, here’s an example of those in use.

At the start of my talk I mentioned my panicking client. This was a young start-up, selling predominantly through telesales. We set the company up originally with a gamified CRM system, particularly to assist with user onboarding and fostering user adoption of the system.

Soon after our work with this client began, they were taken over and given the staggering task of tripling the monthly sales figures with no increase in staffing levels. The sales manager asked us to devise some redeemable rewards into the gamification system to help them reach their new targets.

There was no budget for monetary rewards for the staff. Indeed, at this organisation the staff have a fixed wage with no commission element or bonus scheme.

The sales teams are split by geographic area, and in each area a senior sales adviser handles any complex requirements and sometimes visits the clients. The senior is supported by telesales staff selling direct and providing leads for them. The system we devised examined every element of the customer contact and sales process, so that each team member, through the use of the points system, is tracked. That way the system could analyse every lead added, email sent, phone call recorded, task followed up on, meeting arranged and attended, as well as number and type of sales closed.

There are different levels of points allocated to each type of activity but with a general understanding that sales won’t be closed without attention to every level of the sales funnel and sales activities. With this level of detailed tracking we are able to reward staff, letting individuals play to their strengths, which successfully leads to the team as a whole hitting its targets.

Then we had to look for rewards that would motivate the staff and would cost little or preferably nothing. No challenge there then!

Results from our staff focus groups indicated three main types of reward that would motivate them. (Money is nearly always the top of the request list so we began these focus groups by informing staff that this wasn’t an option.)

The preferred rewards fell into the following three main categories:

Personal experiences and vouchers – from chocolates and other food treats, to days out at the races, to holidays and trips abroad

Team-based rewards and activities – mostly veering towards team socials and away days, but with some requests for food and drink to be brought into the office for the team

Additional time off work – from finishing work an hour early or having an extended lunch break to being rewarded with whole days off.

We kept the reward selection simple so that we could get it up and running quickly, while heeding the lack of additional monetary budget. So we launched the reward scheme by restricting it to rewards based on time off. Staff could cash in points for: half an hour off work; one hour; two hours; half a day off; and a whole day off. We applied a simple rule that the maximum you could redeem was one of the hourly rewards per day, or one of the daily rewards per week, to ensure that there would be enough staff available to cover incoming enquiries on any particular day.

I had previously used time off rewards in our own CRM, but because this client didn’t want to risk giving away too much time off too quickly, we tripled the coins cost of each reward, making it that much harder to achieve. We expected it to take at least three months for the first person to have saved enough coins to take a whole day off, and that assumed they weren’t also cashing in coins for the odd hour off along the way.

We ran a short launch briefing to drum up some interest and excitement in the staff about the new rewards and let them get on with it.

When I checked in on them ‘Targets smashed’ was the answer I got. It was a great success, with the tripled targets hit every month for the three months since it went live. And, a surprise for us, the first whole day off was earned and cashed in within a mere six weeks.

Every member of staff has since earned enough coins to have a day off, most have cashed them in and some are waiting for a day when they feel they’ll really want to use it. Very few of the hourly rewards have been cashed in by anybody (just a couple of half hours taken so far), with almost everyone aiming for whole days off.

So the client’s panic mentioned earlier was due to the fact that the system was hitting targets – obviously a good thing in itself – but they foresaw multiple days off being requested as a result and the sales manager had a vision of his Directors coming down to visit and finding no one in the office!

It shouldn’t be too bad though as in the gamified CRM certain points get harder to achieve (for instance levelling up takes more activity each time) as you progress through the game so the coin earning rate will slow down.

Let’s take a look at the stats from the top users in the UK. These results are from multiple companies in different industries.

I’ve ranked these users by average points earned per month. What I learned from doing this was that anyone with an average above 10,000/month is a highly engaged user of the system. Anyone over 5,000/month is a normal user, and under 5,000 they are either not full time users of the CRM or they are disengaged and need looking at to see where they need help.

Here we can see that Jane is our top user at the moment. Only 4 months into the job and doing a lot of work and engaged by all the main game mechanics we are using. Her manager should be very happy with her.

Next, this is interesting. Our number 2 user here is a Director and a workaholic. He occasionally complains that the gamification features get in the way, though he still engages with them fairly often (you don’t get that many coins without clicking on a few when they pop up). What is the reason that he doesn’t turn off the game mechanics? Well, number 4 on this list Jeanette works for him. Because of his example in using the game mechanics she is extra motivated to use it. I should point out that in this top 10 she is the only part time worker and is still 4th. Simon has said that the CRM means that Jeanette is now worth 1.2 Jeanette’s to him.

Now Laura here has the most badges. You can only get this many badges by using more of the features of the CRM. Laura would be the person you go to for any help or guidance on using this CRM within your organisation. Yes, she was offered a promotion the day I sent out these stats to her boss.

My favourite statistic here. Jen works in a company that hasn’t set up any redeemable rewards so these coins are literally worthless currency. Yet here she has more coins than anyone else in the whole list. That means that the feedback and motivation from simply clicking on the coins and hearing the kerching is pleasing enough that she keeps on clicking and engaging.

Where do we go from here with CRM gamification?

I think it is heading toward the use of big data combined with game-style head up displays and dashboards to train salespeople to master and improve their sales techniques and processes.

Great games want you to play the game over and over again, and they make this fun by getting you to play the game differently each time. Often by giving you different resources or advantages. This keeps the game feeling fresh, plus it’s a great way to learn how best to play the game. It is not until you play it many different ways that you truly master it.

We’ll use this approach in CRMs to help staff become Masters of Selling. You’ll be able to split test different approaches to your sales process. With the right feedback from the gamified CRM system you can compare the effectiveness of different marketing campaigns, different sales scripts, different times of day to call and so on, and you learn to ‘game’ the system. Once you’ve played a few different ways, you’ll know how to guarantee a win, plus when you get bored you can always set yourself the challenge to play a different way or attack a new target market perhaps. I also believe this will help prevent salesperson burn-out and your top salespeople will stay with you longer.

To conclude, I think we can show that CRMs can be made very effective through fun. I believe they should be fun and you should go and make yours fun too.

Thank you.

About the author 

Pete Baikins

Pete Baikins is an international authority on gamification, a lifelong gamer, successful entrepreneur and a lecturer. As CEO of Gamification+ Ltd he mentors and trains companies world-wide on the use of gamification to solve business challenges. Gamification+ won the Board of Trade Award from the UK's Department of International Trade in January 2019.

Pete is co-host of the health gamification podcast Health Points and is also Chair of Gamification Europe, the annual conference for Gamification practitioners.

Pete is an Honorary Ambassador for GamFed (International Gamification Confederation), having previously been the Chair from 2014 to February 2019, whose aim is to spread best practices within and support the gamification industry.

After 15 years as a Lecturer on gamification and entrepreneurship at the University of Brighton he now guest lectures on Gamification at King’s College London and at ESCP Europe at post-graduate and under-graduate levels.

Over the past 20 years Pete has built and sold two businesses. One was in security software and the more recent one was a telecoms and internet connectivity business. He is also an Ambassador for Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce in the UK.

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