Can you “Gamify” your Customer Experience? Lessons from the Highway

Have you thought about “gamifying” your customer experience?

Over the past number of months, I’ve been spending time with senior leaders on the Starbucks Digital Ventures team.  Given the rise of popularity of mobile technology, Starbucks has “gamified” such things as Foursquare check-ins at Starbucks cafes.  Designers have also developed a customer reward program interface through a mobile app that, among other things, has a user watch gold stars fall into a virtual cup as the customer’s purchases reach a level where a free drink is obtained.  While I will write extensively about Starbucks use of “gamification” and “game theory” in a book to be released by McGraw-Hill next year.  I thought I could tee-up a general discussion here.

In case, the concept of “gamification” is foreign to you, let me offer a quick overview. Gamification is the practice of taking techniques and psychological aspects used to create games and applying them to address objectives in non-game settings. To see the power of using game principles, one need look no further than a recent study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The study essentially used technology to make a game of driving the speed limit.

In the study, 50 drivers were loaned specially equipped cars that used GPS technology to determine speed limit coordinates.  Each driver drove the loaner car for one week. Much like a fare meter in a taxi, each driver started the week with a $25 credit that they could keep at the end of the week if they drove within the posted speed limit. If the driver drove 5 to 8 miles over the speed limit the meter would click down 3 cents, and if they drove 9 or more miles over the speed limit, the meter would tick down 6 cents.

Results from the tracking system as well as the driver’s self-report suggested that the drivers dramatically altered the way they typically drove.  Furthermore, drivers reported “pleasure” from engaging in the game and trying to keep all of the $25.

Think about it, the fear of a $150 speeding ticket was less likely to affect behavior than the opportunity to “win the game” and save 3 or 6 cents at a time.

In the future, I will talk about applications of “gamification” in your customer experience design. For now, you might just want to start thinking about aspects of your business around which you might build a compelling game.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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