The gamification of IT support: So much more than points and badges

The IT support role is a strange one. Service desk agents are often unappreciated, undervalued and underpaid, even though their hard work helps to keep the business running.

It’s also not the most-glamorous of IT roles, due to its lowly ranking in the overall IT hierarchy and the fact that end-users only ever contact the service desk in negative scenarios, i.e. if they have an IT issue or because they want something they don’t have.

So, working in IT support can unfortunately be a seemingly never-ending queue of incidents and service requests. This can affect morale and staff retention over time. To solve this problem, IT support teams can look to use game mechanics to engage employees in their work, to motivate them, to engender team comradery, and to reinforce behaviours. Gamification relies on the very human need for personal recognition, status, and achievement, plus the thrill of competition.

How gamification can be used to improve service desk motivation and performance

IT support and the service desk can be viewed as a transactional operation. Contact is made (either by a person or a monitoring system), a ticket opened, the issue investigated, the resolution applied, and finally the ticket is closed. Hopefully, this process is completed in a timely manner and a good customer experience provided.

To quote Adam Holtby, Ovum analyst, and his report on gamification and the IT service desk: “Gamification is not about turning work into a game, but is instead about offering a new means by which employees can be better engaged through performance quantification, rapid feedback loops, and a sense of progression”

So the aim here should be to provide real-time monitoring and rolled-up metrics on individual and team performance. These can be set as targets and reviewed dynamically for improved service quality and staff development. Common service desk metrics should be the focus, including:

  1. Telephone answering speed
  2. Incident volumes handled
  3. Average incident handling/resolution times
  4. Customer satisfaction
  5. First call resolution
  6. Volume and quality of knowledge articles created
  7. SLA targets met or exceeded

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Gamification is not just about hitting individual and team targets, it’s about increasing employee engagement, motivation, and aspects of personal esteem and self-actualisation.

Wider IT operations gamification use cases

While gamification is often talked of in IT support or service desk scenarios, there are a number of other IT operations use cases. Some are generic, and can be used throughout the organisation, such as:

  • Increasing employee engagement, with a greater buy-in to targets (particularly SLAs)
  • Increasing process and technology buy-in and use
  • Knowledge management – both creation and use
  • Increasing collaboration – both within and across teams
  • Employee training – from onboarding through continual learning
  • Performance reviews
  • Idea schemes

While other opportunities are more recognisable to IT operations or IT service management (ITSM) professionals, for example in:

  • Problem management
  • Change management
  • Peer support
  • Self-service use

Practical advice for gamification success

For companies looking to get more out of their ITSM Teams, the answer should be to focus less on the need for efficiency on its own. Instead, gamification can help wrap this efficiency drive in an approach that benefits the IT support staff as well. Companies are now seeing direct benefits from this gamification approach that meets the needs of both team members and management – for example Addison Lee has implemented this approach using Freshservice.

To get the most from this approach, here are five steps to bear in mind:

  1. Recognise what gamification is and isn’t. Understand that it’s not just the use of technology to have fun - in reality, it’s a behaviour modification tool that is very explicit about what is required from people in different organisational roles.
  2. Understand how gamification works. It needs to be mutually beneficial to all involved – staff have to know what they need to achieve and how their performance will be rewarded, while support team managers should be able to track improvements in staff over time.
  3. Pin down the objectives. This involves having a clear understanding of the business outcomes you wish to achieve and the behaviours that you want to engender.
  4. As with most organisational change initiatives, start small and build on your successes. Get the people who will be ultimately affected by the change involved as early as possible to gain buy-in.
  5. Remember that the mantra of “one size doesn’t fit all” is almost always applicable to any organisational change. Understanding how different personality types and generations are engaged and motivated is key. Personalising any gamification initiative can help as well, as each person may respond differently.

Finally, if you would like to find out more about gamification, and how it can help both IT support and ITSM as a whole, then I recommend Barclay Rae’s gamification white paper and accompanying videos.

Simon Johnson, Director of Operations EMEA at Freshdesk

Image source: Shutterstock/iQoncept