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Use Gamification in Customer Education to Influence Product Use

Written by Julia Borgini

Published on October 27, 2016

Over the last year or so I've been transitioning from a PC laptop to a MacBook and it's been a bit of a challenge. Things I've been used to doing one way are done slightly differently on the Mac, so I've had to alter the way I work on a computer now. While I haven't had to take any training on how to use a Mac, I've spent my fair share of time searching online for solutions on how to do these things on it.

Which got me thinking about the relationship between training and product usage. In my previous life as a technical writer, I used to joke about how I wrote "manuals that people never read." I know how hard it can be to foster behavior changes in users through manuals and online help, but what about with customer education?

Adam Dole, currently with the Mayo Clinic and formerly design researcher for Method, a brand experience agency, suggests using gaming design elements to change behavior. Extrapolating from Dole's idea, could we use those same ideas in training programs to more strongly influence product usage?

Let's take a closer look.

Using gamification to influence product use

The idea of gamification is not new and has been used for a while now in business, like with any company's loyalty program or customer engagement program, and in goal tracking in fitness programs. The end goal is to ensure retention of information, so it makes sense that gamification would help. But does it really? Are participants really retaining more information when we make learning more fun?

Using my past life as a back office bank employee, here's a little history. Each year we had to take mandatory training that covered everything from money laundering to information systems governance. All employees had to complete the training by a certain date, with a certain passing rate in each course. (You could take the courses over again if you "failed," but since some of the courses and modules were long, no one wanted to do that.)

Make it entertaining

Let's face it, some training programs can be a little 'dry,' so add a little entertainment and 'fun' to increase engagement with participants. One year the bank surprised us by making the drier portions of the mandatory training a little more fun and intriguing by introducing the idea of a board game. They created their own version of Monopoly, which was kind of fun as we were a bank. We went around the board completing tasks and answering questions just like the real game. After the third year of this, I actually looked forward to certain sections to see what they'd added that year! (True story.)

End result: I retained more information because of the "fun" I had while taking the mandatory training, and even referenced that information more in my daily job. Sure, I might not have remembered the specific guideline that applied to a particular daily activity, however I knew where to go look for the information because of the training modules.

Training on your product might not be mandatory for your customers, but you could still take steps to make your product training more entertaining.

Make it visual

My former employer's use of the board game was just the most obvious visual thing they did in our corporate training program. They also added short videos and elements I had to click on in order to progress through the training, which kept my attention. It ensured I engaged with each part of the training before moving forward, which was a good way to check for comprehension and retention of the information.

End result:  It kept my mind more engaged with the information, making me an active participant in the learning. Considering it took almost three full days to get through the training, it was critical to maintain focus and engagement.

Make it competitive

Online badging solutions like Credly and Badgeville help companies maintain participation and completion of their training courses. Deloitte used Badgeville to increase the average time to complete their executive training curriculum by 50% and saw a similar rise in the number of users that returned to the site daily. Deloitte executives wanted to see how they were stacking up against their colleagues.

End result: My former bank director used to do this to motivate the management team. Each week he'd give us an update on how all the teams were doing, giving us a gentle ribbing on those of us at the back of the pack. None of the managers wanted to be at the back of the leaderboard for long, so we encouraged our team to keep moving forward in their training each week to ensure that.  

Make it rewarding

Psychology tells us that while curiosity can be a great priming motivation for learning, rewards are often what keeps us learning. Especially for adult learners. Tying training programs to tangible rewards at work can help keep participants moving forward in the programs. It can also help them retain more of the information they are learning.  

End result: Sure, there was no real penalty for me and my bank management colleagues if our teams were in last place when it came to our mandatory training, but we all knew we had to keep moving forward. We wanted to make sure our completions were increasing each week. One year our director implemented a "lunch with the boss" reward for the team that finished the fastest, while the team that finished last by the cutoff date had to buy him coffee for a week.

Final thought

Using gamification in training programs is a great way to help encourage learning retention. It can have an even more pronounced effect on learning when applied to training that has a specific goal such as learning a new software tool or increasing business goals like sales or lead generation.

Is your company using gamification in your training programs? Have you noticed a difference in your participant's application of their learning? Share your experiences in the comments as we'd like to hear about them.


If you want to learn more about gamification, watch the recording of the webinar we did with Yu-Kai Chou, behavioral design expert and author of the book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Click the button below to watch the recording.

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