Is your organisation ready to play?

Treating customers like fans instead of wallets, listening to their needs, and welcoming their contribution can be very beneficial to an organisation. By Wandi Kruger-van Renen and Riaan Rudman

A question that is frequently asked is: ‘How can technology be used to release value from customers?’ One such a technology is ‘gamification’. Gamification is a buzzword in information technology (IT) circles that is attracting a lot of attention and is all about adding ‘amusement’ to the tedium of day-to-day living.

Although gamification was one of the hottest trends already in 2012, many South African organisations have been slow to adopt gamification principles. Having said this, many IT experts foresee organisations redesigning their business processes in the immediate future to include some form of gamification.

In this article, we give an overview of gamification and highlight a couple of uses. We also highlight a couple of potential challenges that have hindered implementation. Our aim is to make readers aware of gamification in general. The article is not intended as a technical explanation, nor as a comprehensive list of implications that organisations should be aware of.


Gamification is about tailoring IT and systems to the needs of a new generation of employees, young professionals and customers (Generation Y, also known as Millennials, those born between about 1980 and 2000) and to find out how they work, learn and interact with others.

It takes a lot more effort to intrigue and motivate Generation Y as they are not motivated by money and power. For this reason work, training and work-related activities should be fun, colourful and rewarding. The consumer experience needs to change. Competition and being the best is also very important to this generation of employees and will become even more the case when Generation Z enters the job market. Adding, for example, cartoon characters to online training programmes and rewarding new-generation employees with freebies would motivate them to give their best for the organisation they are working for. The way in which products are marketed to Generation Y should intrigue them and create a need for the product. One example of this is sending mobile vouchers to potential customers to give them a free sample of a product.

In short, gamification is a digital term referring to the use of gaming concepts to the content of an organisation. This can be used to increase customer and employee engagement. It involves applying gaming concepts such as rewards (get a free cup of coffee for being a loyal customer) and competition (being top of the leader board and being employee of the month) to incentivisation by means of rewards and exclusive offers.

Five areas where gamification has been implemented effectively are:

  • Loyalty programmes:  Organisations can use gamification tactics to increase sales and improve overall customer experience. Starbucks uses the My Starbucks Rewards app, which allows registered customers to accumulate stars when they purchase a Starbucks product. Depending on the degree of customer loyalty and the number of stars, benefits such as a free cup of coffee and birthday gifts are on offer.
  • Social networks: Ogilvy created the perfect campaign to launch the new Audi A3 in 2013. A truck advertising the A3 model drove across South Africa, guided by tweets of South Africans. The idea was to give South Africans the opportunity to exchange their car for the new Audi A3 inside the truck. The campaign was launched with TV, radio, and online coverage and the truck itself, directing South Africans to Audi’s mobi-site. Within three weeks 50 000 tweets guided the truck to Johannesburg – its final destination. The competition finalist had to meet a number of challenges and the person who completed the challenges in the shortest time was the winner of the new Audi A3. This resulted in Audi generating R3 116 654 worth of media exposure while the interest in the Audi A3 on Audi’s website tripled, resulting in a sizeable increase in the  number of test drives.
  • Marketing and advertising: The Marriott hotel group launched an online virtual game entitled My Marriott Hotel to attract people to consider hospitality as a career path. The game required potential employees to show their skills in an online environment and significantly increased the traffic to Marriott’s Facebook career page. Gamification can also build brand community and get customers more involved, which translates into loyalty. Magnum created a digital online game (using the Octalysis model) that resembles the Super Mario game. After playing the game, the player is returned to Magnum’s main site.
  • Performance targeting: Various companies have gaming-like consuls that represent scoreboards of computer shoot-‘em-up games on the factory floor showing the production output of production teams. Companies also run competitions keeping score of the output of production of teams and the team with the highest production output (or ‘score’) win prizes. This strategy has also been used successfully in the fitness industry.
  • Training programmes: In an attempt to increase corporate training, Deloitte made their courses available online to employees. Videos and other downloadable material were added to the content of the courses to make it easier to understand. However, to get employees to take part, Deloitte built in a fun element. Points and badges could be earned for courses completed by employees. These points were shared and visible to all employees, creating internal job opportunities in turn. For example, when a section required an employee to fill a ‘change project’ role, the head of the section could see which employees had completed the relevant training and ask the employee to apply for the job.


Clearly, gamification has shown benefits. Sales increased as an organisation had greater consumer engagement. Where gamification has been implemented, production increased, wastage declined, and staff morale improved – to name but a few. On the other hand, gamification is not suitable for every brand or organisation.


Determining how to implement gamification is a serious challenge that organisations must face. It requires a complete change in mindset. Before an organisation develops a new game for their brand or organisation, the organisation should consider various issues, for example:

•             Their reasons for gamifying their brand

•             Whether the objectives of the organisation will be met by gamification

•             Whether customers and employees will benefit from gamification, and

•             Whether the organisation will be able to create excitement about and around the new game

An organisation needs to understand what gamification is, the tools available to be used to gamify an organisation and its own processes, as well as customers’ and/or employees’ needs and wants. Organisations should conduct in-depth research on their customers and/or employees, as well as its own needs. Some may even argue that an organisation should conduct research into all its stakeholders. Consideration should be given to what motivates, intrigues and excites these stakeholders. It is important that organisations do not stop conducting research on stakeholders’ needs. This would ensure that the organisation is ready to adjust and upgrade their game quickly as the needs of the stakeholders’ change.

An organisation should be to identify the business objectives that they want to achieve with gamification. The organisation should evaluate the available gamification technology that would best address and assist the organisation in achieving its business objectives that are aligned to stakeholders’ needs and wants. Only once a perfect match is found in the technologies that address the specific business and stakeholder objectives should the applicable gamification technology be implemented.

To ensure the success of any gamification project, an organisation must select the correct rewards for participation by the targeted stakeholder. Selecting the incorrect reward system may lead to failure of the project. In addition, the organisation should ensure that gamification programmes are constantly updated and evolved to keep the users involved and interested. Many argue that the greatest challenge with gamification is to convince customers that they are valuable contributors to the organisation, as they assist the organisation in identifying their needs. Furthermore, organisations should make the gamification of their brand or organisation a fun experience for their stakeholders.

Another challenge faced by organisations is to remain innovative in capturing the value created by customers. The issue here is that organisations struggle to implement gaming elements properly in the organisation, because they do not know how to derive the benefits and do not realise that the gaming platform that is used must change as the customer changes.

Having skilled staff available to address these issues may prove to be a challenge in its own right. Gartner believes that the skills barrier will be overcome – for example, they predicted that by 2016 gamification will be the vital way that organisations can leverage customer marketing and loyalty and by 2020 advanced education to acquire the applicable skills necessary to gamify a organisation will be in short supply globally. In South Africa, this might not be the case, however.

It should be noted that when gaming is used as part of, for example, e-commerce, the same challenges (such as legal, logistical, financial and cultural difference due to global reach that makes it difficult to determine jurisdiction, supply chain structure and payment methods) that usually impact e-commerce, also influence gaming. Security issues are also high on the list owing to the variety of open platforms used. The greatest security risk is the possible retrievability of personal information of customers.


Gamification integrates pleasure into the training of employees and marketing of brands and helps collect information on not only customer’s trends, but also production information. This can assist in enhancing the stakeholder’s overall experience. The end result may be a competitive advantage over competitors. The question is, however: Is your organisation ready to play?

Author: Wandi Kruger-van Renen CA(SA) is a lecturer in the School of Accountancy at Stellenbosch University and Riaan Rudman CA(SA) is a senior lecturer in the same school