How using web-based 3-D animated gaming simulations in training and development leads to better performance and higher revenues

By Bob Davis and Gary Evans

QCS-LLC-screen-shotContact centers universally seek engaged and empathetic conversations with their customers, especially when they are upset with service or want to cancel their service or subscription. Good listening skills are of course crucial to the discovery of what is really going on with the customer. Asking relevant questions and listening to the answers are skills that come naturally to some, but many need coaching, training and encouragement. As their skills develop, agents gain confidence and experience the benefits of satisfying customers and the organization. While these skills can be taught, they are best acquired with practice and feedback from customers and the organization.

In our work for over 10 years helping contact center agents boost revenues, we’ve been very successful using an approach we call The Quality Conversation. It is highly effective, but it requires a commitment of time, effort and money to teach. However, by using 3-D animated gaming simulations for contact center training, we’ve been able to help agents find the true reasons for customer concerns, and subsequently offer solutions that satisfy and retain the customer. The animated game makes the training experience fun for the agent. This resonates with the agent and deepens their knowledge and understanding of how to speak with customers to reconcile their differences.

Clear and measurable gains in Detroit

For example, The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press newspaper contact center experiences newspaper delivery complaints as well as calls to cancel or downgrade subscriptions. By building on their customer care basic training program with the use of animated game simulations, they have increased their cancellation saves rate by 33 percent. Agents have fun learning and deepening their conversational skills. They test themselves and learn from their “mistakes.” When they engage in a Quality Conversation that satisfies customers, they are rewarded with the satisfaction of performing at their best.

Supervisors and company leadership report that they are also very pleased with the simulations.

They found that agents left on their own to play the gaming simulations remain deeply engaged and achieve a higher saves rate on average. Additionally, the newspapers hired new employees who never had traditional training and coaching, and when they began the gaming simulations, they increased their saves rates by an average of 22 percent—and in one case 50 percent!

One of the most interesting things about the Detroit case was that saves rates spiked from 22 percent to 34 percent after the traditional training and coaching workshop. But by about three weeks after the workshop, the saves rates began to dip down—very typical after a training program without intensive follow-up coaching, because agents tend to forget their new skills and return to old habits.

Now it is important to note that many companies face a fiscal problem when comes to contact center training. They allocate dollars for the training programs themselves, but tight budgets often prevent expenditures on critical follow-up. This is especially true for small contact centers that only have 10 to 15 agents. Gaming simulations provide a solution to this problem.

Reversing a post-training slide, driving sustainability

In the Detroit case, two good things happened. As mentioned, the contact center implemented gaming simulations. Immediately the slide reversed and results returned to their post-training levels. So clearly these applications drive sustainability. Second, the gaming simulations only cost about $45 per agent per month. That’s the cost of acquiring one new subscriber, so one save paid for the application. The total increase in saves in Detroit delivered a large return on investment.

We believe that these results indicate that gaming simulations can deliver comparable ROI in virtually any industry that relies on customer contact centers for customer service, sales and retention.

Here’s an example of how 3-D animated gaming simulations work. From individual computers, agents log on and engage with a virtual customer on the monitor. In the gaming simulation, the virtual customer has called in to cancel a subscription and talks with the agent, who can respond by clicking on one of several choices. Each choice takes the agent to a new screen, the virtual customer’s next reaction, and additional response choices that will lead to the save or the sale—as long as the agent follows pre-programmed best practices. Incorrect answers receive increasingly negative responses from the customer, ultimately resulting in a cancellation and upset customer.

The gaming simulation keeps score based on correct and incorrect responses and how long it takes the agent properly resolve the issue or secure the save or the sale.

Customizable, scalable and social

The best gaming simulations are in 3-D animation instead of 2-D. They are customizable and scalable to any contact center and industry as well as its Service Level Achievement or contact quality standards. They are also social, allowing users to play against themselves as well as other players in an environment of cooperative competition for the good of the organization and the individual. As game play progresses, each level presents a more challenging real-world contact center experience for the agent. This includes simulated distractions such as sidebar conversations with other agents, background distractions on the customer’s side of the line, or having a supervisor take over a call to save the customer from canceling. Each response or lack of response to a given scenario by the agent results in point calculations and coaching tips.

These gaming simulations also track key metrics related to revenue growth and game usage. They can issue badges to players based on successes and increasing levels of difficulty, and they can display achievements in the contact center on a leader board.

We have one note of caution, however. Many developers are gaming companies that are content neutral. It is critical for contact centers to work with a developer that brings demonstrated experience in getting strong sales and retention results for businesses and high ROI. They should have robust instructional design and a history of generating measurable results and ROI with their curriculum in addition to gaming development expertise.

At work and on their own time

Since the gaming simulations are web-based, agents can log in on the Internet to play from any computer—and they do. We’ve seen agents so engaged and having so much fun with the games that they are motivated to play not only onsite during training, coaching sessions and periods of slow contact volume, but also on their own time at home. What’s more, the games are perfect for contact centers that have home-based agents.

Why do gaming simulations work?

Our secondary research shows a significant pre-existing general interest in gaming. In the United States 183 million active gamers spend an average of 13 hours per week playing computer or video games. Accordingly, we believe contact centers have a marvelous opportunity to tap into the energy and the talents that these gamers use to master Guitar Hero, to harness the motivation that they have for organizing complex raids and quests in multi-player online games. This level of commitment gives contact centers a powerful tool for increasing employee effectiveness.

Let’s be honest—the vast majority of contact center agents put in their time in exchange for a paycheck. The challenge for contact center leadership is to tap into the creative energy of their people. They need a way to engage agents to provide customers with a world-class experience and to add value to the lives of the people who work for contact centers.

The affinity that millions of Americans have for playing video and online games shows up in contact center classes. A show of hands during a recent training and coaching session revealed that more that 80 percent of the class members play video and online games regularly.

The short story is that call center agents as a group—many of them younger people for whom gaming is a part of everyday life—are teeming with motivation to play video and online games. Contact centers will do well to tap into that powerful motivation. In fact we believe it is the responsibility of leadership in contact centers to do so for the good of their organizations’ bottom lines.

To be sure, we’ve seen the effect of gaming simulations first-hand. Agents send us a very powerful message when we see them so engaged in this type of training that they’re not even aware of their surroundings. It is very likely that this is the future of learning.

We believe it is time to benefit from the interest and engagement in online and video games by using gaming simulations to teach contact center agents the skills they need to become even better at their jobs. We should gamify key metrics. The net result will be more engaged workers and dramatic performance increases.

Backed by research

Here are some research findings on why gaming simulations work:

  • People like playing games—they find them fun and engaging. Fifty-five percent of respondents in a recent survey said they would be interested in working for a company that offered games to increase productivity.
  • A study conducted by U.S. Department of Defense found that trainees gain higher confidence in applying learning from training sessions on their jobs when training is gaming simulation-based.
  • A study in the United Kingdom showed that a game can influence positive social behavior. In other words by using gaming simulation to learn contact center best practices, agents are going to become nicer people (and consequently happier and more rewarded) in all aspects of their lives.

 A growth industry

Forrester Research, Inc., shows that providing gaming simulations for employee learning is a strong growth industry. Forrester calculates that American businesses are spending $100 million per year on employee learning games. They project that this spending will grow to a whopping $3.2 billion by 2015.

Bernard Suits, the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Department of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo, wrote the following in the introduction to Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal:

“It is games that give us something to do when there is nothing to do. We thus contact games ‘pastimes’ and regard them as trifling fillers of the interstices of our lives. But they are much more important than that. They are clues to the future. And their serious cultivation now is perhaps our only salvation.”

We’re not sure if game play will be our salvation, but we do believe it is a powerful tool in helping contact center agents be all they can be.

Learn more about how Robert C. Davis and Associates can bring Interactive Call Center Games to your organization.

Founded in 1977 and based in metro Atlanta, RCDA helps customer contact centers across North America add millions of dollars to their bottom-line results through its training, coaching and consulting programs based on its exclusive Quality Conversation approach to handling customer service, sales and retention contacts. The approach is based on a robust contact flow that leads agents through five steps—Greeting, Discovery, Solution, Offer and an assumptive Close—that address customer wants, interests and needs and establish emotional connections with customers and show genuine interest. Quality Conversation Simulations, LLC, an RCDA subsidiary, develops the kind of gaming simulations described in this article. More information is available at www.robertcdavis.net and www.qcsims.com or contact Bob Davis direct at 678-548-1775.

Gary Evans is President of International Media Consulting LLC based in Reston, VA, and he has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Washington, DC, chapter of SOCAP. More information is available at www.imediaresults.com.

Note: A condensed version of this article was published November 29, 2012, by The International News Media Association (INMA) on www.imna.org.