Employees become players: gamification at the Dutch bank Knab

A considerable amount of blogs have been posted about gamification, but the complete picture still appears to hang on loose recommendations. For the most of us the essential building blocks are obvious, but then rises the question: ‘how to make it happen’.

Based on a recently implemented business game, I will clarify the process how to gamify. This case study concerns the contact center of Knab, an online bank located in the Netherlands. I will structure the mix of different aspects such as fun, game, player journey and experience and the development of measurable and above all sustainable systems to serve business goals in a roadmap.


Before we go through the steps of the process, once again the definition of gamification: Gamification is the use of game design and game mechanics in a non-game context. Gamification is all about learning from games. And we can learn from games by not trying to understand the games themselves, but by using the principles that make a game a success.

Games are popular and successful. Look at the game Angry Birds, this game was downloaded more than a billion times. Another aspect that I want to give you is that gamification is more then just adding game elements. Of course it’s fun to collect as many points or win badges. But as I see it, gamification is not a ‘tool’ but a strategic choice.

Step 1: Define business objective

Start with a search for the strategic objectives. This sounds obvious, but too often I see game elements being stuck on environments without thinking which higher goals are actually superior. Without having these objectives concrete, you actually can start a gamification project, but it is most likely to fail.

And I’m not talking about your overall strategic objectives such as profitability, but specific goals for your gamification project such as increasing employee efficiency.

Tip: make a list of potential objectives. As specific as possible. Place them in order of importance. You might already loose the objectives that are at the bottom of your list. Ask yourself: If I would have success reaching this objective would I be satisfied? Make sure your list does not contain objectives that are means rather than goals.

Knab-case: the objectives

Dutch bank Knab asked EngageIT to design a player journey for their contact center not only to increase the efficiency, but also to strengthen the knowledge of their contact center agents. In addition, this project should also give the agents an insight in their career. The project is comprehensive and includes training programs, an innovative knowledge base, increase of performance and salary increases. Raising a salary is no longer determined by the number of working years, but is linked to the gamification performance of the agent.

Step 2:  Understand players & context

You have determined why you want to implement gamification. Now it is important to translate these objectives into concrete, measurable behaviors (target behaviors).

Measure the desired behavior

What behavior do you want to elicit the players and how are you going to measure this? Here also applies again, make it concrete and specific. The desired behavior has directly or indirectly influence on achieving your objectives.

Think carefully about any contradictions

These objectives can contain conflicting elements and you want to reward exactly what you want to achieve. A simple example shows this; when rewarding pure on ‘speed’, you risk that your agents will end every phone conversation as quickly as the can, or even to quickly. This behavior will be at the expense of quality and customer satisfaction.

Additionally, you will need to assign values to the behavior in the form of points. Gamification uses software algorithms and you’ll have to make quantifiable behaviors. Do not forget to ascertain whether certain chosen behaviors are not already monitored within your organization. In contact centers, as in the Knab-case, the Key Performance Indicators (which were also used in this case as target behaviors) are already monitored.

Create an ongoing process

Tip: avoid winners. Of course everyone likes to win, but this means that there will also be losers. Moreover, it also implies an end of the game. This way you create an all-or-nothing mentality, instead of a continuous process to achieve business objectives. That’s not what you want and you could solve this by putting in temporary competitions.

Knab-case: four target behaviors

In the Knab-case the target behaviors can be divided into a number of different categories;

  • Operations linked to the KPIs of Knab
  • Operations linked to customer satisfaction
  • Supplementing or visiting the knowledge base
  • Testing
  • When a contact center agents shows the desired behavior, he will earn points for one of the three characteristics that were designed for the game: Charm, Knowledge and Power. In order to go one level up the player has to achieve certain combinations of these characteristics.

Four types of players and motivations

All players are different. Who are your players, what is your relationship to the players, what motivates your players and what not? It is important to realize that not everyone gets motivated the same way. By placing yourself in the role of your players it will be easier to answer these questions.

Four different player types are defined in the literature:

  • the Killer – wants to win from others
  • the Achiever – wants to surpass himself and achieve results
  • the Socializer – wants to collaborate with others
  • the Explorer – wants to understand everything to the last detail

Tip: not all your players are the same, so make sure your gamification system appeals to multiple player types. Sketch a complete picture of your players, what are their dreams and what are their fears? What motivates your players. Are they focused to create an optimal cooperation or do they find a fast career most important, what has their priority?

Knab-case: add a motivation for each player type

The player types at Knab are wide ranging, and for that reason there are motivators for all types included in the gamification system. In this way all player types are represented and they are all encouraged to participate in the game. These motivators will be explained in more detail in the next step.

Step 3: Design the game and build the framework

You  have your goals, you know who your players are and how to motivate them. Now you have to focus on the use of the correct game elements and your game will really take shape. If your players find your game fun to do, they’ll be back.

A gamification game is build from engagement en progression loops. The engagement loops keep the player motivated to perform an action. The player performs an action, gets a badge for it and this badge motivates the player to perform another action.

A progression loop is a long term goal divided into smaller short-term missions. The game experience changes as the player progresses in the game. For example, the further the player enters the game, the more difficult the missions get.

Tip: pay enough attention to the ‘onboarding’ of your players. Make sure the first steps the player takes within the game are simple. This way your player will experience success and will be drawn into the game.

Knab-case: loops en badges for the four player types

Badges provide an additional option for the agents to differentiate themselves and keep the agents curious and interested. Some are easy to reach and serve to enjoyable interrupt the level curve, others are harder to find.

Overview performance of agent: earned badges, points, missions, quizzes and leaderboard

All player types are represented in the Knab case. There is a social knowledge base that appeals to the socializers and explorers. Also, there are achievement badges that are most attractive to the Achiever and some surprise badges are very interesting for the Explorer. There is also a leaderboard with a points system that encourages the Killer player type.

The knowlegde base

Comparing and a higher level

It is possible to compare your progression with the other players at level as well as at points. When you have reached a certain number of ‘level ups’ you can also go up in rank. This gives you access to more difficult missions and quizzes.

Pop-ups indicate which characteristic you have to focus on to go up a level. For example, it could be good for you to focus on your training, or filling the bottom-up knowledge base in order to increase your knowledge. For Charm it is important that your customers are satisfied. Power can be increased by a certain category of tasks that have to be performed. All this is clarified in feedbackbars which fill, missions that have to be performed and quizzes that test your knowledge.

Look & Feel

In addition to the the well-tuned objectives and behaviors, it is important that the look and feel of the gamification elements reflect the perception of the players and the strategic goals of the company.

Tip: use the brand perception of the organization in the game. The look and feel are just as important as a well-designed game. If your game does not look ‘sexy’ chances are that it will be ignored.

Knab-case: playfulness and looking after money

For Knab this meant emphasizing two things: the playfulness of the new bank and the emotional importance of ‘looking after other people’s money’. This is poured into a sweet, cute and yet professionally designed piggy bank that transforms as the agent evolves in the game.

The piggy banks, which are also shown in the figure below, are in fact the career of the agent. You can compare them with promotions within your function. Because the emphasis is always on the fact that Knab manages money from third parties, agents remain aware of the importance of their activities.

Step 4: implement and connect

There are several ways to implement a gamification system. Broadly you go looking for a system that detects the interaction between behavior and game elements and integrate them into your existing system.

An existing system or develop one yourself?

You can buy an existing gamification platform or you can develop it yourself. The advantages of buying an existing gamification platform is that you also buy a lot of experience with it. In addition you often get the consultancy, a tailor-made system and analysis to optimize your system.

Let the system monitor your players behavior

It is important that your system captures the behavior of your players. When a player answers the phone, the system will register this action. The system combines a value to this action and give feedback to the player in the form of a game element.

Tip: if you are not as technical as you would like: involve experts in the process! Look for people who have the analytical ability to see the logic in the data that generates your gamification system. Get technologists on board who can implement your vision.

Knab-case: connection between the gamification platform and the social enterprise software

The Knab-case included an innovative knowledge base and therefore a collaboration between the existing gamification system and a social enterprise software was needed. Actions in the knowledge base were sent to the enterprise platform and this platform sent the incoming data to the gamification system. This system combines a value to the data and gives feedback to the agents.

The 3 characteristics in the game; Charm, Knowledge, Power

Step 5: Test and optimize

Test, test, test… That’s all you do in this step. Test your gamification system and determine where adjustments are needed. Are the correct behaviors rewarded? Are rewards not unintentionally imposed for behavior that you’d rather not see?

Tip: Think about how people might be cheating. Ideally you design the game in such a way that cheating will be in favor of the company!

Knab-case: simulation based on expectations

In order to verify whether the system is working properly, we have carried out a simulation on the gamification platform, based in expectations. These expectations are based on assumptions as a result of interviews with various contact center managers.

Step 6: start the game

Tip: Gamification – if properly applied – operates unconsciously, so don’t be scared of people who say it is not ‘fun’.

Often when a number of people start joining the party, the resistance at the others disappears.

Step 7: monitor and improve

Monitor your game continuously and ensure it always stays in the correct flow. Adjust the game when necessary. This can be adjusting certain actions or by inventing new game elements.

One last tip: question your players regularly. Interview them to find out what the like and dislike about your gamification project. If necessary start again at step 1 to figure out where the imperfections of your system are.

The Knab-case I described as detailed as possible was recently implemented at the service desk of Knab. ‘This addition to their work is well received and the agents are excited to get to work’ said Knab.


This article appeared first in Dutch under Maak spelers van je werknemers: gamification bij het contact center van Knab op Frankwatching.com 

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