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Gaming the System – Manufacturing Desire

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October 01, 2014
Mark Munger - mark@markmunger.com

Recently when speaking with a hotel executive we talked about the challenge of getting front line staff to use the applications to its best and fullest extent. At the time, I didn't have a rock solid suggestion especially given the international, multicultural staff that the executive’s hotel managed.

Shortly thereafter I had a completely different conversation with a mobile game developer where we discussed acquiring and keeping users coming back to play a mobile game application. It turns out, the answer to both is similar.

The mobile application discussion focused on how to get users to learn about our application and want to use our application to where it becomes a habit,  a term used to describe how to manufacture desire.

The objective centers on connecting with the user with both something enjoyable to use and a reward where they gain value. Farmville, the popular Facebook game, and Candy Crush Saga, the popular mobile game, both have these attributes.
These applications are easy to learn, fun to play and have a status reward system of comparing your status with that of your friends. The games also encourage interaction with other players by asking friends for items or lives to make it an interactive and collaborative game. The interaction also extends beyond the game as I can’t count the number of times I was asked what level I was on when somebody found out I played Candy Crush.

How do you create a business application with characteristics like a game where staff will want to use the application, have some enjoyment in using it, and have that sense of collaborative competition? There are several obstacles that need to be overcome.

The first obstacle is the general look and feel of the application. Many hospitality applications we use require training and experience to use them properly. Some require a week or more of training and then it still seems complicated and cumbersome. Without naming names, I’m sure at least one has already come to mind. Legacy applications have a wealth of process, screen and data but many are not today’s definition of user friendly. The User eXperience (UX) needs to take on as much value as the application functions. A good question to ask is, would my front line employees choose to use this application?

After the general UX is made easy, the next obstacle is to make sure staff is using it effectively. Many applications offer financial or other dashboards on the data that is in the application. In all my years, I’ve only seen one application that had a user dashboard with detailed metrics to know how the application is being used by staff. This included per user metrics and was useful in training, reviews and improving overall application performance.

Another item not seen in many staff applications is a user dashboard to know how staff members compare. Most everyone has a competitive nature. It could be just for bragging rights like what level of Candy Crush you are on or it could be for a reward. But giving staff a way to be competitive and that also provides better service for the customer is a win all around. Staff interaction to post-stay surveys where even if the guest doesn’t remember who helped them, the systems always do. This could be normalized and presented anonymously, providing the staff feedback without a formal review.  Privacy and HR issues would need be addressed but the results could be worth it.

One aspect of manufacturing desire in business applications is to make it addictive and habitual, but addictive in a good way. If people actually wanted to use the applications, it would make work seem more enjoyable.

What if applications were written in such a way that they were intuitive? What if we tracked how the application was used and provided incentives for the staff member to use all the information provided to service the customer? What if there was an internal competition to use as much of the software as possible to ensure we were positioned to service the guest the very best we could? It would turn into a win/win/win for the customer, the hotel and the staff. The hotel gains more productivity from the staff member; the staff member gets get more enjoyment from working and some type of reward or recognition for proficiency; and most important, the guest gets served to the best of the hotel’s ability.

Staff interaction with the system should be effortless and without friction. When we talk about game design in business applications it’s not because we want the application to become a game just for enjoyment or pleasure. The business functionality is important to the business, but the use of the application is just as important to the business. To have individuals who want to use it and can use all of its capabilities is just as important.

Is this possible? Yes. There are a few vendors that have indicated they are working on these types of systems and metrics. Include these as requirements in RFPs and ask your vendor about user experience and user metrics the next time you’re talking about software improvements. It is worth the conversation.

Mark Munger is an independent consultant specializing in hospitality and gaming systems. He can be reached at mark@markmunger.com.

A good article on this subject appeared in 2012 on TechCrunch.

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