The ongoing debate between Jeff Tolster, Nate Brown, and me

Here’s the scoop on an ongoing debate between Jeff Tolster, Nate Brown, and me.

I love gamification. Not everyone feels the same way. One of the dissenters is Jeff Toister (@toister), whose Toister Performance Solutions helps companies improve employee performance. (Yes, the same initials as the TPS reports in the movie Office Space.)

Jeff is a really well established thought leader in our space, and even worked in a call center earlier in his career.

The cool thing about Jeff is that he has an open mind. He’s willing to listen. So when he wanted to really understand gamification, he engaged in a three-way discussion with me and Nate Brown (@customerisfirst).

Nate started with a prize wheel, and went on to mini disc golf tournaments, a murder mystery dinner and office-wide Easter egg hunts

Nate is director of Customer Experience for UL EHS Sustainability, a division of Underwriters Laboratories. The two of us have made presentations a couple of times at ICMI events, once in 2015 and again about a month ago in Long Beach.

It’s all in the game

One thing that became clear in our three-way discussion is that we had different ideas of what gamification really means. That’s not uncommon. To Jeff, it meant using game mechanics in non-game situations as a way of motivating people to meet certain objectives. So in Jeff’s view, some of our programs didn’t seem like gamification at all.

Nate and I see it differently. We use game mechanics to solve a problem. For Nate it was an employee morale issue. For Callzilla, it began as a way of creating a training atmosphere for our agents that does not include lectures or chalkboards.

Nate and I also take very different approaches. Nate started with a prize wheel, and from there went on to activities such as mini disc golf tournaments, a murder mystery dinner and office-wide Easter egg hunts. His goal is uniting the team and creating a context of strong relationships. (See Nate’s piece on gamification at the ICMI website.)

Callzilla’s is much more automated and software driven. We’ve used our PlayVox gamification platform to automatically compile and sort data so that it is visible to all and bridges various platforms and software that we have.


Jeff wasn’t necessarily wrong about gamification helping us meet objectives. As I told him, we have had some success in inspiring learning and improve performance, quality, C Sat and other KPIs. The ability to contain all the data and manage it in a way that is visible, shareable, and social, is a massive plus for us.

For a short while we tried to gamify everything… and that was a dumb idea

For example, we have a client for whom we provide customer care. Our KPIs are Saves (retention rate), QA scores, and average order value for the sales and upsell component of this program. We maintain a digital leaderboard for each metric. The leaderboard is visible to everyone in that program. Prizes, monetary and non-monetary, are given based on individual and group performance. We have agents grouped in teams, so there’s some competition among teams. We share real-time dashboards and communication from the floor level reps and Supervisors all the way to the client on the other side of the country.

Meeting of minds

I don’t know if we completely won Jeff over, but I think we opened his mind more than he expected. He acknowledged that once he understood our take on gamification, the three of us are more in agreement on how gamification might play a role at work.

For my part, I’m willing to admit that gamification has its limits. For a short while we tried to gamify everything, and that was a dumb idea. Gamification has to be kept simple so that everyone can understand it, so it can be measurable, and so that it can show true improvement. If not managed correctly, gamification can be a distraction. You never want your agents to get so focused on the game that they get distracted from helping and serving the customer.

It’s also important to understand that gamification doesn’t mean trivializing the work, at least not the way Callzilla uses it. I’m actually pretty businesslike about it. In fact, when Nate suggested that he and I dress up like the Super Mario Brothers for one of our ICMI Contact Center Expo presentations, I wasn’t crazy about the idea.

But Nate is so incredibly creative and artistic, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and trust him. Yeah, I wore a bright red Mario outfit, complete with a cap that had a big M on it. I try to keep an open mind too. -Neal

About the Author: Neal Topf

Neal Topf, a seasoned contact center expert, is dedicated to transforming customer experiences. With years of industry wisdom, he guides businesses to excellence. His articles provide actionable insights for live answering, tech support, appointment scheduling, and implementing automated services, ensuring unparalleled customer experiences and operational efficiency.