Social Business, Social Media Strategy, Social CRM, Social Media Staffing and Operations

Please Aggravate Me: Is Gamifying Customer Service a Reality

Lisa Loeffler (@LisaMLoeffler) is Research & Analysis Lead at Convince & Convert. She is also founder and principal of Genuine Media, a marketing agency that helps clients build their individual and brand reputation through social media.

We all know waiting on hold for-EV-ver on the phone, or standing in a l–o–n–g line, are a few of life’s most unpleasant, time sucking experiences.

Recently I needed to change a flight with United Airlines.

In the interest of time, I went to their website and logged into my account to make the change.

Unfortunately, I received an error message when I went to change my flight. I was then directed to the United Reservations toll free number to make changes to my itinerary.

United Airlines Error Message

So I grabbed my iPhone, dialed United, and heard this recorded message:

Thanks for calling United Airlines. We have been experiencing higher than normal call volumes over the last several days. To avoid the long hold times for a customer agent please consider using our self-service options on or calling back later if you’re not traveling in the next 72 hours. (Listen here)

Oh… the thick irony.

After answering four or five questions, I was placed on hold 22 minutes or so before reaching a live agent.

During my initial hold time I heard music, information about United Airlines, and sometimes-long periods of COMPLETE silence, making me wonder, “Have I been disconnected?”

In all, it took one hour…17 minutes…33 seconds for the CSR to work with another department to see if the flight I needed was available, get an updated ticket price, rebook the flight, and complete the transaction.

While the United Airlines CSR was very pleasant and thankful for my patience, I couldn’t help but think how can people’s time spent waiting on hold be more pleasant and fruitful, both to the customer and to the brand?

Leveraging the “On Hold” Experience

Over the last several years we’ve gamified checking in (Foursquare), eating and drinking (Foodspotting), investing in human beings (Empire Avenue), and many other categories.

What if we took it to another level and gamified customers’ live call interactions with CSRs (customer service reps) to help palliate customers’ on hold experience, as well as allow companies to benefit and receive a cost savings?

We Might Hate the Players, But We Don’t Hate the Game

Social games have become the online version of popular reality TV shows – having an astounding impact on our leisure and down time.

According to a report focusing on online casual and social games from market research firm Newzoo, 126 million Americans, or 87% of the 145 million U.S. gamers ages 10 to 65, play games on social networks or casual game websites.

definition of gamification

And in a Gartner Research Report, it’s estimated by 2015 that more than 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes.

So with Americans already willfully engaging in casual gaming, doesn’t it make sense for brands to gamify their customer service call center experiences to leverage an activity customers clearly (and already) enjoy?

Gamifying Customer Service Brands could reward customers with coupons, miles or points for their ‘waiting on hold’ time investment.

Something like what TopGuest is doing for hotel guests – rewarding customers when they check in to properties – or how Virgin America’s Elevate program rewards their customers with miles by checking in when they arrive at the airport.

3 Ideas for Gamifying Customer Service

Here are a few ideas and benefits around how the waiting on hold experience could be more fun and rewarding for customers:

1. Rewards for Waiting on Hold

Borrowing from AMEX’s recent “Tweet Your Way To Savings” program, companies could gamify the ‘waiting on hold’ experience based on their customers social media engagement or social kudos they drive (or post) while they’re on hold.

While customers are on hold brands could pipe in key messages through the phone that customers could post to their Twitter account (or other social media accounts) with a matching program hashtag (to get credit).

  • After you’ve synced up your Twitter account (or other social media accounts) with the program – every time you Tweet (or post) the hashtag – points or miles are added to your account, or promotions and coupons could be emailed directly to a customer’s inbox.
  • A program could be hyper-customized by allowing customers to pick the reward they want to tweet (or post) with the corresponding hashtag, giving customers exactly what they want.

2. Rewards for Using Self-Service Channels

Want to save your organization precious “human CSR capital?” Drive customers to your website, email, forums and robust, highly searchable FAQ to answer questions in event they may not need immediate help solving or the use of a live person.

Again offer points, discounts, or miles to reward customers for using self-service online channels instead of clogging up live support with simple questions that can easily be answered online.

3. Fantasy Dashboard: The Customer vs. the CSR

This is a pie in the sky idea and I’m doubtful any brand would develop such a model – but who knows, this may be something we see in the future. A gamer can dream!

Perhaps a brand could launch a game customers play while they are waiting on hold. Maybe off the idea on the newly popular PS3 game Journey.

The game plot: While you’re on hold you travel through a mysterious desert toward a mountain peak that juts out in the far landscape – it seems hopelessly unreachable (see where I’m going with this?). Along the way you are provided tastefully placed product reveals and promotions and must grapple barriers and tasks that delay you from making it to the top of the mountain. Oh my! Then… all of the sudden… the CSR comes on the other end of the phone and you reach the peak.

Customers’ scores could be positioned against each other (based on time on call) and top scorers could be eligible for additional prizes, promotions, and savings.

The main issue with this idea, however, is that it may drive MORE people to want to play the “I’m on hold trying to reach the mountain” game.

7 Customer Service Gamification Benefits

Like other gamifying benefits, gaming customers’ ‘waiting on hold’ time could provide:

  • Decreased Complaints – With one in five customers expecting a response within one hour on Twitter or Facebook, gamifying or rewarding a customer service experience will lessen the burden your community manager has to carry and potentially increase positive social media and online reviews.
  • Increased Loyalty – Gamification of customer service will drive engagement and brand loyalty.
  • Increased Product Knowledge – As customers play the game they learn more about your brand’s products.
  • Leads – Introduce customers to new products or promotions based on their previous searches on your website or through programs they’ve enrolled into with your brand.
  • Word of Mouth (WOM) – Customers who have a pleasant experience while engaging with your brand, even while waiting on hold, may have the propensity to share it with their friends.
  • Measurement – If you’re tracking what your customers are saying, what they’re sharing, reposting and retweeting, you’ll be able to measure a gamification program as well. If you’re driving users to a custom platform you’ll also be able to measure unique visits, page views per visitor, time on site, depth of visit, participation
  • Fun – While it’s not easily measured, incorporating the fun factor – especially while customers are on hold – is going to improve their experience, as well as the experience of your CSRs, if the customer has experienced a long hold time.

What ideas do you have that could make waiting on hold more fun and rewarding for the customer experience?

Facebook Comments


  1. AndyGrantham says

    I like the innovative thinking, and don’t deny some of the possible benefits described, however, I’d like to put this question out there though – would it not be more worthwhile for companies to invest in improving their service, i.e. shorter waiting time etc, rather than just expect customers to put up with it, and then be “entertained” while waiting..?
    Personally, it would just annoy the hell out of me, that a company would offer something to pass the time while waiting, rather than actively trying to improve their service and reduce time wasted.. 

    • says

       @AndyGrantham Hi Andy, I agree with you 1000%. Yes – the best solution would be for brands to improve their service, shorten wait times and flatten the chain of approvals to resolve customers challenges. By the time customers have been passed along to the “resolution specialist level 4” CSR  I’m guessing many are pretty heated and just wish “Why can’t they streamline this process?”

  2. says

    I wonder if you could check-in to being on hold with a brand.  Then you might get an idea of just how many people are in the queue ahead of you.  I don’t think I’d like to be entertained while waiting, or informed, but there’s no excuse for complete silence.  Surely the best solution for this is to enter your telephone number so they can call you back when they’re ready.  Then if you need to keep them hanging on, they’re paying for the call.

    • says

       @danfrydman Thanks Dan. IMO entering one’s phone number for a call back is one of most helpful choices available today when one must wait on hold. Personally I just want to call a brand and reach resolution or make my purchase. I think customers are still inconvenienced while they wait for a call back – you’re still waiting somewhere (at your house, at work, etc.) and you can’t go about your life normally, because you’re still waiting for them to call you back. 

  3. says

    I think another one is the incentive to the company themselves… internally they can “reward” their CSRs for REDUCING the hold time and poor service. Not that I’m against the gamification of CSR (love it, actually) but for every percentage of rewards to the customer that they’re not paying out to the customer, it’s returned to the staff that made it happen. In the end, it’s a win for everyone!

    • says

       @KristenDaukas Hi Kristen. Yes, I actually considered adding this idea to the line up as well. I think an internal reward system would work. I’d not be surprised if some companies are doing it already without our knowledge. 

  4. Tedvh49ppg says

    @MelissDav Get for yourself a walmart coupon. All you have to do is answer walmart’s question! Look at my profile website!

  5. says

    That’s a really interesting idea!  Whenever I am stuck on hold I am either playing around somewhere on the computer or my phone, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, my website, reading blogs like yours, etc.  If you as a company could leverage that users time by keeping them busy thinking about your brand through a game, interaction, contest, etc. there is a huge value to the business.  Nice article!!!!

    • says

       @MarcEnsign Thanks Marc! I know many might think if a brand takes the time to gamify waiting on hold why can’t they shrink waiting on hold times.
      It’s inconceivable how many perhaps hundreds and hundreds (could it reach thousands?) of customers are waiting on hold simultaneously with big/global brands – and this number changes by the second.
      Realistically (and fiscally) it’s difficult for brands to stable enough staff power to meet the immediate needs of every customer calling in. Perhaps redirecting dollars toward one of these programs would show brands actually care we spend our precious time on hold and give something back for supporting and buying into our brand and products. 

  6. Miranda Young says

    I think part of the problem you experienced is the result of United and Continental FINALLY merging all of their systems. It’s been pandemonium since then. My husband had the same problem as you did about a week ago and it was a nightmare trying to change his flight. I love your way of thinking though! What about this – every call where you have to wait on hold longer than 5 minutes you get 100 miles. 15 minutes you get 300 miles.  Perhaps that would put a fire in someone’s pants to not let people wait on hold forever

    • says

       @Miranda Young Great idea.  As I’m not a frequent flyer I’d want to see that as a discount on my flight price.  Kept on hold ten minutes, a glass of champagne.  Kept waiting an hour, an upgrade to business class.  When we’re on a train delayed by half an hour on the UK’s East Coast network, we can claim the cost of the ticket back.  If delayed over an hour, the whole journey is paid for.  We’ve had free travel twice in the last year…

      • says

         @danfrydman  @Miranda Young I love your 10 minute hold time idea Dan! Thanks for sharing your example – it’s great to see a brand developing and exerting solutions that directly benefit their customers. 

    • says

       @Miranda Young Thanks Miranda. While the United/Continental merger could be reason for the length of my hold time that day, unfortunately this is one of many l-o-n-g waiting on hold experiences I’ve had – thus reason for developing ideas that may lead to a solution. I like your idea of brands offering a set of rewards in exchange for the amount of minutes we are on the line. Brands will have to make the reward system easy. 

  7. mpace101 says

    This post blew my mind.  I love the idea of taking two disparate things and looking for innovation.  I believe gamification will be a large part of service, especially in the new social landscape.  A couple of questions/thoughts come to mind:
    1. Fix the route cause, not the symptom – there is a reason for long hold times, find that reason and correct it
    2. I wonder what the cost of rewards would be compared to fixing the problem
    3. Do you end of with the service recovery paradox? – customers turned from challenging positions to champions become long term customers
    4. I think the use of self service channel rewards is an exceptional idea
    Wow, again great post

    • says

       @mpace101 Thanks so much Michael. I see customer service is a key focus of yours.
      Your #1 point is right on – fix the cause, not the symptom. If brands do take the time to address long hold times they should step back and audit the process – perhaps bring in a specialist to streamline or overhaul the entire process. To #3 I think all humans intrinsically like to be rewarded and thanked for their work or investment of time in anything they do. Programs mentioned above, and from other comments on this post, could potentially unleash some strong brand champions. Imagine the WOM for the brand who takes a risk and tries something like this.  

  8. DonMedia says

    When I’m calling customer service, I’m calling because I have a problem and I want a solution.  It’s bad enough to wait on hold to speak with “Peggy”.  I don’t games.  If companies want to reward me, the best way is to solve my problem with a knowledgeable and empowered representative and minimal hold time.

  9. LisaMLoeffler says

    @ArgylePR That’s a good idea. The more trivia ?s you answer correctly about a brand the more S.W.A.G. you score! 😉 @United

  10. SpaldoBusiness says

    Clever idea. And while you are at it, since cookies are so prevalent these days, can’t the computer “remember” you and, if you are a frequent customer, weigh your arrival at their server and … for those points you accrue … the next time actually bounce you to a live person at a VIP call center- kind of like the line-skipping at amusement parks.

    • says

       @SpaldoBusiness Definitely possible, as long as you’re using the same machine consistently. Less viable for mobile devices of course. 

  11. Fleur says

    Like your thoughts about gamifying to create a better customer experience. Partly I agree with DonMedia. If a company would offer me any gaming when put ‘on-hold’. First in my mind would be….this is gonna take ages…..but the good part would certainly make me go to their self-service channels & when I’d be rewarded afterwards without having to do anything for that besides visiting the channel. I think that would give me a good customer service feeling after all.

  12. LisaMLoeffler says

    @MikeCorak Thanks Mike! Been thinking of Weston – Hope all is improving & he’s on the way to feeling his best. :)

  13. lapastell says

    I thought this blog was very informative. I had never before thought of rewarding customers for waiting on hold as a way to improve customer service.  I know that I myself do not like waiting on hold, and therefore it would be nice to know that I can receive points, promotions, coupons, etc. when I do so.  This is indeed a clever idea and one that I think many companies should implement.  This will also make the customers happy and therefore keep using the services of the company. Great blog!

    • markwilsonit says

      @LisaMLoeffler It was great because I was just about to give up on gamification as last year’s buzzword, then you found a possible use!

      • LisaMLoeffler says

        @markwilsonit Definitely a buzzword, but clearly engrained into the fabric of our lives. #Gamify

        • markwilsonit says

          @LisaMLoeffler Really? Maybe it’s a US/UK thing, but I’m hearing a lot of talk but little action here #gamify

        • LisaMLoeffler says

          @markwilsonit I meant to say gaming & sports is huge in US. So bringing the aspect to other day-to-day tasks/activities is attractive idea.

  14. szperlinski says

    @LisaMLoeffler Thanks – already read it and I loved the sentence that “They can hate the players but love the game!” :)

  15. says

    Even I experienced the so called “Test of my Patience” once when I was on hold for about 50 minutes. I appreciate your idea behind it .Haven’t paid attention to this before, But I think people will like it.

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  17. LisaMLoeffler says

    @stogiemonster Hey thanks for the RT Kevin. I’m’ glad the post was helpful to you. #gamify

  18. AmericanAir says

    @lisamloeffler Lisa, we apologize for the delay. Someone will assist you as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.

    • LisaMLoeffler says

      @AmericanAir Thank you sweet AA community mgr. What’s your name? Couldn’t back up after checking insurance to get my my record locator.

  19. rivvid says

    @CynthiaKSeymour @jaybaer I agree. We spoke w/ @kiip about their solution on rewarding customers w/ rewards for their ‘waiting on hold’ time

  20. LisaMLoeffler says

    @jsidess Hey Jordan. Thanks. Glad you liked the gamify customer service post on Convince & Convert.

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