Thursday, April 25, 2013

When headline says “When Work Resembles A Video Game, Millennials Thrive”, Baby Boomers gulp

E=mc2 and “This above all, to thine own self be true” aside, I’m enough of an old croaker to believe that not all complex thoughts can be reduced to 140 characters.

That there are such things as too much information and too little privacy.

And that work is work and, unless you work for Electronic Arts or Curt Schilling’s old company, video games are video games.

So, when I see a headline that says “When Work Resembles A Video Game, Millennials Thrive,” I’m a bit taken aback in my granny chair. Would this not be like reading that “When Work Resembles A Pinball Machine, Baby Boomers Thrive?” Would that not have given our forefathers and fore-managers from The Greatest Generation the willies?

The article focuses on folks who work in call centers, which are plagued by high attrition and low morale resulting from:

…dealing almost exclusively with unhappy customers, the agents in a high-volume contact center often receive limited training, low pay, and may have little to look forward to in terms of advancement opportunities or positive feedback (on those rare occasions when their interaction with a customer does go well). (Source: Forbes BrandVoice)

(I must note that, although it’s on the Forbes site, this is not really a Forbes article: it’s a payola “article” from Microsoft Dynamics (which is MSFT’s customer relationship management offering), supposed to demonstrate something that we in the biz call “thought leadership.” (As an aside, and – truly – nothing to do with the video game thougt piece, I am of the considered opinion that a lot of what passes for “thought leadership” is, more or less, “thought followership” and/or what we in the biz call the TVSP, or the thinly veiled sales pitch. But that’s a topic for another day. A day that will occur after I retire.))

Anyway, after setting us up with a catalog of the tough challenges that call centers face – which, having recently spent the better part of two days trying to get Comcast to restore the e-mail address (mine) that someone’s chemo-brained husband (mine) had accidentally deleted, I realize are quite profound – the article, pardon me, the Brand Voice, goes into the particular characteristics of the Millennials who, because of the crappiness of the jobs and the crappiness of the economy, are employed in large numbers by call centers.

Nothing we haven’t heard before. The Millennials are used to constant feedback. (Translation for Baby Boomers: constant stroking and bogus, the wonderfulness of you, praise. Translation for the Greatest Generation: mollycoddling). They spend an awful lot of time playing online games “earning badges, points, and respect as they track their own progress and that of their peers (often quite publicly)”. (Translation for Baby Boomers: give me a break. Translation for the Greatest Generation: frittering away their lives.)

And they supposedly have “an unprecedented ability to multi-task.”

Sorry, unless they can back this up with some statistics, I really don’t believe that the Millennials are any better at multi-tasking than prior generations. I will use my multi-tasking self as Exhibit A, pointing to my childhood ability to watch TV (challenging fare like Wagon Train and My Three Sons), read a book (challenging fare like Nancy Drew and The Mystery of the Old Clock, and Donna Parker, On Her Own), roll my curl-resistant hair into Spoolies, and eat fudge ripple ice cream (out of a Melmac bowl, which has nothing to do with multi-tasking, but I do want to set the scene.  That Melmac bowl was boiled-egg-yolk yellow; the Spoolies were pink.).  Oh, and I could simultaneously carry on a conversation with a sibling, who was also doing some variation-on-a-theme multi-tasking on his or her own. The boys, I will note, were not rolling their crew-cuts into Spoolies.)

The very nature of the contact center environment makes it an interesting test bed for experiments with incentives, culture changes and other management techniques. As any contact center manager can tell you, the traditional systems of incentives and rewards will change behavior and can improve efficiency and effectiveness, but will do little to create an enjoyable work environment where agents feel excited to come in each day.

The answer, is, not surprisingly, Microsoft’s gamified with partners:

…real-time ‘leader dashboards,’ which show how many points and badges they have achieved today while interacting with customers, and that rank their performance against their friends in the neighboring cubicles. This highly interactive scenario of rewards and incentives, known in the industry as “gamification,” is being adopted in large, high volume contact centers at leading companies with promising results.

Wonder how many gamifying points the customer service reps from Comcast earned while talking to me a few weeks back? Are points taking off when you can hear the customer’s teeth grinding?

Anyway, this gamifying is “incentivizing” (is that even a word?) and it’s “making it more fun for [call center employees"] to go to work everyday.” (Reaction from Baby Boomers: Fun? Suck it up, you wusses. You should enjoy your work, but there should be a Jersey barrier between work, which, however enjoyable, is work, and your outside of work life with, hopefully, entails some fun. Reaction from the Greatest Generation: Candy-ass infants. Work isn’t meant to be fun. That’s why it’s called work and not fun.)

And as more Millenials enter the workforce, we believe that gamification could have implications beyond the contact center and sales force automation.

Can’t wait for a physical or root canal given by a gamifying doctor or dentist! Looking forward to a gamifying lawyer redoing our wills. A gamifying cop answering my 9-1-1 call. A gamifying waiter pouring my wine.

It’s enough to make a Baby Boom gulp.

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