Are your customers bored with your cookie cutter loyalty points program? Do your employees—especially millennials—think leaderboards are so 2010? If so, you might be in danger of losing the engagement game!

Hype around the concept of gamification first started building in 2010, and since then, small businesses have primarily leveraged it to reduce costs and boost effectiveness of employee training, onboarding, and learning management.

By incorporating gamified design elements such as leaderboards, badges, and points-based rewards into HR and learning management, small businesses have been able to measure and enhance employee engagement.

However, innovating the employee experience is just one side of the gamification coin.

According to a MarketsandMarkets report, the global gamification industry will be valued at $11.1 billion by 2020, up from $1.65 billion in 2015. With such explosive growth, gamification is set to become a “game changer” for small businesses over the next couple of years.

In 2018, gamification will begin shaping small businesses’s customer experience strategies more than ever before, as they try to stay both relevant and competitive. This shift will occur as both customers and employees, especially millennials, seek unique and personalized experiences that engage them on an emotional level, as well as transactional.

In this article, we’ll examine three gamification trends you’ll see in 2018, how they’ll impact your business, and how to prepare.

1. Small businesses will expand gamification to boost customer loyalty

According to Gartner, gamification motivates a target audience—whether that’s your employees or your customers—”to higher and more meaningful levels of engagement. Humans are ‘hard-wired’ to enjoy games and have a natural tendency to interact more deeply in activities that are framed in a game construct.”

Using gamification is thus a natural strategy for improving customer engagement; however, over the past six years, businesses have mostly focused on improving employee engagement through gamification, neglecting it as a customer engagement strategy. (Google “gamification trends,” and you’ll see what we mean—it becomes clear that the application of gamification has mostly skewed toward HR and learning management.)

However, 2018 will see a shift toward a more customer-centric role for gamification.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace, 2017 says that businesses are becoming more interested in implementing gamification as an overall innovation management strategy that seeks to improve customer relationship management, as well as employee engagement. (Full report available to Gartner clients.)

The Gartner report also makes the following important points:

  • Designing gamified technology differs from other IT solutions, as it requires a completely unique approach based on a storyline, leaderboards, badges, etc.
  • There is a lack of IT skill in gamification, as few people have gamification design skills, at this point.

As a result, small businesses that want to use gamification to improve customer engagement will need to rely on prebuilt customer loyalty tools that incorporate gamified design elements, at least for now. Here are a few examples:

Customer loyalty software Description
Influitive Create a customer advocacy program by providing incentives and customized rewards to customers when they leave a review or refer a friend.
BigDoor Create loyalty campaigns with prizes and reward points, which can be tailored to a specific audience.
SailPlay Loyalty Reward customers with badges for special actions such as inviting friends to a website, installing a mobile app, and more.

(The table above includes software that is both focused on boosting customer loyalty and includes gamification capabilities. For more examples, check out GetApp’s gamification and customer loyalty software directories. )

One of the main benefits of using gamification to increase customer engagement is better customer retention. As the Gartner report mentioned above points out, gamification engages at an emotional level (the idea of feeling rewarded for an action) rather than just on a transactional level (purchasing goods or services).

In other words, Gamification is more than just game mechanics; it’s a wider concept that taps into behavioral science to motivate a target audience, and it could give your small business a competitive edge among your customers.

How will this trend impact your business?

If you run a customer-focused small business, you can begin to motivate customers to take certain actions by rewarding them with badges and other incentives for frequent visits, sharing referrals, and purchasing items. One way you can do this now is through a gamified mobile app.

Gamified customer engagement will especially play a critical role in niche markets such as the physical fitness industry.

For example: A fitness and personal training business may try to expand their reach by offering virtual personal training, incorporating a mobile app to improve form, monitor exertion levels, and adjust the number of reps to match to the fitness level of the customer. Some examples of fitness apps that are already using gamification to make fitness fun include Zombies, Run! and Superhero Workout.

Customers are further motivated through leaderboards, badge rewards, and friendly competition with other app users. Customers like this level of personalization and flexibility, making them more likely to continue using the fitness service, and thus, increasing customer retention.

2. Employers will shift gamification to mobile apps and social media

To understand this trend, let’s look at an example of gamification that has been used in advertising for quite some time: Coca-Cola began using game design elements in 2006, encouraging customers to collect loyalty points and rewarding them with prizes, as part of its “My Coke Rewards” program, and ultimately retained 20 million lifetime members as a result.

However, when the company wanted to expand its customer base and reach out more toward millennials, the brand shifted to a new loyalty program that is less transactional and more interactive and engaging.

Many small business are facing a similar challenge when it comes to engaging younger employees.

According to a Gallup survey, approximately 70 percent of millennials feel disengaged at work.

Businesses will address this challenge in 2018 by integrating gamification with social media platforms and mobile devices.

Most cloud-based business platforms incorporate mobile apps so users can stay up-to-date when they’re out of the office. As a result, many businesses are turning to a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy, so introducing leaderboards and other gamification elements to mobile apps is a natural next step.

In addition to mobile devices, social media will play a key role in the successful implementation of gamification for employee engagement in 2018.

Millennials are not only tech savvy, they want a workplace environment that is social and interactive. By syncing leaderboards with key performance indicators (KPIs), and enabling employees to share achievements on social media platforms (internal or external) employers have a better chance of engaging this group.

How will this trend impact your business?

At this point, leaderboards have become so synonymous with gamification that regardless of whether a particular software platform focuses on engagement, leaderboards will often be included as a core feature.

As we head into 2018, cloud-based software will increasingly offer mobile apps that also include these core gamification features, such as leaderboards, making gamification even more accessible to small businesses.

Look for apps that offer mobile capabilities and that integrate with social media and collaboration platforms, including enterprise social networks, so employees can share rewards and leaderboard statistics for a more interactive, fun, and competitive experience.

For example: An app that already does this is the Nike app, which rewards users with “cheers” every time they share stats related to running, calories burnt, etc. on Facebook. A similar business application could reward employees with badges or points for peer-to-peer recognition.

3. Augmented reality and virtual reality will power next-gen gamification design

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices will see higher sales in 2018, with Gartner forecasting sales revenue for these devices at approximately $72 billion over the next 10 years.

AR and VR are a natural fit for gamification. AR (e.g., GLASS) and VR (e.g., Oculus Rift) provide rich visual sensory experiences. As we saw above, our brains are “hard-wired” to enjoy games, because of the emotional experiences they provide. So, the fully immersive experiences provided by AR and VR, along with the game-design elements of storytelling and game-based learning*, make these new technologies a natural space for gamification.

*There is a distinction between game-based learning and gamification, which businesses that want to leverage this strategy should understand. While gamification adds game-design elements to nongame situations, game-based learning is the use of games to enhance the learning process. Pokemon Go and Clash of Clans are popular examples of game-based learning design.

How will this trend impact your business?

AR and VR will provide a new platform for small businesses to provide deeply engaging experiences for both employees and customers.

These devices are still relatively new, but if you want to stay ahead of your competition—especially in the retail and e-commerce space—it will become vital in 2018 that you understand existing applications of this technology.

Businesses will also boost engagement during employee onboarding and continuous training through AR or VR headsets. The devices, along with game-design elements including 3D and interactive videos, will start to take the place of static presentation slides.

For example: IKEA’s iOS augmented app helps customers plan the placement of furniture on their iPhone, in a fun, immersive way. While such enterprise examples may seem out of reach for small retailers at this point, similar small business applications will begin to evolve.

In addition, AR and VR have already been applied in e-learning environments to enhance the learning experience. As these devices become more cost effective for employers, they’ll start to incorporate game-design elements to enhance employee training.

How do I prepare my business for these gamification trends?

Based on the gamification trends mentioned above, here are some things to keep in mind while implementing game design elements at your small business:

  • Have a focused approach to implementing gamification for employees or customers. As a small business, it’s important that you invest your limited resources one at a time. Create a planned approach to focus either on increasing engagement with customers or employees. So, if you have a very customer-focused business, opt for gamification software that engages customers with loyalty points, badges, and points-based rewards, and which helps you measure the effectiveness of customer engagement through a dashboard based on these elements.
  • Experiment with gamification elements on different devices. Before you begin implementing gamification, make sure you have a mobile app that employees and/or customers can install on their mobile devices. Once a gamified app proves to be successful at boosting user engagement, try out other game design elements on AR and VR devices. A gradual approach to implementing gamification on a series of devices will help you save money by weeding out any design flaws.
  • Don’t overwhelm your consumers or employees with gamification. Consumers and employees are overwhelmed by disconnected loyalty programs based on less motivational extrinsic rewards. In fact, leaderboards have evolved to become the key components of game mechanics design through which gamification is applied across industries—education, health, sales, and customer service. However, industry analysts have begun to question whether gamification has become a simple platform for rewards management through leaderboards instead of an innovative tool to align employee and customer engagement with business goals, which might overwhelm the users.

Ready to step up your game?

Gamification continues to be a strong mode of innovation for customer and employee engagement, since its extensive market adoption in 2010. The trends listed above are just some of the top gamification concepts that will make a business impact in 2018.

If you are interested in more information regarding gamification checkout these GetApp resources: