We already know that when it comes to technology, the concept of ‘if you build it -they will come’ doesn’t really work. Users don’t adopt new technologies or programs just because these were developed and are available. The blueprint of human behavior models has shown multiple and complex sets of preferences, considerations and decision making behaviors. Integrating human wants, needs, motivations, culture, and sociality are at the center of emerging technologies development and successful implementation.
This is where gamification has a serious proposition: pulls users into the conversation, makes the process fun, and solves problems at the same time. Although they are at the beginning of changing their approach, utilities are gradually moving from the market push mentality to pull strategies, where customers are sought after and ‘courted’ to engage.
Why gamification and how can it be utilized by utilities?
Humans are ‘programmed’ to be competitive and mostly use play-time to express that. In fact, throughout human history people played games in every culture.
Examples of old time games (which are used today, too!) are:
- Dice based games
- Tiles games
In the last few years games have moved into business. Gartner estimates that by 2014 70% of businesses will use gamification. Today, utilities are beginning to think of themselves as a customer service business – a transformation that will disrupt the existing business models. Utilities have been eyeing gamification because efforts to engage customers didn’t work. As the business world around us has changed to become more and more customer centric, utilities are beginning to transform in order to become customer service organizations.
Today, utilities want to influence change and help customers learn (and, hopefully, adapt to) more beneficial behaviors, such as save on electricity by turning off lights and equipment at the office at the end of the work day. The idea is to use game thinking and game mechanics in a non game context in order to engage users in solving problems.
At the Emerging Tech Summit (ET Summit) this week in San Francisco experts from Simple Energy and Ringorang talked about gamification strategies and models and the benefits these can bring utilities. From customer engagement, wants, more effective public education, and in getting an understanding of customer behavior, utilities can address customer needs and be able to design future business models that allow a healthy revenue stream.
The biennial ET Summit gathers industry stakeholders in the energy efficiency and demand response emerging technologies sectors, and includes the major utility companies in California. See more information below.
Effective gamification includes these major elements:
- User behavior
- Digital marketing
Active participation through action actually has a deeper impact on a long term change. In interactive interactions users can sustain more than just reading about a topic (in a pamphlet; a flyer; a letter; or email – are all examples) or observing virtually (a video). To create a deeper internalized behavior change, experiences through games or activities have a greater chance to ‘re-enforce’ learning.
Another aspect is rewards: Programs that are ‘like games’, where participants earn badges and points, seem to engage more users. For utilities, this means a way to connect with customers that were in the shadows before.
How to use rewards?
It depends on the company’s budget. When setting goals for each of the game-like campaigns, it’s crucial to check the characteristics of the target audience: what is the demographic? What are your competitors doing that was successful? Geography may matter, as well as cultures. Some people like badges, others need a sweepstake to be motivated to participate; some like to have a chance at grand prizes, but others may prefer frequent and more of smaller prizes. Points and loyalty awards foe ‘cashing’ tangible prizes at merchants, or winning discounts for products are also a common reward. For example: participants win a $5 gift card to a popular cafe.
While gamification doesn’t sustain learning unto itself, its concept as a tool for customer engagement is effective.
Incorporating game-like features to engage users, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) utility implemented a program in called “Manage-Act-Save” in 2012. The main page, the landing page, stated “Win Prizes by Saving Energy” and welcomed users to “Sign up now to compete with your friends!” and “Play with friends, family, and neighbors to save the most energy”. Prizes included a chance to win tablets, laptops, and gift cards, earn points and badges, etc. The featured screens provided lots of resources and tools for educating users on a broad range of energy topics, from energy efficiency, regulations and incentives, energy management, Green Button, safety, and much more.
Anther SDG&E gamification program was the Energy Challenge, where participants help their favorite San Diego Unified School District middle schools win cash grants. The program leverages the Simple Energy Customer Engagement Platform to engage customers and deliver measurable and verifiable energy efficiency, demand side management, and smart grid results through cutting edge behavioral science techniques.
In 2011, SDG&E’s energy efficiency program resulted in more than doubling the energy savings of participating residential customers during a three-month period. In September through November, about 200 participants were selected to compete against one another, sharing their results daily online through a social gaming application and monitoring their savings in real-time through in-home energy management devices, which were provided by SDG&E. The Biggest Energy SaverSM contest winner achieved a 46.5% energy savings, equal to 1,356 kilowatt hours and won a new laptop computer.