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15 Minutes With...Rajat Paharia, Founder and Chief Product Officer, Bunchball

Q: Tell us a bit about Bunchball – how did the company come together?
A: I started Bunchball in 2005 as a social gaming company. In the process of building out that product, we started exploring the world of game mechanics and realized their power to motivate any kind of behavior, not just gameplay. So in 2007 we shifted focus to this new field – now called “gamification” – which can be looked at through many lenses: measure and motivate, reward and recognize, reputation, loyalty, guiding and amplifying high value behavior…but at the end of the day it’s about motivating people through data.

Q: Why do you think gamification has become a popular business tool?
Because we’re living in an age where we’re all “walking data generators,” and smart companies know they can take that data and utilize it to motivate their customers, partners and employees to perform better. This technique of “motivating people through data” has been going on in the video game world – where they’ve always had an abundance of user activity data – for the last 40 years. Now our “real” lives are generating just as much data, so it makes complete and total sense to leverage the motivational techniques that video game designers have honed and refined over the last four decades and apply them to drive meaningful business results.

Q: How do gamification and engagement mesh?
There seem to be as many definitions of engagement as there are people. My favorite is from Forrester Research, where they define engagement as having three parts: 1) a deep emotional connection with the brand; 2) high levels of active participation; and 3) a long-term relationship. Note the point about active participation…engaged constituents don’t just feel, they act. They participate, advocate, ideate, contribute and generally engage in high value activity that makes your business better. And gamification is what motivates people to act.

Q: Tell us a bit about the connection between gamification and Loyalty.
The traditional loyalty industry, Loyalty 1.0, has failed at its fundamental purpose, which is to create loyalty to a business, and instead created a generation of people who are only loyal to the best deal. Powered by the fuel of big data and motivation, gamification is the engine that can be used to motivate, engage and create true loyalty among your customers, partners and employees.

Q: Have you been able to directly tie performance improvement and/or increased profitability to gamification programs?
We start every program with a mission statement that includes a measurable goal to try to attain – that way it’s very clear whether the gamification program has succeeded or failed. Ford of Canada implemented gamification in its online learning portal and saw a 417% increase in traffic, employees getting certified more quickly, an increase in volunteer learning (employees doing training above and beyond what was required) and an increase in car sales and customer satisfaction scores.

Q: How can gamification be used to engage customers and channel partners?
Our customers are using gamification in digital loyalty programs for fans of TV shows, marketing campaigns, traditional loyalty programs, community sites, customer communities, behavior change programs, and for trial conversion. And partners can be thought of as an extended employee base – so all the same ways that gamification can be used with employees: training, sales, service, collaboration, compliance, etc. can also be extended to partners. 

Widely recognized as the father of gamification, Rajat Paharia is the founder and Chief Product Officer at Bunchball, which has helped engage customers and motivate employees at a wide array of companies, including Toyota, Mattel, T-Mobile, Bravo, VMware, ESPN, BOX Technologies and Kimberly Clark. Paharia is also the author of Loyalty 3.0: How to Revolutionize Customer and Employee Engagement with Big Data and Gamification, and is a frequent speaker on the topics of engagement, motivation, gamification and loyalty.

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