Apathetic Engagement: a Substantive Theory of Gamification in New Zealand Contact Centres
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When considering sectors of business and industry frequently constrained by operational inefficiencies, it is widely accepted that the contact centre industry is one of the leading protagonists. Contact centres routinely report the highest staff churn of all sectors, with around one-third of all staff employed in technical support and customer service roles leaving their employment annually. This high level of employee turnover is indicative of an industry propagated by factors that promote high stress and diminishing motivation within the workforce. In an attempt to reduce the stress of contact centre roles and improve employee engagement some sectors of the industry have introduced the use of game-like elements or ‘gamification’ into frontline contact centre work. While interest in gamification has surged over the past decade, there remains a lack of in-depth research investigation into its use and influence throughout the New Zealand service work industry. To overcome this void, this study examines the means by which gamification is used throughout the New Zealand contact centre industry and explores its motivational influence towards frontline contact centre agents. To facilitate the research objective, a constructivist grounded theory approach is used. Data generation was through twenty-four in-depth interviews conducted in eight New Zealand organisations. With participants compiled from a variety of multifunction roles, including customer service, technical support, team leaders, developers and managers. The analysis reveals that the nature of gamification is a fusion between key performance indicator systems and game-like reward initiatives, and highlights the conflicting and contradictory beliefs and behaviours of employees that emerge as a consequence of implementing gamified systems. Moreover, this study identifies the dissipating effectiveness and apathy of agents towards contact centre gamification systems, as they struggle to reconcile the cognitive trade-offs inherent to their adoption, application and use.