My friend Michael Kimsal recently visited a company support forum, with a problem that he needed to fix. Instead of a solution, he received an email announcing that he had earned a “first post” badge on the community. He found this frustrating.

“I’ve got a *problem* that I need *solved*,” Michael wrote on Facebook. “Quit emailing me ‘hey, great, you earned a “first post” badge!’ Just fix my problem. Even thinking that someone spent a load of time coming up with gamification rules for this community, instead of just spending more money on making the service better in the first place…

“I do *NOT* plan to spend my time in a support forum – this is the last place on earth anyone should give a crap about ‘badges.'”

The Support Forums Fight

Gamification is at least partially about onboarding. About making it “fun” to become acclimated to a community. It’s designed to help transition a new member into a contributing member. Without looking at this particular support forum, I can imagine what they were going for, in the best of faith. Having managed support forums for many years, I understand the struggle that exists in identifying members that will stick around. Most just want to get an answer and go back to their lives.

Community pros who run support communities try a lot of things to keep people – so that they’ll answer questions from other members and engage with the company further. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, but you also have to accept the simple reality that you run a community that people generally don’t come to for enjoyment. This isn’t a fan community for a sports team.

You could make the case that some members appreciate the gamification. That Michael is being a little sensitive. You could rightfully say that time invested in gamification is not time taken away from making the service better; that those are two different departments and different pots. You might even be able to cite some stats and say you converted X% of people. Those are all reasonable counterpoints.

Creating Exceptional Support Forums

But you also can’t ignore that there are likely people who feel exactly like Michael. When you have a frustrating problem, you don’t need any stinking badges (too easy, I know).

Assuming you are seeing some positive results from gamification on your support forum, do you accept that you will anger some people in order to convert whatever percentage of people? I’m not sure that is acceptable if you are trying to create an exceptional customer experience. In such a case, gamification might just need to get out of the way.

Normally, the people who are most valuable to a support community are the people who answer questions. It’s not uncommon for support forums to have a “best answer” designation for each question or some sort of like/helpful microaction. If you have that, why not tie that into your gamification? For example, once someone receives their first “best answer” or “helpful” vote, tell them and kick them into the gamification and/or onboarding process you have for those who answer questions.

The experience for someone who just wants to ask a question might be different. Part of the onboarding process for them could simply be helping them to find an answer to their question, if it has already been posted, and then if it hasn’t, to help them post it in the right section. Software can help with this.

Deploying the same strategy – for both people with problems and those who might want to answer questions – is, at best, clumsy and clearly improvable.