Metric Madness in Customer Service

 
Misleading metrics

There’s a Better Way…

The last 20 years has seen the rise of the metric in customer service. From Mystery Shopping to Customer Satisfaction Scores (CSAT) to Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to Customer Effort Scores (CES) and a myriad in between. All trying to quantify the emotional impact of outstanding customer service.

It’s a natural instinct. We want to benchmark ourselves against our competitors. We want to know if we’re getting better. We want numbers to show in quarterly reports. Unfortunately, though, most companies measure the wrong things, with the risk of creating misleading data. And sometimes, what we do with that data can cause Very Bad Things to happen.

The Unethical Behaviour Temptation

I’ve seen an awful lot of disappointing behaviours over the years. I’ve listened call center agents finishing calls by telling them of the follow-up email they would be receiving, and making awkward pleas for customers to give them top marks on the survey.

I’ve seen store employees giving customers special discounts to customers who promise to give them the highest ratings. Employees who recognize a mystery shopper walk into a store and giving them extra-special treatment. Retail managers fiddle with traffic counters so the show fewer people – thus a higher transaction-to-traffic ratio. There’s more. A lot more.

The reason for this questionable behaviour inevitably boils down to either money or job security. Companies attach the metrics to performance reviews, bonuses or both. And there are some people who will do whatever it takes to get the results they need. The effect, as you can imagine, can be devastating to a business that uses such flawed data when making critical decisions.

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Don’t get me wrong. While this type of unethical behaviour is not uncommon, it is also not rampant or representative of the majority of employees. But it does shine a light on the greatest flaw in most metrics: They measure the end, not the means. The effect, not the cause. This creates the giant gap where bad things can sneak in.

It’s Basic Math

Think of this whole Metrics thing as a math equation. Let’s represent Customer Experience with the number “3.” Then lets assume that we know that behaviour “1” and behaviour “2” will create an outstanding experience. The basic equation for success, then, becomes:

1+2=3

Simple, right? But if all we do is look for the final number, we have no way of knowing if those two behaviours were actually used. There are, of course, a lot of different ways to arrive at “3.” Five minus two, Zero plus three, One hundred and fifty-four minus one-hundred and fifty-one. You get the idea.

Measure the Means, Not the Ends

A number of years ago, we were fortunate to work with a company in the wireless industry, that suspected they were measuring the wrong things. They knew, however, that there were specific customer service skills which would inevitably result in happier customers, and that if those could be applied more consistently, the results might be reflected in sales.

They began with a test in one store. They embedded one coach in one store for a month. His job? Simply work with the team on an ongoing basis to get them comfortable using those skills. That’s all he focused on, and by the end of the month, the employees were focused on them too. They were focused on the “1’s” and “2’s” instead of the “3.”


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The results were beyond anything I would ever have imagined. Gross margins were up in that store by over 40% in just one month. We were all stunned. To confirm it wasn’t just a fluke, the experiment was run again – this time with eight stores. Same results (between 28% and 47% increases in gross margin).

To make a long story short, it was a powerful demonstration that when employees are focused on the means, instead of the end metric, Good Things happen, and any motivation for unwanted behaviour just vanish.

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