20 May

We Value Your (Positive) Opinion! | Customer Service Metrics

While in Washington D.C., we had dinner at an awesome Mexican restaurant near our hotel, and marveled at the combination of fresh guacamole, hot chops, and misaligned customer service metrics. Coming at the tail end of a day that started with three trips to/from Philadelphia International and home, included a 3 hour drive in a rented car large enough to carry 7 people and their luggage, our traditional Waffle House stopover and an afternoon at Air and Space and atop a tour bus around the Capitol, anything other than a bowl of carpet tacks and lemon juice would have sufficed.

Still, the guacamole was fresh, the tortillas crisp and the enchiladas hot. Service: fast, friendly, and accommodating. Ambiance: bustling, modern, hipster-doofus-free. Excellent all around.

Still, it takes a certain kind of thinking to provide a pre-filled canned customer feedback card along with your bill:

Customer Service Metrics Gone Horribly Wrong - A completed customer service form with all the "highly satisfied" boxes pre-checked

Was your service Excellent, Fantastic, Superb, Blisteringly Opulent or Mind-Bogglingly Outstanding?

I might have  assumed, charitably, that this card had merely been left behind accidentally by the last ecstatic customer who simply forgot to provide their contact info. And the waitress, hopeful that said customer would return, left it there hopeful that it would look familiar on their next visit.

I suspect, however, that there were some well-intentioned but misaligned incentives at work, which while interesting enough in this context, require another anecdote to fully unpack.

About three years ago, I purchased a new clothes dryer. Ours had died – or, rather, the belt on the drum wore away, said drum came loose, clothing was sucked into the mechanism and scorched, and then it died. I scoured Consumer Reports, Amazon and elsewhere for the best reviews, picked a model and ordered it online from Sears.

The delivery process left much to be desired, not least of all because the measurements of the dryer proved a smidgeon off. Getting the blasted thing into our basement where its predecessor had resided proved challenging, required three visits from the delivery truck and a circular saw. And once it was finally down there, the delivery team’s leader – let’s call him Stan –  informed me that a gas hookup was needed. Not surprising, since this was a gas dryer, and was replacing a gas dryer – but that they couldn’t actually do that part of the installation. They could remove the gas hookup from the previous dryer, but they couldn’t attach it to the new one.

Stan is managing to his target customer service metric: simpering smiles delivered

Friendly, courteous delivery man? Or ax-wielding maniac? You decide!

So, 72 hours, 3 failed delivery attempts and a visit from a plumber later, Stan takes me aside for the most important part of his visit – walking me through the process of giving Sears feedback on my experience.

I’ll receive a call in the next 2 days, I’m told, and it’s important- very VERY VERY important – that I respond “5 – excellent” to all of the questions I’ll be asked. Stan shows me a sample of the survey and reiterates – again – how very important it is that I respond enthusiastically to all questions. Now, I assumed Stan’s performance is monitored by the folks at Sears, and I’m sure he wants to be well-thought-of by his managers. But then Stan lays it on me:

If we don’t get all “5’s” on our feedback, Sears won’t assign us our next delivery for an extra 2 days.

I smile at Stan, cast a glance at the six-inch gouge on the wall leading to my basement and the sawdust from where I’d hastily sawed off a portion of the ballister footing  – and assure him that my feedback will be glowing.

And as he leaves, I begin to ponder the inanity of this system:

  • Stan works as an independent contractor for Sears, and his income day-to-day depends on the assignments he’s given
  • Stan’s assignments are based on reports from customers about his performance
  • Anything less than a perfect report impacts Stan’s income immediately
  • Stan therefor has every incentive to do everything – everything – he can to make sure the reports are superb. Fast, friendly, efficient service; earnest, forthright, heartfelt guilt trips.

Meanwhile, the thought put into devising this system probably went something like this:

  • Our delivery people are our front-line representatives to our customers
  • We want our customers to be happy, so our delivery folks need to do a really good job
  • We’ll measure how well they’re doing by asking each customer how they felt
  • To give our delivery people an incentive to do their best, we’ll award more work to the folks who score the best.

What could possibly go wrong? There are all kinds of ways that identifying into your customer service metrics can go wrong. But in the end it boils down to this: once you identify which metric is important to your team, they’ll start gaming the system to make that metric look good.

And tying compensation to the metric just makes things worse.

Good customer service metrics are an essential part of every Experience Design strategy – if you don’t know what you’re going to measure, you have to way of knowing if the strategy is working. But metrics are not an end unto themselves, and if you highlight them as the end goal to your team, rational people will do the rational thing: they’ll work improve the thing your measuring, whether or not it improves the customer experience.

Instead of the normal, sensible-but-counter-productive performance metrics, try this instead:

  • Tie customer satisfaction to future training for employees
  • Measure employees’ improvement over reasonably long periods of time
  • Tie compensation “boosters” to at least one element outside an individual employee’s direct control

Rewards which are random and feedback that is empowering are far more effective in promoting your desired outcome: a better overall customer experience.