Have Your Metrics Become Your Master?

Published: Feb 16, 2017
Author: Cary Cusumano


It isn’t easy to stun a seasoned customer experience (CX) professional to silence—there’s usually some relevant customer data or a timely analyst report you can draw on to voice an opinion. But it happened to me just the other week.

I was meeting with a couple of service managers tasked by their VP to survey customers about how to make their billing experience better. I came to the meeting prepared with over 160 verbatim Voice of Customer (VoC) comments from the past six months. They showed that customers were concerned with how easy it was to get and pay a bill, and with the accuracy of the charges.

But when I shared this insight with the service managers, they responded: “We’re not interested in addressing ease of paying (the largest of the categories). Our VP really wants to focus on the complexity of the bill.” I pointed out that only one customer had shown concern about bill complexity. I directed them to the volume of comments about difficulties setting up accounts for automatic payment, or getting more timely return of refunds. And then, when I was pointing out customers’ most repeated request – simply to have invoices sent to them by email – they said something that stunned me into silence:

“But we’re trying to get customers to use our self-service website. If we send them the invoice in email, we’d just be giving them what they want.”

It took a couple of seconds for me to process what they’d said. But rather than highlighting how irrational their response was, I tried to understand what perspective lay beneath such a statement— spoken without a hint of irony. They worked for an organization that, like many other service entities, is tasked with reducing its cost of operation. That’s not a bad thing in itself – until it supplants the reason they’re there in the first place.

Online self-service vehicles can certainly deliver cost savings, but that’s a secondary benefit. The primary reason to deploy self-service tools is to make it easierfor customers to do business with you. Likewise, the primary purpose of a CX metric is to gauge your effectiveness in making your customers’ journey as smooth as possible. You shouldn’t be looking  to foster service practices intended to control customers’ behaviors just to meet your internal objectives. If the metric itself becomes the goal, and not the process you’re managing, then you’ve become a slave to it.

Customers are like electricity: they’ll always seek the path of least resistance. So your CX metrics should be designed to identify where customers are encountering obstacles in their journey so you can eliminate the obstacles, not merely move them to another channel. If you’re serious about measuring customer centricity in your organization, build your metrics and associated support processes with the following characteristics as a guide:

  • Measure outcomes that are relevant to the customer, not your own operational goals. For example, was the need the customer contacted you about fulfilled? Did they get the sweater size corrected on the order? Were they able to change the billing address for their cell phone account? These are harder things to measure, but more descriptive of the experience and more important to customers than the number of website hits you recorded.
  • Infuse your CX metrics with supporting unstructured VoC. The numbers are a great way to tell if you’re on the right track, but what customers are saying reveals what they are seeking and where you can improve. Use verbatim comments from surveys and, more importantly, from unsolicited sources like phone calls, internet chats, and complaint letters to guide your CX priorities.
  • Never make it about hitting the number. Organizational goals are vital, but the minute you tie the achievement of a target to an individual person’s performance rating, opportunity for promotion, or compensation, the number itself gains primacy, not the reasons you were tracking it in the first place.

In any CX improvement program, it’s vital to have measures that prove the efficacy of your efforts. The metrics you choose will often be a reflection of whether you have created a truly customer-centric culture, or if you’re internally focused. When your service teams see giving customers what they want as a bad thing, it’s time to reevaluate how you measure customer success.

A 2016 CX  Impact  Award  winner  from  the  Customer  Experience  Professionals  Association  (CXPA),  Cary Cusumano is  a  Customer Experience  and  Design   Thinking  practitioner  in  Verizon Enterprise  Solutions.  He  is a  Certified  Customer  Experience Professional (CCXP)  and  Certified  Lean  Six  Sigma  Black Belt.

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