A good friend once told me that using quantitative metrics to assess a qualitative experience was a bit like trying to drive a nail with a B flat. Now, there is nothing wrong with B flats. Mozart used them all the time in his symphony-composing work. But, when he elected to do a little carpentry, he preferred a strong hammer to a musical note.
With the squeeze on profit margins and the push for expense control we are witnessing leaders getting a little silly on trying to quantify things that are by nature qualitative—like a customer experience. Proof seems to always trumps faith; cause and effect typically takes precedent over correlation. We use evaluative metrics like “completely satisfied” when a satisfactory customer experience is little more than “meeting the customer’s need.” No one returns from his or her honeymoon (a typically amazing experience) and assesses with, “I was completely satisfied!” We let computers decide who gets upgraded when customers are far more delighted, and the experience far more memorable if it comes from the emotional connection with a front-line person.
Sure we need quantitative measures for some components of the service encounter. Wait time matters and can be counted. I want an airline flight that is safe, a hospital that is clean, and bank that protects my assets from the bad guys. When my power goes out, I care deeply about how quickly the power company corrects the situation. It matters to me that service providers work to remove unnecessary effort from my experience—typically elements that can be measured and monitored. But, these are all sources of my satisfaction, not my devotion. Doing the basics well might bring me in; delivering a delightful experience that only I, the customer, can assess brings me back.
It all reminds me of an Easter egg hunt. If bottom-line, quarterly profit-obsessed leaders were in charge of an Easter egg hunt, success would be measured by the number of eggs found in a given period of time. Yet, we all know it is the level of the squeals and the glow of children’s faces that determines the true success of an Easter egg hunt. How to you measure those evaluation features? And, it would not be too far-fetched for some enterprising number-crunching leader to figure out a way to spy on the egg-hiding process just to get the edge on the all-important egg-finding metric.
Let’s stop applying six sigma thinking to customer experiences that need variation to be delightful. Let’s put delight-making back in the hands of the generous, ingenious front-line person who is in charge of the customer relationship! We need more magic, more awe, and more surprise. Customer experience can be a glorious, emotional gift. And, there is no magic in knowing exactly what’s inside your beautifully wrapped birthday present.