Customer Service Metrics Are Ruining Customer Experiences

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The stakes for customer service have never been higher. Even before the pandemic, customer expectations were rising aggressively year-over-year. Now, more than 80% of consumers in the US expect brands’ customer service agents to be more empathetic or more responsive (or both) than they were prior to the pandemic.

To meet these high expectations, enterprises have become increasingly reliant on metrics to tell them how they’re performing. In the software industry, we’re fond of discussing legacy software — decades old technology that seems to stick around forever. However, the real enemy of the modern enterprise is legacy metrics. Legacy metrics orient people, business processes, and technology around the wrong goals. They also serve to silo the customer experience into a series of touchpoints instead of understanding their experience as part of a larger customer journey.

The new metrics of customer service need to encapsulate the customer’s entire experience of a business. Only by developing metrics that reflect a holistic brand journey can the enterprise meet and exceed the expectations of their customers today.

Stepping over dollars to pick up dimes

Most legacy metrics used in the enterprise don’t measure the nuance of customer expectation — nor do they set up your team for successful delivery of great experience. In fact, as HBR reports, standalone metrics often unravel long-term strategic goals because they reward actions that jeopardize other components of the overall customer journey. McKinsey found similar results when they dug into this issue. While individual touchpoints or metrics may give the false sense of security that a business is doing well, metrics that exist in a vacuum are destined to leave the customer cold. Worse, some metrics are plainly designed to drive down costs rather than to improve experiences.

Average time-to-resolution, customer effort score, and customer satisfaction are some of the leading legacy metrics guiding customer service strategies today. But all three of these metrics only speak to the experience of one single touchpoint. As a result, if they are used in isolation, they focus your technology resources on the wrong problems.

For example, while tracking average time-to-resolution is meant to speak to a customer’s urgency for a solution, too often this metric incentivizes people to rush the customer away. Yes, customers want their time respected — but more than that, they want to feel like they’re having a human-to-human, empathetic interaction.

Similarly, while customer effort and customer satisfaction scores may seem more high-level, and therefore better suited to understanding an overarching journey, they are still only designed to measure the quality of a single interaction. These metrics don’t speak to the complexity of a customer’s relationship to your business, which encompasses not just servicing, but also onboarding and continual renewals or updates to their status as customers.

At the end of the day, customer experience is defined by a lifetime of engagements with a customer — not any one random encounter on a Tuesday. There’s enormous, untapped revenue potential sitting on the table because short-sighted cost cutting metrics drive enterprises away from value creation at every critical juncture.

Measure the stuff that goes up and to the right

If we’re going to meet customers’ rising expectations, we need to define new metrics for customer success. Rather than prioritizing results around specific touchpoints, your enterprise’s north star needs to be around creating measurements that quantify the customer journey. While the specific metric may look different from business to business, there are a few overarching metrics that we’ve found can serve as a crystal ball into your customer’s experience.

The first is measuring your time-to-revenue-achievement. Though this may sound tangential to the customer experience, how quickly you close a contract is the best quantified understanding of the first impression your business is making. In the age of instantaneous customer service, customers want to be brought into your business quickly and begin reaping the rewards of your product or service immediately.

It’s also important to define a metric around the immediate post-sale experience. After purchase, how well does your team support the first month of service? Do they follow up proactively to see how the customer is enjoying your business? If your customer approaches your business with an immediate issue, how is it handled? What is the successful setup rate? What is the time to successful setup? The post-sale experience sets the tone for the customer lifecycle and sets the stage for upselling and cross-selling.

Finally, cross-channel information accessibility is key across both touchpoints and larger journeys. A recent report from CMSWire found that “37% of digital customer experience executives said data silos and/or fragmented customer data are hurting their digital customer experience initiatives.” Whether it’s pre-sale or five years into a relationship, can your team access information on whatever previous interactions this customer may have had with your brand? If not, why? Tracking the accessibility of information in your organization can help you identify knowledge bottlenecks, as well as see what kind of information is most helpful to your team in achieving these other upside metrics.

End the tyranny of legacy metrics

Love them or hate them, legacy metrics make one thing abundantly clear — what’s measured improves. This is especially true as enterprises begin to more meaningfully incorporate automation into their customer experience stacks. Technology only does what you tell it to do, so if you position it to focus on the wrong metrics, endpoints and outcomes, then it’s going to continually march you away from attractive revenue.

Confoundingly, we spend a lot of time prognosticating about unchecked, rogue AI, but too many businesses pay no mind to the thousands of people they have working towards the wrong metrics. People and AI are indeed the most valuable assets in the modern enterprise, but they can only create value if you point them in the right direction.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. I would add that Dr. Deming warned about sub-optimization (“I win, we lose”) due to silo-ism and parochial metrics back in the 1980’s. More progressive companies have since abandoned MBOs and OKRs and adopted Japanese methods such as hoshin kanri and nichijo kanri to deal with this problem.

  2. Indeed it is important to measure what matters but also to remember that what matters is contextual, not absolute. Target metrics can change over time and life cycle of products and operations. Sometimes It is a maximization play but more often it is an optimization play.

  3. This is a thoughtful piece. It reminded of Abraham Maslow’s famous line, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Metrics that matter need to be smartly chosen and reflect a deep understanding of the customer and the customer’s overall journey. Virgin Air taught us, for example, that the customer’s experience of an airline flight, does not begin and end at the terminal, it starts when the passenger leaves home and ends when the passenger arrives at his or her ultimate destination. Measuring and managing the whole encounter, changes the customer’s assessment of ticketing to baggage claim.

    My favorite lesson on the danger of “methods without methods” comes from John Steinbeck’s description of a fishing expedition in his book Sea of Cortez. Here are Steinbeck’s words.

    “The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus nine spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating in the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being—an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.

    “The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil-smelling jar, remove a stiff colorless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines and write the truth…There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed—probably the least important reality concerning either the fish or yourself.”

    Steinbeck’s prose reminds us that no matter how comprehensive and accurate our modern metrics may be, they will never completely capture the magic and mystery of an engaged and spirited relationship. By focusing too heavily on objective data, tidy calculations, and sterilized reports, leaders are losing touch with the fact that they are putting precious energy on the “least important reality concerning” the customer, the employee, or the leader.

  4. This is a welcome dose of crystal clarity. Decades ago, W. Edwards Deming advised businesses to measure what actually matters. In CX, especially where digital and AI are concerned, we are challenged to understand the dynamics which drive emotional response, memory and subsequent behavior. CSat, NPS, and CES, for example, have long had significant actionability and application issues in this regard (https://customerthink.com/emerging_chinks_and_dents_in_the_universal_application_and_institutionalization_armor_of_popula/).

    If legacy or antecedent metrics can’t do that, i.e. not merely demonstrate correlation but identify key elements of causation impacting post-experience customer action, then it is high time that these protocols be overhauled or replaced. Further, completely agree that insights and analyses coming from such data be accessible and shared across the enterprise. Data bottlenecks and cloistering do little to enhance stakeholder value.

  5. The key are the customer and business strategy, which results in the operational strategy for the customer. If the strategy is not truly customer-centric, the strategy of the operation will not be in the customer’s direction.
    The data gathered from the point of contact is not necessarily useful for whole experience, it usually solves an effect of the problem and not necessarily the underlying problem. It must be correlated with all experience.
    Solving a problem only at the point of contact creates solutions that require additional processes (waste), the root cause of the problem is not solved, and the real problem is not seen from the top.

  6. Your criticism of legacy metrics is on point: “they focus your technology resources on the wrong problems.” – Though I believe the issue is broader than just legacy metrics. New measurements can fall into the same trap. For example, if you’re measuring how efficiently your new account install team resolves immediate customer issues, does that metric risk obscuring a potentially more insidious threat that there are burning issues to resolve in the first place? A positive measurement in call resolution can conceal questions about whether the issue should have occurred in the first place, or how to prevent it.

    Yes, managers are well-served to take a critical look at measurements, and to ensure that the actions taken based on them are meaningful. But that scrutiny applies to all measurements. Just because a measurement is new or deemed ‘more holistic’ of the customer experience doesn’t obviate ensuring its veracity or understanding how it should be used.

    I commonly see senior executives giving greater credence to their measurements than they should. All measurements – even good ones – have two limitations: they are reductive and they are proxies. Companies routinely consolidate a huge constellation of data and events into tidy summary numbers, and then draw a myriad of conclusions about the vitality of their operational performances. That’s not to say performance dashboards shouldn’t be used. The risk is in assigning too much credence to them, and not understanding their limitations.

  7. Think the bigger issue is if you are using metrics to “orient” your company goals, then that’s more a question about the leadership team. Jose is correct, key is to build and implement key business strategies. The goals should orient you to the key metrics to help measure the actions required to achieve the results. Happy customers buy, how are you going to make them happy?

  8. Service used to be simple. Customers would contact your business over the phone, and you would solve their problems and answer their questions. Now, service has gotten a lot more complicated, and the metrics we use to assess customer service have not kept up to match our new omnichannel world.

  9. Companies understand that to be successful, they need to attract and retain customers who have ever-easier access to reviews, rankings, and other information that helps them make informed choices.

    It can easily turn into a race for the latest “breakthroughs” and tools, regardless of whether they help solve problems in a way that customers will value. However seemingly helpful every shiny and new technology may be, investing in them is not enough transform a company into a truly customer-centric business. I feel that Human touch is still the most important.

  10. Culture is often overlooked, but is a critical foundation in a distinctively customer-centric organization: an organization where all employees collectively and individually prioritize customer needs in everything that they do every day.

    it is employees who interact with customers, hear their concerns first, and observe what delights them before these signals ever form an identifiable, trackable data pattern in a company’s systems. A healthy organizational environment for employees thus directly affects customers.

  11. Hi Chip, thanks for your thought-provoking and well-written article. I particularly like the title “Customer Service Metrics Are Ruining Customer Experiences.” Using service metrics to evaluate customer experience is absurd.

    If you agree with me, CX includes “services”, pricing and “products”, and the main purpose of CX is to fulfill the brand promise, then deploying any major CX metric that does not align with your brand promise is mistaken.

    For example, for McDonald’s, CES is a good metric, but for Starbucks, CES is a bad one. NPS will work well on Virgin Atlantic, but it is the wrong choice for Ryanair. “How likely are you to recommend Virgin Atlantic / Ryanair to a friend?” The NPS score of Virgin would probably be high and Ryanair’s would be low. What if you ask your friends, “Which airline would you suggest for cheap tickets?” I trust that they are much more likely to recommend Ryanair than Virgin.

    To conclude: The best CX metrics must reflect how well a brand delivers its promise, I think.

    Your thoughts?

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