Our Thoughts

Measurement drives behaviour, but is that good or bad?

2nd July 2020

What's our job? We usually say that it's to help our clients understand and improve their customer experience.

A lot of people would probably describe what we do as "customer satisfaction measurement". Fair enough, we do measure customer satisfaction, and related concepts such as loyalty and NPS, but the emphasis on measurement can be a trap. If you get too comfortable with the idea that the only purpose of research is to measure, then you'll not only miss the potential it offers to enable you to improve, but the chances are you'll be motivating some pretty toxic behaviours as well.

You Manage What You Measure
On the one hand, measurement is clearly a powerful tool. "You can't manage what you don't measure", as the saying goes, and a robust measure of customer attitudes is essential if you want to get the customer experience under control. How else will you know if the changes you make are having any effect?

You may not even have to make much effort to start change. Professor Tufte once commented "Measurement itself (and the apparent review of the numbers) can govern a process."

Measurement Creates Bias
What, then, am I complaining about? There's a dark side to the effect that Professor Tufte points out. Too much focus on measurement tends to lead to behaviours that we don't want. Kaiser Fung argues that "Once rules are set to compute a metric, the metric will be immediately gamed, and the gap between the measured and real outcomes will continue to grow."

Paradoxically, focusing too hard on the metric often makes it a less effective measurement of the thing we're really interested in (which is how customers feel).

Better Measurement
You need measurement in order to manage the customer experience, but now you know that too much focus on the metric leads to bias that makes the measure less effective. So what's the answer?

First of all, try to shift away from the score (particularly from benchmarking it) and towards actions that will improve it.

Secondly, see measurement not as a management tool used to judge the performance of people, but as information that needs to be given to those people so that they can make the appropriate judgements about what does and doesn't work.

To quote David Marquet, “Don’t move information to authority, move authority to information”.

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