Understanding the myth of the single metric

Understanding the myth of the single metric

Like a high performance car, multiple actors and sensors need to be understood

Morris Pentel’s recent article opened up a very important portal into the shadowy world of metrics. Not that he exposed denizens of darkness peddling harmful key performance indicators. But I wish he had. Mr. Pentel didn’t go far enough in his indictment of the players that profit from the alchemy of metrics, single or otherwise. There’s much more to be said about the inevitable corrupting influence of numbers from which people derive livelihood, recognition and budget.

Mr. Pentel boldly condemns the myth of the single metric as “one of the most damaging forms of bad practice” I was immediately drawn to him upon reading “I frequently have to publish articles I really don’t agree with but ….if I am being a responsible editor ..a platform for the views of others”. That sentiment is in short supply in public discourse today and I stand with Pentel in his determination to ensure diverse viewpoints get airtime.

And yet. A lesson that’s come rather late in life for me, however, is the qualifying effect of intent behind one’s views and actions. It is an inconvenient truth that much of what we see in media, social and otherwise, is motivated by the very drivers that create the problem of single metric mania. Mr. Pentel refers to CX experts in quotations for good reason: we operate in an environment in which spouting anything – nonsense included – is what passes for expertise. Our culture honours high profile, point-scoring and short term profits, not thoughtful discourse, long term goals and sustainable results. No wonder the myth of a single, (malleable) metric persists.

Morris Pentel’s computer sensor analogy is brilliant and ought to be taught in CX classrooms if such a thing existed. His model works in my experience because it explicitly connects the overall performance to 10’s of related components. CX suffers from a narrow definition which perpetrates the myth that the driver is responsible for the performance of the car well beyond their span of control. Winning a test of performance is the result of many actors making interdependent contributions in support of the driver. While drivers get the glory there’s utterly no way the winning time is entirely their doing. You might be thinking that an exceptional driver with an average car can outperform an exceptional car and you’d be right. And it’s one of the most enduring excuses for shorting capital investment in employee friendly CX infrastructure.

I don’t agree with Mr.Pentel’s concluding argument that posits “we just need to talk to customers about the feeling they have at various stages of their journeys – listen and then convert the answers into data later.” It’s a tempting salve, but doesn’t address any major root causes of the sinister single metric. As Pentel rightly states, we are awash with customer feedback from umpteen sources. What we lack is a framework within which to make sense of it. One overarching goal isn’t the problem: it’s the inability and unwillingness to understand the drivers – all those sensors – in a coherent manner that ascribes accountability to every function for the part they contribute to the car. In fact, any group of people performing individual but interdependent tasks needs a common goal.

Just don’t stop until everyone knows the sensor they monitor.

Our thanks to Carol Borghesi for contributing this response.

Carol Borghesi is Principal at Customers First Culture where she helps organizations to bridge functions and transcend metrics in order to really prioritize customer experience. With 31 years of telecommunications experience spanning three continents, Carol ‘s career has taken her from TELUS in Canada to British Telecom (BT) in the U.K. to Bharti Airtel in India,  back to TELUS and now in her own Customer Experience practice. With senior roles in sales, service and business unit management, Carol  has successfully managed change through deregulation, labor relations and rapid technological innovation ,in distinctly different markets and  operational scales , delivering  superior results for customers. As the past Chair of the CCA (U.K.’s contact center association), Carol is a recognized expert in contact centers, customer service operations and customer experience leadership in complex, multi-channel environments.