Customer Experience KPI’s: Unintended Consequences (and How to Avoid Them)

KPI's Unintended Consequences

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be invaluable in helping companies manage progress towards their goals. A KPI answers the question “Are we on track?” with a single metric. Put enough KPIs on a dashboard, and you’ve struck management gold: a snapshot of your business, distilled to a single page.

Applied to customer experience improvement efforts, KPIs can help businesses put actionable, “hard” metrics around what can otherwise be a “soft” topic. Just the ticket for aligning your efforts to become more customer centric. So, what’s not to love?

While customer experience KPIs can indeed be valuable tools, they must be thoughtfully selected to avoid unintended consequences.

Where’ Your Phone Number?!

Customer Experience Strategy

Ironically, efforts to improve some parts of the customer experience can negatively impact others.

If you pick the wrong KPIs or scope them too narrowly, all you’ll see is the positive effects of you’re trying to improve and you may miss unintended downsides.

For example, in an attempt to drive engagement with your convenient web based customer support options, you may choose to hide or deemphasize your customer support phone number.

Doing this may boost a narrowly-focused KPI that measures the level of your customers’ engagement with online support, but you’ll almost certainly frustrate many other customers, too.

Best Practices: Use KPI Safety Nets

There’s nothing wrong with narrowly-focused KPIs – in fact, those are often the best kind – but unless they’re complemented by broader measurements, you run the risk of operating with significant blind spots. Here are two suggestions for preventing that:

  1. Mix in one or more broad customer experience KPIs, such as overall customer satisfaction, with your more narrowly targeted ones. This will help detect unintended consequences earl.
  2. Also, take a page out of the six sigma book and consider creating secondary metrics to pair with your primary KPIs. Secondary metrics specifically measure things you don’t want sacrificed in pursuit of your goal.

All You Gotta Do is Call

Let’s suppose we applied these best practices to our example of the hidden phone number.
We will establish a KPI to track overall customer experience by surveying a sample of customer interactions across all support channels and recording key drivers of positive and negative experiences.

We’ll also set up a secondary metric KPI using just the customer experience feedback from web visits. This will serve as a secondary metric to pair with our primary KPI of driving more web support interactions.

The odds are good we’d quickly learn that hiding the phone number causes high levels of frustration among customers who really want to speak with a live agent.
We could then devise and test solutions to this problem. There’s a chance we may end up with something like this:

Customer Contact
Source: USAA homepage, December 2016

The screenshot is taken from the homepage of USAA bank. Upon clicking “Help”, I instantly have a phone number.

Customer frustration, eliminated!

USAA recently topped Forrester’s 2016 Customer Experience Index (full disclosure, I’m also a happy customer), so this design approach likely isn’t random: in fact, there’s a good chance it’s the result of proactively tracking key elements of the customer experience.

Because USAA’s online support is still extremely good, they’re probably not losing many web based customer self-service opportunities by publishing their phone number… they’re simply making easier for customers to connect through their preferred channel and eliminating a potential source of frustration.

This type of win-win result is made more possible by the use of a balanced set of KPIs.

If you measure the right elements of the customer experience, and you’re curious enough to investigate what those KPIs are telling you, you’ll be well on your way to deliver just the customer experience improvements you want, and avoiding those you don’t.

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