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  • July 15, 2021
  • By Ian Jacobs, principal analyst, Forrester Research

Are Customer Service Metrics Gauging the Right Things?

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“Girl, I get a rush when we’re speeding in my car/ And sometimes it’s too much” —Tyler, the Creator (“2SEATER”)

DURING MY USUAL prowling around these interwebz of ours, I stumbled across a photo that sent my mind spinning in unexpected directions. And like most such internet finds, I cannot for the life of me remember where I found it or what series of searches and hyperlinks initially brought me to it. I’m sure a commentator cleverer than I am has come up with a name for this down-the-rabbit-hole clicking behavior that has become so common.

Anyway, back to the photo. In all honesty, the image is nothing all that striking. It is an awkwardly cropped photo of an old speedometer, designed with either a retro aqua color palette or a modern filter that replicates that art moderne hue. While it is a handsome artifact of a bygone era of design, it is, at heart, just an aged tool for telling how fast one is traveling. But the intersection of its function and its design is what grabbed my attention: The device’s markings of miles per hour top out at 90.

For a top speed in modern vehicles, 90 miles per hour would be laughably plodding. I’m not sure our modern digital speedometers even have a top speed, but my last car that had an analog gauge went up to 120 mph, and I’ve seen cars that seemed to give drivers permission to investigate whether their cars could hit 160 mph.

OK, so the world has moved on and cars can now go vroom-vroom faster than their older brethren. So what? When I saw that outdated piece of tech, I started to think about our systems of measurement for customer experience and for customer service experiences in particular. Yeah, admitting that that is where my mind went should probably disqualify me as a dinner guest at your next soiree. Sorry, that’s just how my brain rolls.

Looking at that speedometer, I wondered whether we get trapped by our historical measurements. How do we recognize that the older limits no longer apply—that our service engines can easily go 115 mph now, even if our tools can only measure up to 90? How do we know if we’re even using the correct scale anymore—that we need to stop measuring pure speed, but also fuel efficiency by speed? Customer service organizations have been grappling with how to measure success forever, and we’ve seen frequent swings between the dominance of efficiency metrics, such as service level, average handle time, and call deflection, and the emergence of experiential and effectiveness metrics, such as first-contact resolution and customer satisfaction. But these are all still the same tools we’ve had in our measurement kit bags for eons.

Is it time, for example, to start to look at metrics for holistic customer service journeys rather than just service touches in a single channel? How do we measure the quality and impact of a customer service experience that starts with a Google search that leads to an FAQ on a company’s website that leads to a chatbot interaction that then escalates to a chat with a live agent? We’ve moved way beyond 90 mph here, folks.

I don’t yet have the answers to all these questions, but at least for that last issue, I have a suggestion. How about surveying customers with this kind of question: “If you had the same problem tomorrow, would you take the same steps to resolve it?” A big leap from an image of an old speedometer, but welcome to my mind.  

Ian Jacobs is vice president, research director at Forrester Research.

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