The Metric Anxiety – and how to get rid of it

We talk every day with companies of different sizes operating in different industries. Most of them measure customer experience with some widely used metric – most commonly Net Promoter Score. But there are still some companies who don’t measure customer experience at all. These companies can be of any size. Many of them are B2B companies but some of them are B2C companies. Some of them are leaders in their industry and confident that they can stay that way. Some of them are laggards and fully aware that customer experience is one of their major weaknesses. So, they are very different. And still, somehow, they are very similar to one another. Many of these companies are suffering from a disease I have diagnosed as the metric anxiety

Do you suffer from metric anxiety?

Metric anxiety is an easy disease to diagnose. If the only thing preventing you from measuring something like customer experience is the fact that you cannot decide on the metric to use, you most probably suffer from metric anxiety. 

Some of the companies suffering from this disease waste time on development and strategy projects where the potential metrics are being assessed and compared. They use their own resources or consultants to create fancy proposals and compare pros and cons. The more they invest in making the right choice, the more the choice starts to feel like a matter of life and death. 

There are also some companies, whose issue is not the lack of customer experience metric. Instead, they are facing problems because they use so many metrics to measure one thing, that no-one outside of the CX team understands what is being measured and how.

They believe it makes sense because they have chosen a perfect metric for each separate part of the business. From their point of view, it doesn’t make sense to measure customer experience in the support touch point using the same metric as customer experience in the sales touch point because the touch points are so different. And when they then are asked, whether customer experience is measured at the company level and brought to leadership scorecards, their response is: ”No. It is too complex. Our businesses are so diverse.”

If you are in one of these companies, hear me out: Of course, your businesses are diverse. Most large companies have different businesses and diverse touch points. Still, the benefits of choosing one simple metric to follow on leadership team level and utilize across the company, easily overrule the fact that the most optimal metrics for different customer touch points could be different.   

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Is it the disease – or just one of the symptoms?

Of course, most often the metric anxiety is not the real disease. It’s just a symptom of something much more serious. The leaders of large corporations know that decisions need to be made also in the light of imperfect information. They don’t suffer from metric anxiety. They don’t easily fall into the trap of analysis paralysis.

Instead, they suffer from the lack of focus and have only limited interest in customer experience. And when there is no urgency from the top management perspective, the strategy team, quality team, customer experience team (or whoever is responsible for the metric development) paralyzes and starts complicating things. The company suffers from lack of customer centricity. And the employees responsible for metrics keep themselves busy by over-analyzing, over-investigating things. 

Been there, done that!

If one is tasked to develop a scorecard or suggest a specific new metric for the company, it’s very easy to start over-engineering things. I’ve personally done the same mistake. I used to build a scorecard for our business unit in a large company I worked for. This was ten years ago so I was a young and ambitious strategy manager and I wanted to create a perfect proposal. A proposal with a great balance between different types of metrics. A proposal where every metric would be the best metric for that particular purpose and easy to defend against any criticism.

I listened to the stakeholders, utilized every bit of expertise we had within the company and ended up with a great proposal. All the metrics proposed made sense. Except for the customer relationship metric, which didn’t. If you are curious to know, what customer relationship metric I proposed, I can confess: it was Customer Lifetime Value. Why didn’t it make sense? It certainly makes sense for many companies. Many large telcos, for instance, use it successfully. And for many SaaS companies, CLV (or a simplified version of it) is an extremely important metric. 

But for my employer, it didn’t make sense: we didn’t have the data required, we didn’t have the culture. We didn’t have a history of thinking about the value of customer relationships. It was seen as a good and comprehensive metric but it could not be taken into use without a long new development project eating valuable time and resources. And that project (I was no longer part of it) took another year. The end result? It wasn’t a success.

If you want to avoid the metric anxiety, keep in mind the following

1. Complexity is not a virtue

The more perfect and comprehensive metric you want to have, the more complex it easily gets. Complexity is not a virtue – simplicity is. A stupid metric choice is obviously a stupid thing to do as well because as they say, you get what you measure. But if your employees don’t even understand what your metric has eaten, it won’t drive the action in the right way. A simple metric which people can understand is often the best choice. 

2. Any metric is easy to criticize

Choose any metric and you can easily find a lot of criticism against it. The more popular the metric, the easier it is to find such critique with simple googling. In most organizations, there are skeptics who do a bit of this googling and after that shoot any suggestion down. Keep in mind that perfecting the metric will not improve your business. And wasting time on perfecting it can be extremely counterproductive. No company is successful because of the beautiful metrics they have. But some companies manage to kill themselves with analysis paralysis. 

3. Just pick a metric and stick to it

This is our advice: Choose a metric and stick to it. In the area of customer experience, choosing a metric with both number and text makes sense. (You can read more about that here). But when you have done your choice, start measuring and move on. You have just taken the first small step on a long journey. When you have the data and measurement in place, you need to start improving your business based on the results. That is a much more important part on your journey to great customer experience.