Companies are increasingly aware that customer experience (CX) drives both sales and loyalty, and many are trying to measure the CX they provide. It’s hard to improve CX if one has no metrics to measure progress. But, there’s a potential pitfall in this process: what I call the Heisenberg CX Effect.
You’ve no doubt heard of Heisenberg…and I don’t mean the nickname of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White character in Breaking Bad. Werner Heisenberg was a renowned German physicist who helped invent quantum mechanics. Today, most of us associate his name with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
His principle suggests that it is impossible to precisely measure a particle’s position and momentum. Why? Heisenberg determined that such measurements are impossible because of the “observer effect.” The act of taking the measurement changes the very thing it is trying to measure. (Apologies to my physicist friends for a gross simplification.)
This is quite different from normal experience. A police officer can measure the speed of your car without affecting it in any way. Not so for tiny particles, Heisenberg demonstrated. And, it turns out, not so for customer experience.
Measuring Customer Experience
There’s no perfect way to score a firm’s customer experience. The common Net Promoter Score metric uses a “likely to recommend to others” approach to gauge customer enthusiasm. Customer Effort Score gauges a key aspect of CX, how difficult or easy an activity is as perceived by the customer. Other approaches, like detailed surveys, attempt to determine CX at a granular level.
Here’s the problem: just as Heisenberg found in physics, the mere act of trying to measure customer experience changes that experience, almost always for the worse.
The mere act of trying to measure customer experience changes that experience, almost always for the worse.
CX Measurements Add Friction
A fundamental concept in my book Friction is that any added friction, any unnecessary effort, changes customer behavior. Sadly, most attempts to evaluate CX add friction. That extra effort diminishes customer experience. Welcome to the world of Heisenberg. Here are a few examples:
Pardon the interruption
Have you ever visited a website to buy something, request information, or accomplish some other task? Then, just as the site loads and you are ready to click to your destination, have you ever been interrupted by a popup ad inviting you to take a survey?
When I ask this question during a speech, every hand in the audience goes up. When I ask how many actually click the “Yes, I’ll give feedback” button it’s rare to see more than one or two hands go up. Usually, none do.
As added friction goes, this is fairly minimal. The popup is easily closed. But, it is an annoyance that interrupts a visitor’s flow. And, based on my informal survey, most people won’t say “Yes,” leaving you with a non-representative group of responders.
Granular Data Friction
At a last-minute speaking gig, the conference hotel was booked so I booked a room at a nearby Holiday Inn Express. The price was right, and, as their ads tell us, even one night there makes you smarter. (Before a speech or workshop, I need all the help I can get…) My stay was entirely uneventful, but I did have one comment to pass along. Someone had filled every light fixture with cool white bulbs, giving my room and the public areas a cold, institutional feel – the opposite of cozy and inviting.
Shortly after my stay, I got an email survey asking about my experience. I usually delete these emails on sight, but this time I decided to mention the weird light temperature. I clicked through and got to a multi-page survey.
The survey started with a one-question screen with the typical one to ten rating range. Then, another screen with a few questions. The gradation might be a little excessive – do people really ponder whether the front desk person deserves an eight, or just a seven? What would a ten look like? But, the topics were straightforward and sensible.
Soon, the survey got worse. The progress bar showed I was only a fraction of the way through, and I got to a screen that wanted a one-to-ten rating on eight items, including “Pillows” and “Electrical Outlet Access.”
Most of these items fell into the “didn’t notice” or “don’t care” categories for me. In my experience, most hotel rooms are unexceptional in most respects. If past guests aren’t having problems with finding electrical outlets, why keep asking new guests how well they like them? And how could I even rate the outlets on a scale of 10?
I tried to skip over this screen – I really had no opinion on these items. But, the data collectors weren’t about to let me off so easily. I tried to advance, and a popup warning denied me.
I closed the survey window. I knew there were more screens to follow, and I wasn’t motivated enough to soldier on with meaningless ratings on features that were as expected.
Great for spreadsheets. This kind of detail is great for producing reports. Managers can get detailed feedback, like, “Cleanliness dropped from 7.8 to 7.4 last quarter – this needs attention.” But, there are some problems with trying to capture all this information.
- Most guests won’t spend five or ten minutes completing a detailed survey.
- Those who do will almost certainly devote little thought to each line item.
- Even highly detailed surveys miss topics important to guests.
The last point may be the most important. Even with dozens of questions on a hotel survey, I don’t recall one ever asking about real issues I’ve had in hotels:
- Bathrooms with inadequate counter space.
- Room safes that are nonexistent or inconveniently placed.
- Bad lighting, low water pressure, long wait for hot water, etc.
When I encounter one of these, I’d be happy to tell management – but not at the cost of answering dozens of other questions about things I didn’t pay attention to.
Make your best customers work harder?
One benefit of traveling globally for speaking and training is that I accumulate a lot of mileage. For years, I’ve had “1K” status at United, their highest published level. One of the benefits 1K members get a dedicated customer service desk. Calls are always answered immediately, and the reps are smart and helpful.
Since I call that number frequently, I trained my phone to dial it with a voice command. And, when the line answers, a robotic voice says, “Hello, Roger,” and I use a voice command to request a representative.
Here’s where the friction starts. Instead of connecting me to a human right away, I’m forced to listen to a 14-second recording asking if I would like to take a survey after my call. I’m given two numeric options to accept or decline, but responding by saying “two” is not an option. I have to enter a two. So, I must take the phone away from my ear, activate the dial pad, press “two,” and return the phone to my ear.
An occasional interruption of this sort wouldn’t be too annoying. But, this happens every single time I call. Every single time! When the rep picks up, I’m already slightly aggravated.
And, it’s not just me. This affects every one of United’s best, highest revenue, most loyal customers. Does the value of the data collected from a few customers justify adding 15 or 20 seconds to everyone else’s call time?
You Can Avoid The Heisenberg CX Effect
In physics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle applies every time. The good news is that in measuring customer experience, some approaches can provide data without changing customer experience.
Passive Measurement. Lots of data can be collected passively that can provide helpful details about customer experience. This data can highlight areas for improvement and can also objectively measure changes over time. Just a few metrics could include transaction time, time in queue, number of interactions to resolve an issue, number of searches to find something, amount of scrolling on a website… the list is endless.
The variables that are important will be differ for different businesses and situations, but collecting this data will add value over time. One caution – regardless of what the data says, it’s the customer’s perception of the experience that counts. If they feel a transaction was high effort, it was high effort. That’s true whether the numbers are better than last quarter, or better than those of direct competitors.
Minimum Effort Data. If you want a lot more customers to tell you about their experience, be sure it will take almost no effort. Not long ago, I went through customs after arriving from another country, and they had a panel with a few buttons to rate the experience. A traveler could slap the button while walking at full speed.
That approach can be adapted to any type of survey – in person, email, website, chatbox, and so on.
Three, four, or five buttons should work in any situation. People interpret the emojis intuitively, and picking a smile or frown might capture a customer’s emotional state better than numeric ratings.
Messy Data Can Be Good Data. The big advantage of the data from the matrix forms used by hotels, cruise lines, and others is that the numbers are easy to organize, display, and track. Each department can get neat monthly reports. But, giving a customer a blank space to comment in may yield more valuable insights.
As I noted above, no matter how detailed the questions are, they will likely omit specific issues that the customer liked or disliked about their experience. Free-form comments require human interpretation and don’t provide convenient numeric values. But, they will provide more powerful insights than 1-to-10 ratings that customers pay little heed to.
By all means, measure your customers’ experience. Measure how they perceive the experience, because that’s what counts most. But don’t add friction to your processes to collect your data. Don’t interrupt your customers to ask them to do surveys. Don’t try to satisfy every department’s data needs by asking dozens of questions.
The simpler your process is, the more customers will participate. If you give them the chance to respond in their own words, you’ll get better information. More responses, better data should be the goal. But, above all, ensure your efforts to measure customer experience don’t diminish it.
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