Are you deliberately breaking your KPIs?


We value your feedback…

I’ve noticed an interesting trend when shopping:

  1. A practised extra tip or helpful comment by the sales assistant, shortly followed by a slip of paper being passed to you with a web link for leaving feedback.
  2. A sales person explaining that you will get a follow-up customer satisfaction survey and confiding that anything less than a perfect customer feedback score will have very bad consequences for them personally.

The first behaviour is probably an intended consequence of the measures being placed on a team or individual. illustration of Powerful businessman playing with puppet

In the second situation, would an excellent feedback score reflect great service, or my discomfort at seeing a working salesman threatened by a sales manager because of my feedback?

How inclined am I to give constructive critical feedback, as a customer, if I know there are career-threatening implications for the person serving me? Not very.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions (and broken KPIs)

So what’s going on here? The management team implementing this measures system are:

  • Prioritising a high score over-and-above meaningful process feedback
  • Creating target scores from customer feedback scores for the sales staff
  • Underestimating what a stressed and anxious salesperson will do to hit his or her targets, by any method available

The truth is that a good customer feedback score is an outcome of a successful process. Targeting just on the outcome score encourages sales staff to “fix” the score rather than the process. By targeting the customer feedback we effectively corrupt the feedback process, preventing a customer (at least one with any conscience or empathy) telling the sales organisation what could be improved.

You get a similar situation with safety. If you target a reduction in reported safety incidents and you will normally get a reduction in the number of reports and an increase in the number of accidents.

So what is the solution?

  1. Measure the critical outcomes. But do not link them directly to personal rewards or progression, if you want a completely true and untainted view.
  2. Target and reward based on the leading indicators and observable outcomes you are interested in. Avoid just relying on ‘self reporting’ from staff or customers. Reverse brainstorm your sales measures and KPIs that you do target to find out what a rational person would do to bend the measures in the ‘right direction’ by the worst possible means. (Point three in this link explains what a reverse brainstorm is).

I opened a parcel from an Amazon partner (a firm that sells through the Amazon platform) recently and this little paper slip dropped out, making me realise we are likely to see more of this behaviour, not less, over the coming years….

Amazon reseller asking for five star review - broken KPIs








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