Next week our local chapter of CXPA will be hosting a session called "Battle of the Metrics." I'm looking forward to it: it should be an informative and (I hope) entertaining meeting. If there's one thing that can spark a lively discussion among Customer Experience professionals, it's someone who takes a strong stand for or against any particular metric.
But why do we spend so much time and effort worrying about metrics?
Most reasonable CX metrics provide directionally similar results: when Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter improve, chances are very good that Customer Effort, Customer Loyalty, or any scorecard composed of customer survey responses will also improve. The numbers will be different, but they should all tell a similar story. Viewed in that way, arguing about which metric is best is a little like arguing about whether miles or kilometers are better.
Though come to think of it, when the United States tried unsuccessfully to go metric a half century ago, it turned out that a lot of people suddenly felt very strongly about whether to measure highways in miles or kilometers. So maybe it's not so surprising that we also have strong feelings about which CX metric to use.
When used properly, it shouldn't matter all that much which metric we choose. Most of the real CX action is below the level of the metrics: it's about finding ways to improve individual customer journeys, most often by helping people at all levels of the organization put themselves in those customers' shoes. Metrics, like signposts on the highway, give us some sense of how far we've gone and whether we're moving in the right direction. Miles or kilometers, either one will tell us that we're making progress.
And to the extent that different metrics give us different results, that's a sign that something unexpected is happening and we need to pay attention. Because while different CX metrics usually move together, they do measure somewhat different things. So if Net Promoter (which measures the strength of a customer's overall relationship) improves while Customer Effort (which measures how smoothly a particular transaction went) is getting worse, that could be a sign that something's afoot. It may be that there are some operational problems which your customers are willing to forgive (for now); or it may be that you are benefitting from a competitor's misstep. Whatever the situation, it's worth spending some effort to dig deeper.
In the end, I think metrics appeal to us because they give us a simple view into a complex reality. Boiling down our CX efforts to one number makes it easier to explain the impact of Customer Experience, and it makes it easier to show leadership what exactly it is that we're trying to achieve.
This is fine, but it comes with a steep price. Because in the end, it's not the metric that matters. It's everything that goes into the metric, all those thousands or millions of individual customers and their individual stories that matter. The metric, while it makes it possible to think about the bigger picture, conceals far more than it reveals.