Surveys and Mediocracy

In January, Kathy Sierra wrote a blog entry talking about how companies fail by choosing not to innovate. The supposition is that companies that are overly risk-adverse eventually fail. Though the article wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, there was a graphic that immediately caught my eye. It showed a continuum running from love to hate, with a grey area in the middle. The picture showed that a company can be loved or hated and still be successful, but those stuck in the middle or “zone of mediocrity” are, to use her word, “screwed”.

While architecting and implementing IVR and other voice applications, one of the most common applications that I was asked to design were post-call automated surveys. These applications were triggered after an agent hung up – and either transferred the caller directly to the survey, or started an outbound call back to the original caller. The idea was that having an immediate survey after a call ended accurately represented the caller’s experience.

Most of the time, I argued against implementing these surveys.

Contact center managers feel that these surveys can be used to track an agent’s performance. By using the looming presence of an automated survey, the agent would have to always perform admirably in order to keep from getting low marks. The problem is that the results rarely represent real life.

The graphic above represents the reality of survey respondents. People who have a very polarizing experience: either excellent or horrible tend to respond to surveys. Those who felt that it was a sufficient experience don’t feel the need to respond. Call center managers believe that you can use incentives to get responses, but doing that skews the responses towards the positive side.

The other problem is that a caller’s happiness is rarely based on the agent and is more the result of the nature of the call disposition. If I call to get a rental car and there are none available, it doesn’t matter how nice the agent on the phone is, I wasn’t satisfied. On the other end, a typical agent who, by luck, finds that elusive rental car after I’ve struck out at three other agencies would get a very high response.

That’s why when a call center wants to implement post call surveys, it’s critical to understand the motivation behind implementing one. If they’re looking to do trending – looking at the results before and after implementing a new process or program, that’s fine. If it’s part of an overall call center “health check”, that’s OK as well. On the other end, if it’s being used for employee monitoring, training or “compliance”, then I’d have to advise against it.

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