The Folly of Fuzzy Metrics

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Measure it and it will get better.  It is a common mantra in business and it is true.  True, undoubtedly, if what you are measuring is meaningful. No less critical, in fact, more critical is what data is measured.  Otherwise, I think we can all agree the results may be useless, or even dangerous, driving decisions that actually damage businesses.  Narrow online surveys are excellent examples.  So are the post-customer service surveys we are often asked to complete after what has been a painful, excuse my directness, infuriating experience dealing with a customer service call center.  Oh, one longs for the days when a sassy telephone operator like Lily Tomlin answered your phone. At least that was comedic.

Rate something on a scale of one to five, or one to ten.  Fill in a bubble.  Provide a number.  No nuance.  Often meaningless or irrelevant questions, or at least meaningless or irrelevant relative to your personal experience.  I do not mean to be a skeptic, but who in the world is interpreting that data at the phone and cable companies?  And, haven’t we often heard that research can be manipulated to deliver whatever outcome desired?  Let’s be honest, if research is genuinely intended to provide data to glean insights to foster improvement, is a one-fits-all approach the best way to do it?  Or, the most expeditious and economical?  My apologies for the cynicism.

Imagine a personalized approach!  Better yet, imagine an organization that values feedback so much that it is as important in the P & L as getting your cost of goods sold right.  Imagine an organization that does this at all points in the value chain.  I am not a gambler, but I would bet that organizations that truly value research regardless of cost are the most successful ones in the marketplace. 

A company I did some work with called Moving Mentor out of Amherst, Massachusetts does remarkable personalized research to determine the best course of action to help elderly people who are facing life changing choices such as moving from their home; their castle, to a continuing care facility, a strange unknown environment, many with both positive and negative reputations.  When introduced to a potential client they actually spend the time to visit them in their homes.  They often say very little, ask few questions and spend most of their time listening and observing the client and their surroundings.  This practice of listening and observation reaps remarkable personalized information that enables Moving Mentor to prepare a plan for their client that actually helps them make the best decision for themselves.  And, guess what, it takes time, energy and money to do this.  Are you listening cable and wireless companies?  Better yet, political pollsters, are you listening, observing, spending the time at your expense to gather data that is truly meaningful?  I do not wish to be painting anyone with a broad brush, but when employee and customer churn rates never really diminish, especially if you do research as a regular part of doing business, doesn’t it make you scratch your head?

At GIF, we have enormous respect for the right kind of research and we would encourage every enterprise to think about it from day one, maybe even before day one.  For us, baseline market research is mandatory; rhythmic follow up equally important; personal observations and skilled listening at the end user level no less so.  We know that the enterprises that do this; make it part of their DNA are likely to succeed.  These are the types of enterprises we love to support.