Vanity Metrics – How Is This Still A Thing?

vanity metricsI’d like to borrow this line from John Oliver, host of the popular HBO show “Last Week Tonight”, to address the endless and pointless argument about the ultimate customer experience metric. For a very funny video showing an example of how he uses this phrase, please click here.

One would think that by now everybody who cares to measure anything about customers and markets would know that an ounce of insight is worth a ton of research. Unfortunately, neither of the most commonly used top-line metrics – CSAT, NPS or CES – help to provide any insight by itself. The only utility they provide is to benchmark one product, category or brand against another. They are also valuable for tracking trends in the changes over time.

To uncover any insights you would have to ask questions which start with the word “WHY”. So why is it still a thing to debate relative advantages of one vanity metric over another? The language used in these arguments is reminiscent of religious debates over the practice of breaking eggs, described by Jonathan Swift:

“Traditionally, Lilliputians broke boiled eggs on the larger end; a few generations ago, an Emperor of Lilliput, the Present Emperor’s great-grandfather, had decreed that all eggs be broken on the smaller end after he cut himself breaking the egg on the larger end. The differences between Big-Endians (those who broke their eggs at the larger end) and Little-Endians had given rise to “six rebellions… wherein one Emperor lost his life, and another his crown”. The Lilliputian religion says an egg should be broken on the convenient end, which is now interpreted by the Lilliputians as the smaller end.”

So if you have the inclination to measure anything associated with customer experience in hopes of unearthing actionable insight, consider these steps:
1. Identify the desired business outcome
2. Collect data that provides history of measurements for this outcome
3. Select the top-line metric that correlates best with the trends of that outcome because it may become a likely predictor
4. Find a way to link this metric to financial results. If you cannot link it to operational/financial results, it is not worth measuring.

On the other hand, if you are more interested in the continuation of the “ultimate metric” debate, the only argument that would make a dent in my position is called “Show Me The Money” – a well documented example where a choice of one metric over another has resulted in a meaningful financial result.

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