Be Careful What You Measure

There is a management axiom that says “what is measured is what gets done.”  Of course the opposite is also true – “what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.”  There have been numerous studies that prove these axioms true, but this blog is not about those.  This blog assumes those axioms are true.  But that is where we all need to be careful, because if we measure the wrong things or don’t measure the right things, then we won’t accomplish what is needed.

Let’s take call centers – or maybe better said, customer no-service center (to quote Clark Howard). In our productivity driven world, there are a couple of favorite measures that many businesses employee in these centers – average hold time and average call time.  The question is, are these metrics measuring the right results and behaviors at the call centers.  If your desire is to take care of customers, then the answer is probably…no.  If your desire is minimize staffing, then the answer is probably…no.  That’s right, no.  Let me explain.

Measuring call length and hold time incents the call center employees to rush customers through the call.  Rushing calls to conclusion results in incomplete answers and unresolved customer issues.  That means customers call back – sometimes multiple times before their issue is resolved.  Not only does that result in dissatisfied customers because you made them waste their time calling you back, it also results in hits to productivity.  Let’s take the simple example of handling a call in 2 minutes to get the answer right or 1 ½ minutes to meet the call time metric but half of the customers have to call back because their issue was not resolved in the first call.  In the second case that means the call center ended up being on the phone for 2 ¼ minutes with a single customer rather than the 2 minutes they would have spent if they had just handled the call right in the first place.

This is where we management accountants need to step in and help our companies.  We are often involved in measuring and reporting on all sorts of company metrics.  We need to do more then simply measure what we are asked to measure.  We need to understand the purpose of the measurement as well as the behaviors it will drive including the good, the bad and the ugly (customer service).  It may be up to us to point out the strange math cited above that sometimes maybe less apparent efficiency results in more efficiency for the company overall.  If you can do that then you are truly a professional management accountant, not just a well paid bean counter.

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