Companies seem to be completely blind to the insanity of the incentives they choose to track.

Customer Service Surveys

Lately it feel like every retail employee is begging me to leave them feedback. The bottom of every receipt promises free pancakes or $1,00 gift card to share my experience. They are badgering me. The person who helped me at Lowes the other day had this all rehearsed. A whole speech about how I could make his day if I logged on and rate him a 10. I wanted my receipt. I wanted to leave. I'm stuck listing to badgering and begging to complete a survey. 

The incentive to make my customer experience better actually makes my experience worse. 

This whole interaction took an extra 2-3 minutes while there was a line behind me. I watched as every checker in the busy store pushed for the same customer satisfaction score. Lines got longer. 

Someone in a board room is getting a promotion. "Customer Satisfaction Surveys" are improving. 

In Store Pickup 

I've been trying to avoid Amazon lately while still keeping life simple. I've been doing a lot of ordering online for "In Store Pickup"  to make things easier. For the last month at 6+ different stores I have noticed a pattern. 

  • Order item online
  • Within minutes, receive an email confirming my order is ready for pickup 
  • Drive to store to pick up the confirmed item. 
  • Arrive at store — Item is not ready for pickup
  • Wait 30+ mins for store to pick items. 

The system incentivizes picking orders faster. So, instead of actually picking orders as they come in. They click the button to "Pick" the order. Then, when the customer comes in to pick up the order, they go grab the items.  

I've been able to confirm with a few employees the system tracks how long it takes for employees to pick orders. When you've got a backlog of orders, it's easier to click the box. "Order Ready", even when it's not. 

This backfires. Often items are not actually in stock. So, you get an order confirmation, go to pick up your item and they don't even have it in stick. 

Someone in a board room is getting a promotion. The "In Store Pickups" picking time is improving.  

Bathroom Cleaning Logs 

Every dirty bathroom has this piece of paper stuck to the back of the door.  It logs all the times the bathroom was cleaned. It's rare the bathroom is clean, but somehow that signature log is always complete. 

The incentive is to initial the form, not clean the bathroom. The form gets signed, the bathroom is still dirty. 

Someone in a board room is getting a promotion. The "Bathroom Cleaning" compliance has gone up 4.6% over last quarter. 

Software Development 

"Story Points" is a common approach to software estimation. It attempts to describe how much time it will take to address a bug or add a feature in software. The rate at which you complete story points is called "Velocity". A lot of companies incentivize teams to complete more story points. As a result, story points get inflated. A very simple fix gets estimated at several points of complexity higher. As a result, it can look like a team is getting more done, but in reality, they are gaming the metric. Round and round it goes.

Meanwhile, someone in a board room is getting a promotion.  The "Velocity of the software team is improving".

What's the alternative? 

If you are going to manage by a metric make a metric that makes sense, that doesn't have negative impacts. 

  • For Customer service, track how long customers wait in line. 
  • Tack how many transactions get escalated to a manager.
  • Honestly, anything but constantly nagging me for an NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey. 

In reality — Not everything can be tracked and quantified. Sometimes you need to lead by gut and intuition. Sometimes you need to find and hire and engage great people that don't need to be babysat. Otherwise you'll have a dirty bathroom and a full cleaning log. 

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