Meaningful Service Metrics

In the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck describes a fishing expedition: “The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus nine spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating in the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being—an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.

The nature of customer service is a fundamentally an experience — feelings characterize it more than facts; emotion more than logic. Steinbeck’s reminds us that no matter how accurate our customer assessments, they will never completely assess its magic. With our objective data, tidy calculations, and sterilized reports, we must never forget to rely on the unscientific report of those directly involved in creating the experience.

There are important service metrics to watch — customers’ evaluation of their experience, customer effort gauges, customer complaints reports, first contact resolution, etc. But, these are all reflections of the customer experience, not its true measure. To quote Marilyn Ferguson in the Aquarian Conspiracy, “In our lives and in our cultural institutions we have been poking at qualities with tools designed to detect quantities. How big is an intention? How heavy is grief, how deep is love? What data guides your decisions about your customers? How do you ascertain the customer’s real evaluation of your service?

Dr. Johnny D. Magwood is the Chief Customer Officer of Northeast Utilities.  A well-known industry spokesperson, he can be reached at

One Response to “Meaningful Service Metrics”

  1. verygoodservice said:

    Jun 04, 11 at 2:11 pm

    A good set of metrics would help many companies solve their customer service issues but as you rightly point out, so many of them are “soft” and hard to measure that it makes quantification difficult