Public Shame and Praise to Drive Results

Brent Oxley is the CEO of HostGator, a web host that has been doing very well for a few years now. I know and have worked with Brent before and he has recently been experimenting with the public shame / praise model that I know works so well. It has been a longtime customer service technique and is more often than not, rather effective. In Brent’s case, it seems like it has been effective.

The public shame and praise he chose to do was posting everyone’s customer satisfaction scores on the company bulletin board in the staff lounge. The employees with the best scores were listed at the top and the employees with the worst scores were at the bottom of the list. Everyone sees this sheet every day and it couldn’t be in any plainer view.

Brent told me “I know I would be as embarrassed as hell if my name was on the bottom of the list.” He nailed it. This system is more psychological than anything else. There are no actual consequences from having your name on the bottom of the list (some companies cut the people on the bottom of the list every month), but it is really embarrassing. The fear of embarrassment is probably enough to motivate people to try.

I’m obviously pessimistic (not a common trait in customer service, I know). From the “glass half full” perspective, employees will want to show that they can do well. If they are on the top of the list, it’s an achievement. They peers will see employee’s name on the top of the list and will hopefully be envious. I am conceited enough where I would try to be on the top of the list for just that reason (I try to do my best at anything I do, though).

Regardless of someone’s motivations for getting to the top of the list, it makes a difference. The system is time tested and effective. It has worked so far for Brent and HostGator. It works for a lot of other companies as well.

Here are some tips to drive even more results from your public praise and shame system:

  • Reward employees at the top of the list. Give them bonuses, even more recognition, etc.
  • Fire employees who are consistently on the bottom of the list.
  • Each employee that is at the bottom of the list should have to get coaching or help from a supervisor.
  • Consider posting a list for each day’s scores. And then, another list for the month’s scores.
  • Track other metrics that your company values.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The system has a lot of potential and has worked well for many years and throughout many companies. I am an advocate of it and would suggest you start doing it if you don’t already.

What would you do to make this system better? What sort of results have seen with this system?

6 Responses to “Public Shame and Praise to Drive Results”

  1. Pete Aldin said:

    Aug 26, 07 at 4:26 pm

    Very interesting post. My experience of shaming behaviour is that it always always feeds the following things back into the system of the organisation: passive-agressive resistance – taking revenge on the boss; disaffection; jealousy; a them-&-us mentality and much more.

    The shame-praise model only works in a limited capacity with some competitive A-type personalities who take it as a game. Other A-types will tell the company to simply “Get …!” and leave for greener fields, while the introverted will sullenly comply with minimum expectations while undermining the company in other ways.

    It’s an illusion and one that can severely harm both the company and its employees.

    What works better is clearly defined set of objectives, the nurturing of talent, clear and logical consequences for not meeting the objectives, tapping the natural motivation of the employee and empowerment of personal development.

    Thanks for the opportunity to vent! 🙂

  2. Service Untitled said:

    Aug 26, 07 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks for your well thought out opinion, Pete!

  3. Ben Hubbard said:

    Aug 29, 07 at 4:48 pm

    We do something similar, but we post the top five only. The reasons are several, but a big one is that the tool we use to allow customers to provide feedback on trouble tickets currently is applied to only tickets opened a certain way… so only a small sampling is available. That said, we’re adding it as soon as we can to more and hopefully soon all tickets.

    As well, with such a small sampling, a few unlucky tickets can affect someone score, so really this type of tool is best if there is a large sampling.

    What I also think though is that when a certain rating is given by a customer, the manager should call later and inquire for more specifics. It may make the customer feel as though their voice is really being listened to.

    When the monthly top five is posted, so is the number of consecutive months in the top five for each of the top five ranked. The team loves it.


  4. Service Untitled said:

    Aug 29, 07 at 5:35 pm

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for your points. A large sampling and consistent data is critical for this to work. You don’t want to risk having inaccurate data (either because there isn’t enough or it is too skewed) reported and being used to praise or shame represenatives.

    I like your system of following up and showing how long someone has been on the top (kind of like the book sales ratings, etc.).

  5. Lee Miller said:

    Sep 26, 07 at 12:41 am

    We’ve recently hired some additional support staff and I think it’s important that we put in place some metrics to measure our performance as we grow. I’m interested in including a customer service rating link on tickets answered by our help desk staff. Can anyone suggest any ‘off-the-shelf’ type feedback tools for allowing customers to quickly rate a response?

  6. Service Untitled said:

    Sep 26, 07 at 9:57 pm


    That is a good question. I am not aware of one that would work with all help desks. Most help desks have one that can be installed pretty easily. For some of the help desks, you can just hire a programmer for a couple of hundred dollars to implement one.