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Leading the witness. The unsubtle art of ‘gaming’ customer surveys

22 May


Take a look at this online survey on attitudes to a leading UK bank that popped up a month or so ago when browsing I am asked to say if I agree with the following statements (helpfully, I am also told that I can select all 5 responses, if the mood so takes me):


Lloyds Bank…

  • …has the expertise to be a leading partner to UK business
  • …serves and supports UK business
  • …helps make its customers more successful
  • …helps make the UK economically stronger
  • …demonstrates leadership on key issues that matter to my organisation

Now, this is clearly just a piece of fairly innocuous puff to fuel some sort of PR message, and we can all smile wryly and move on. That said, it hasn’t done anything to improve my perception of the bank concerned because obviously, someone somewhere must have felt this was a good idea, worth spending time and money on.

Some surveys that try a little too hard to lead the witness also have a darker side. This is where the outcome is linked to personal reward or recognition.

When the well-intentioned idea becomes hostage to the law of unintended consequences. 

I was recently reminded of this when I picked up a prescription at a leading pharmacy brand. We’re probably all familiar with the scenario: you queue to hand the prescription in, you’re told to come back in 15 minutes, and then you collect it from a different counter. For once I wasn’t told to go away, and the same person handled the whole transaction in around a minute. I mumbled “gosh, that was quick” and then the pharmacist, sensing a happy customer, wrote his name on my till receipt and asked me to take part in the online survey mentioned on the back of it. Now, chances are, if I’d had a very different experience, say where it took much longer than promised or they’d run out of the product, I suspect he’d have acted very differently.


Such stories – when personal intervention can, in effect, ‘lead the witness’ – are legion on the web. Take a look at this example, from the Consumerist site in April, where a pizza company in the US is offering a $1 discount off the next order provided you score the experience you’ve just had a 5 out of 5. As you can see from the photo, the process to claim the discount involves some ingenuity – all helpfully explained – to work around the system.

So, if your organisation is truly intent on listening to the authentic voice of the customer, then avoid the witness being lead! The first rule of survey completion should be to avoid putting the invitation to complete the survey in the hands of people who personally stand to gain from positive responses.   


“Hiring well is the most important thing in the universe”

28 Nov
English: Company logo for Valve Corporation. E...

(credit: Wikipedia)

This is fascinating. It’s a handbook for new joiners at Valve, a successful US PC-games company that was originally posted on the web in April,unofficially. This raised all kinds of speculation along the lines of… is this for real? In response, not only did Valve confirm that it was indeed, but also posted it on its own website.

A quick dip into it will quickly reveal just why it’s so interesting. It describes – very eloquently – the culture at Valve, in other words, how things get done.

And ok, while desks with wheels may be pushing it (yes, it’s true), it contains some great insights on what drives and fuels exactly the kind of culture they seek.

Clearly, we’re a long way from the world of command and control: “When you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99% of their value.  We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish”.

That means then that “hiring well is the most important thing in the universe”.  As the handbook says, “Nothing else comes close.  It’s more important that breathing.  So when you’re working on hiring – participating in an interview loop or innovating in the general area of recruiting – everything else you could be doing is stupid and should be ignored!”

Enjoy! And the visuals are great too.

Ten ways to kill innovation. A handy checklist.

21 Nov

(Photo credit: Seth1492)

Good reminder of tried and tested ways to kill innovation from Holly Green in Forbes.

It’s all good and sobering stuff, but my favourite is probably the “Lone Ranger approach”, where, as she says, a small team gets tasked with innovation, which is like asking a single NASA engineer to develop a new rocket ship to get to Mars.

The reality is, for innovation to succeed, you need a careful blend of skills and talents from all areas of the organization. It does not flourish in isolated silos or hidden corners of the organization.

Following on from that, the other downside of isolated innovation is that it makes it all the harder to then re-integrate the work back into the business. Put simply, the danger is that the host simply rejects the virus, as the power of vested interests and the status quo are just too strong.


Why companies bet against big ideas

19 Nov

A good article by David Aaker, of Prophet, in HBR on the importance of companies’ innovation efforts including ‘game-changers’ as well as ‘homeruns’.

 The challenge being that risk aversion leads to overinvestment in incremental innovation, and under-investment in game-changers: “being attached to an optimistic forecast that fails to materialize is a risky career move”. 

 The result? A constant death-spiral of “my brand is better than your brand” incremental innovation.

 A good reminder, but of course, easy to say, much harder to do, and to do consistently too, in large companies where the cards are often being re-shuffled.

It’s not the price, stupid. It is the value to the customer

19 Nov

Nice piece from the Business model innovation blog on the importance of understanding and framing the ‘price’ to the customer in broader terms, to factor in the effort and process involved in acquisition.


The author talks about the total price of purchasing (TPPs; the price for the good and the costs of process of purchasing it).  As soon as you factor in customer effort to get the job done, in other words, what are you trying to solve for your customers, you will rightly look beyond the actual price, to consider how you can make the ‘life of your customer easier, better and thereby cheaper’.

It’s not the price, stupid. It is the value (proposition) | Business Model Innovation.

Awesome Flawsome! 12 consumer trends for 2012

16 Nov

While some of this may be at the ‘Lady Gaga’ end of the trends spectrum, this is a lively and engaging view from of some key consumer trends for 2012.

I particularly like the cultural challenge that lies in “Flawsome”, which is about “brands that are honest about their flaws, that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humour and dare we say it, some character and humanity”. 

It’s fascinating to see big name brands grapple with Flawsome; BP, Barclays, RBS, Netflicks, Toyota, the list could go on….

Fail often, fail well

12 Nov

From The Economist in 2011, a thoughtful piece on the need for businesses to truly embrace risk and failure:  “The best way to avoid short-term failure is to keep churning out the same old products, though in the long term this may spell your doom. Businesses cannot invent the future—their own future—without taking risks”.

It’s fascinating to read that India’s Tata group awards an annual prize for the best failed idea and that Intuit and Eli Lilly have held “failure parties”.

However, the challenge his poses to the top table should not be underestimated; the higher up in the company, the bigger the egos and the greater the reluctance to admit to really big failings rather than minor (and thus acceptable) ones

Schumpeter: Fail often, fail well | The Economist.

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