Metrics and Behaviors (Part 1)

Ever since my days from taking support calls for AOL Tech Support, one bit of advice that has helped me incredibly in my career and even in life. It’s the role that metrics play in business and ourselves.  I have some strong views about how we should look at metrics, but I wanted to share what has led up to my decision. This two-part post is first about what has led up to my thoughts on this and my second part will be about my theory on metrics and behaviors.

This post is mostly personal. I might be bound by non-disclosure as I explain all this. Please don’t tell the lawyers.

Eleven minute calls were the benchmark for a “good” customer interaction. No matter if it’s repairing the PFC or simply having them reboot their computer, eleven minutes was the goal. Having no insights as to the health of the business and what cost-saving measures the company was considering. We were led to believe that if we hit our metrics; we were salvaged from being outsourced.

We were wrong. AOL ceased their Arizona-based member services support functions December 2006 and eventually, their development and QA teams were hanging by a thread only to be axed months later. This was the industry trend. I felt a sense of guilt and remorse for my peers that I was excluded from the slaughterhouse meeting (where they explain their job has been eliminated). Just as all these people have just been informed their jobs they had a sense of pride in, would be gone; I inked my job offer from Virginia and faxed it over to HQ. I felt like shit and I’m sure you would, too.

I eventually got out of my funk and promised myself that I’d represent the best of Arizona in the eyes of the beltway directors and leadership through my own aspirations for growth and learning would show as well as my intimate understanding of customer service. I feel I’ve made an impact, but when I left, I knew my work was unfinished. I learned a lot, especially when screening illicit content from users, mediating disputes, responding to regulatory inquires, interfacing between Legal, Corp Comm, Member Services and Product – it was fun and I wouldn’t trade anything for that experience.

At the time my personal life grew tumultuous. I hated talking about my life to others when they asked. You know, small talk, I hated it. I wasn’t ready for living in Virginia. My (ex) girlfriend at the time supported my move only a fraction as much as I did. Compound that with an irresponsible car purchase, credit card bills up to my neck and having no real friends in the area – I was miserable. I was living paycheck to paycheck, had few social outings and my relationship was on the rocks to begin with. Oh, and my mom was on the brink of being 5150’d

(Sorry if I mislead you Nancie, Suzie, Gregg  and Mark on this front.)

Then a good move happened. I eventually was a part of an organization shift. I was laid off with what I considered a very generous severance package. I couldn’t hide the grin and smirk off my face when my manager informed me. I don’t think she believed me when I replied that it was a relief to me.

For the next two months there, I was bittersweet, knowing I would miss everyone I first met. I’d miss the product launches, war room chaos and all the tangential projects my managers had me do. I’d miss talking and working my managers and peers who were celebrity status to me. I’d miss terming accounts, suspending AIMs. I’d miss the long security discussions I’ve had with Opsec44. Above all, I would miss talking to AOL users.

But I closed up shop, professionally. Ceased all my projects and sent my apologies to all the customers I would let down when my email would eventually reply with “550 Mailbox Not Found.” They felt bad and I didn’t want them to. They didn’t understand my personal life and how I wanted to get out of Virginia. My final manager was and still is a great guy. We really connected and I felt for him being a bad-ass, he had some empathy for me.

Since then, I long questioned if I was a poor employee? Did I not do enough? What could I have done better? Was it just a ruse to silence a critical blogger from Corp Comm? How did I get my name to land on that spreadsheet? (Mind you, I managed to avoid two occupational genocides between Tucson and Dulles.)

Blame aside, I thought introspectively about my career and the intense focus companies have to measure their customer service and improve it. All arithmetic shows that India is the lowest cost – but at what cost? It pissed me off that no one explained this to me earlier. Provide legendary customer service so your (organization) is irreplaceable. (Look at Zappos…) If all you have is warm bodies reading scripts, then by all means, India is your next spot. But if you want the magical, warm fuzzies to infuse your customers, then keeping it domestic is where it’s at.

Numbers are numbers, but where do behaviors fit into the mix? Stay tuned for part two, where I unload on how to boost metrics and numbers through the right behaviors.