is your research being subverted by its subjects?

I sent a load of old Uni textbooks off to the charity shop the other week and one called ‘Compensation’ included lots of cautionary tales about compensation schemes that were supposed to boost productivity/quality/customer service but ended up having the opposite effect.  Like the vegetable processing plant that started paying their quality checkers extra for every insect they removed – so the checkers brought their own insects in from home.  Or the Communist top bods who measured screw factory output by weight – so the factories simply made bigger and heavier screws.

I was reminded of this when (yet again) I was on the phone to Tiscali/TalkTalk’s appalling customer support team last night.  The call always starts with a recorded voice asking you to hang on at the end of the call to answer a couple of automated customer satisfaction questions.  Twenty minutes later with no resolution and ready to explode with frustration I remembered that at least I could give a rubbish score for customer satisfaction on the survey.  But the call handler has to hang up first for you to go through to the questions – and I realised that this call handler knew exactly how cross I was and had no intention of hanging up first so I could score her badly.

It suddenly struck me that I’d been in this position several times before and the call handler had always let me hang up with no reminder to stay on the line.

So I’m guessing that the Tiscali bosses think that their telephone customer support staff are doing an OK job – because the customers who didn’t get good service weren’t given the chance to give their feedback.

Perhaps when we’re designing or analysing any kind of feedback or evaluation measure we need to allow for the human tendency to subvert the outcomes to suit their own ends.

One thought on “is your research being subverted by its subjects?

  1. My dad told me about a Parcel Force one where they had set a target for all support calls to be answered in five rings. So people started picking up the calls on 4 rings and hanging them up instantly.

    The targets were met though..!

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