How Customer Service Research Results Get Distorted

Radical Customer Service – How Research Gets Skewed By The Time It Gets To You

Tracking The Path Of Customer Service “Research” Findings

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We might think of customer research dissemination, or spread as using a long long pipeline. At various places along that pipeline are “pumping sub-stations” that take what arrives and pump it further down the line.

At one end, the origin, is a research company. Let’s assume for the moment that the company has no vested interest in how its research comes out, and that it knows what its doing, and never makes mistakes in the collection of data, it’s compiling of the data, and it’s interpretation of the data. We’ll assume the research company and what it does is unaffected by any biases. These assumptions are huge, and largely unrealistic. Nobody is that perfect, but let’s assume that the researchers are.

Research gets done at the “origin”, data collected, interpretations made. In traditional science, that research would be published in journals, under rather bleary, boring titles stated in objective uninspiring ways.

For example, let’s say the research done by Genesys was published in a peer-reviewed journal on consumer behavior. What would the title actually look like?

The Relationship of Consumer Perceptions of Customer Service Quality To Abandonment of The Purchase Process, And Industry Losses

Seriously. That’s what it would probably look like. Peruse any legitimate journal on any subject and you’ll find dozens of titles that aren’t likely to cause buzz, excitement and so on. Yawns, maybe unless you are a fellow researcher in that afield.

In the customer service industry, the “study” or at least its major findings are MARKETED. Since the company that did the research has to make a living, and it’s probably using its research to do so, it needs to “get the word out”. So, let’s say the actual study is summarized, and then goes to the marketing division, or the communication division, whatever a specific company would call the part of it that releases information, and promotes it. That department is one of those “pumping stations” mentioned before. It’s job is to create more velocity for the information stream, just like a water or oil pumping station.

This particular station isn’t concerned that what it releases is completely explained. It wants “buzz”. It wants eyeballs. It wants everyone to see the conclusions, and it also wants other pumping stations down stream from it to add further velocity to the stream.

So, it does two things. Number one, it chooses a title based on what will attract attention. Rather than use the dry “journal title” you might see in a scientific journal, there’s a transformation. So, to use a real world example, we get

Poor Customer Service Costs Companies $83 Billion Annually

Quite the difference between the two titles, yes?

The second thing that happens is that the press releases, and other information sent out is summarized down to its most exciting parts. Huge amounts of detail are left out. Some of it may be available to readers if they purchase the full report, but there’s no guarantee the details needed to actually evaluate the findings will be there. And there’s no obligation for commercial research firms to supply those details.

The next pumping station involves the media. Press releases are sent out, and media, like news shows, consumer publications, business publications, and so on, read these little snippets, and if they think doing a story on the findings will excite their readers, they’ll probably take the release, maybe do an interview or two with a researcher at the originating company, and publish a a story, again with a title that sounds interesting and even compelling, because media wants eyeballs too. Perhaps they may slant the original research to fit their particular audience.

At this point, the findings “get out” and the pipeline tends to branch. So one branch goes to social media, another may go to other businesses, and so on. Each pumping station has the potential to distort the original information, and more often as not, since everyone wants to be interesting to others, the titles and the information can shift.

You actually can test this out on Twitter. If you look at enough tweets with links attached, you will find that it’s not uncommon for the tweet to actually misrepresent what’s in the article at the end of the link. In fact, I’ve seen tweets that not only get it wrong, but get it completely backwards. The tweet says the article says one thing, but in fact the article says the opposite. Guess what? Sometimes this ass-backwards tweets get more push by being re-tweeted.

So, this is how our “information” flows. Oddly enough there’s not usually an identified culprit, since the distortions may not be intentional at all. It’s kind of like the child’s game, broken telephone. Each “repeater” skews the message, sometimes because of what they want to believe, or because they haven’t read carefully (or at all).

The result is a sea of information that sound credible because it uses numbers and sounds scientific, and is also believable because most of want to believe customer service is important, or whatever else we believe.

Conclusions And Implications About Customer Service Research

  1. The customer service research sector creates research findings that are POTENTIALLY contaminated by bias, intentional or otherwise.
  2. Customer service research lacks the oversight and scrutiny that occurs with academic research. Peer review and open data are lacking. The result is that a lot of the research we see is methodologically flawed, and the reports for that research lack the self-critiicism you find in true scientific academically published research.
  3. Companies that do and publish customer service research MARKET the findingsĀ which can cause overstating the research findings. Not only that but the way information is now disseminated via current media and social media, it’s likely that the research even when carried out properly, and correctly stated by the research company is going to get skewed by traveling through an information pipeline that distorts the results.
  4. The upshot is that companies that rely on this kind of research are likely to get a bent view of customers, and the impact of customer service.

Author: Robert Bacal

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