Scaretistically Speaking’

By Marc Dresner, IIR USA

‘People can come up with statistics to prove anything. Fourteen percent of people know that.’
~ Homer Simpson’s response to a TV news interview question in which the local anchor cited an inconvenient statistic

With Halloween so close, I thought we might all be up for a good, scary story.

What you are about to read is confidential and may get me in trouble, so please don’t share it with anyone’not a soul! (Beware: even weaker Halloween puns ahead.)

A closed-door meeting of my condo association’s board of directors took an amusing and slightly alarming detour the other night into the realm of statistics.

We five had gathered to finalize the 2011 budget and ‘ more importantly ‘ to review bids from several cable and satellite TV providers.

(I stress that the latter is more important because while I do not enjoy budgeting, I do enjoy what little television I have time to watch and I am dissatisfied with our current bulk services provider.)

The budget discussion was relatively uneventful. But the cable conversation was a bit more’spirited. (I warned you.) Apparently I am not the only person with strong emotional ties to the tube.

First, we needed to be able to justify the switch, because any option other than staying with our current provider would nearly triple everyone’s monthly cable bill. With more than 260 units, that’s a lot of rotten produce being thrown our way at the next homeowner’s assoc meeting if our call turned out to be dead wrong.

Now, we’re confident that most of our residents are unhappy enough with our current provider to accept the increase; however, beyond anecdotal evidence and a two-year-old survey with a lukewarm response rate, we really didn’t have much else upon which to stake our decision.

So you can imagine my reaction when one of my board colleagues ‘ who is much smarter and more accomplished than I, and by whom I will likely be sued if he reads this ‘ suggested that the vast majority of residents are probably open to accepting a new cable/satellite services provider at triple the price in a recession BECAUSE ‘ drum roll ‘ conventional wisdom in political polling dictates that for every person who bothers to make their opinion known, there are one or two others who feel the same way, but do not say so.

So, one vote equals two, maybe three? Based on our two-year-old survey results, that would constitute a sizable majority of residents (most of whom did not bother to respond to the survey).

Interesting stat, no? And, by the way, let’s hear it for self-selection error!

It gets better’

In response, another of my board colleagues ‘ again someone much smarter than I, with outstanding credentials ‘ leaned in and said, ”Joe,’ this is not a political poll.’

Re-read that last line, just for laughs.

So, board member number two’s issue was not with the accuracy of board member number one’s math, but with the nature of the topic being polled. Apparently, the 1=2-or-maybe-3 rule indeed applies to political polls, but not to non-probability sampling in matters regarding cable television services.

Now, I am by no means a statistician and I did not dispute this line of reasoning (the meeting was already running long, and it was a harmless point well taken), but I believe both of my colleagues were slightly mistaken.

Isn’t the correct rule of thumb that for every one person who voices a complaint, there are 27 others who feel the same way but don’t complain? Or should we defer to the ole adage: ‘A happy customer tells a friend; an unhappy customer tells everyone’? It’s all so confusing’

I relate this tale all in good fun, and I mean no disrespect to my wonderful condo board colleagues, none of whom ‘ I trust ‘ will call for my resignation if they happen to read this.

At the end of the day, my point is that the blas?? tossing about of questionable stats is frighteningly commonplace ‘ and educated, intelligent people routinely and willingly accept them without question.

Which reminds me: we have an election coming up!

I’ll keep my politics to myself, but I’ve already seen enough push polls and suspicious numbers to sustain me through the next four election cycles. And while it’s easy to point the finger at politicians (I have a special finger for that), the worst offenders are the journalists who lack the background and/or inclination to verify the validity and reliability of the numbers they so eagerly push out into the echo chamber as fact.

This sentiment was echoed in IIR’s recent podcast interview with NBC’s SVP strategic insights and innovation, Horst Stipp, who had some pretty strong things to say about the irresponsible use of research, and who noted that journalists and politicians are not the only offenders: Researchers, too, occasionally lapse.

Bottom line: I think we can all agree that the misuse and manipulation of statistics ‘ in journalism, politics, commercially and even by condo boards’for whatever end ‘ is totally out of control, with grave implications for research credibility.

So what’s your scary stats story? We each have one, so I’m interested in hearing all three of yours.

Happy Halloween!

NACCM 2010: How Leaders Must Empower Employees: CareerBuilder.com Focuses on People, Process and Culture

Presented by: Mike Hargis, CAREERBUILDER

-Millennials are 2-3x more accepting to new technologies
-Millennials prefer structure for their day
-Millennials would rather work as a group than as individuals

How do you retain Millennials? Trust, balance and structure

Career builder only keeps people in their call center for 24-36 months, otherwise they get burnt out. Create a fun environment with degrees in psychology, philosophy, then go on and invest in their training. They do at least 3 events a year to build leadership, such as ‘Extreme Events’. They reward by creating videos. Employees share these videos, and it makes it easy to attract the right type of people to your company.

They’ve created an App to refer candidates on Facebook. By sharing content, they were able to successfully communicate to more people

Part 3: Inside Insights Podcast Series with Horst Stipp

New issues; new challenges; new solutions’same questions? In episode three of our four-part interview, NBC’s Horst Stipp delves into the exponentially increasing complexity of media measurement, and highlights some promising research technologies and methodologies ‘ neurological feedback, the Tobii eye-tracking method, etc. ‘ that may help marketers answer age-old questions for the first time.

Tune in tomorrow for the last part of this four-part interview!

Check out the podcast

View the transcript

NACCM 2010: The Hartford’s Journey Toward Building an Award Winning Culture

Presented by Sue Brinker, AVP Property & Casualty Learning, Hartford Insurance
NACCM, 2010

Hartford’s Advance 50 team is comprised of 5,000 highly credentialed reps with advanced degrees in an aging-related field. The obvious gap is that the customers being served average an age of 65, while the reps are 24 years old. Therefore hiring for attitude is critical, with training, individual coaching, enabling systems, metrics, and rewards to do the rest.

Their training is very deliberate and lasts 11 weeks, 6 weeks of which is live work with customers. New hires are on the phone side-by-side with their mentor as soon as day 8, which enables the employee to learn, apply the knowledge, and be coached.

Empathy and patience are critical for these 24-year olds, since many of their AARP customers are recently widowed, have suffered a stroke, or have hearing loss. They task the rep with working on their own improvement plans where opportunities are discovered. And they maintain the ‘best call’ library contest that serves as both a recognition vehicle and also provide examples as an excellent resource.

NACCM 2010: Ace Care Increases Efficiency without Losing ‘Tribal Knowledge’ or Personal Touch

Presented by Kalus Buellesbach, NACCM 2010
Helping you is the most important thing we have to do today.

As the world’s largest retail cooperative, Ace has 4600 independent stores served by 4,200 direct employees. Their challenge has always been to create a support environment that emphasizes quality while scaling the business.

To that end they implemented the Ace Care Center project, which focused on improving service by utilizing the resources from 85 people in 7 different helpdesks that served retailers, consumers, vendors, and employees. Starting with unifying contact processes and rationalizing service hours, they were then able to improve service levels and drive quality. Since they had little budget, they were able to implement a call recording system using $100 devices from Radio Shack and provide robust agent scorecards using Excel-based tools, using the budget for bonus compensation that rewards agent performance.

NACCM 2010: Service Sabbatical: Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Employee Development Opportunity

Patricia Dilane, Director Member Service Delivery, Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts

Service Sabbatical is an innovative program from BCBS-Mass that improves quality, reduces attrition, and generates goodwill in the community, driving hard ROI.
The initial objective they had in mind was to provide the ability for associates to grow professionally, not just job training, and also be able to provide stronger ties to the communities they serve. The thinking was that this approach could improve quality and attrition metrics, paying for itself.
The week-long curriculum focuses on
‘ Big-picture call-center operations
‘ Business challenges that the center faces
‘ Team building through development of solutions to those problems, including interviewing executives to gain context and knowledge while gaining more exposure
‘ and a community event that ‘gives back’

They run the program regularly, accepting 10-12 associates into the program each quarter from a pool of approximately 50 applicants. Senior management believes in this and attends the sessions as well, both participating and encouraging. They even now have a wait-list from senior executives that all want to participate.

Feedback from the associates has been incredible ‘ survey responses are tremendously positive. But beyond that, BCBS quality metrics have increased for all participants, many have been promoted and attrition has decreased. The program has even expanded into Claims and Provider Services areas, further facilitating cross-functional collaboration and teamwork.

NACCM 2010: View from the Top

Jay Steinfeld, CEO, Blinds.Com
It’s hard to do one thing 100% better than everyone, but you can do 100 things 1% better. It all adds up.

Blinds.Com is the largest provider of window treatments on-line, and has revenue per employee equal to Amazon and Facebook. Their mission is to create an experience that makes buying complex and customizable products surprisingly easy and exciting.
To accomplish this Jay runs the business by the numbers, with a critical number KPI being Gross Margin per visit since this reflects conversion rates and sales growth, and provides a leads into where to dig deeper. But repeat business and referral rates, and Net Promoter Scores are also extremely important, and Jay uses those to make sure they can get customer needs addressed with the right priority.
Jay spent many years driving to customers’ homes before going on-line , and believes in the power of customer feedback at the individual level. In that regard, Blinds.Com establishes Net Promoter Scores around the organization, even down to the individual agent level, calculating NPS for each agent. Driving some internal competition, Blinds.Com believes in the effectiveness of transparency and publishes all scores out to everyone. This rather unique practice drives other great behaviors, including better information sharing between departments, better collaboration between teams.
Those interactions with customers have shaped their core values: improve continually, and experiment without fear. Jay hires people that are aligned with these beliefs, asking prospective employees during the interview how they have strived to improve themselves within the last 6 months, and what they did to change for the better. As a result Blinds.Com has a team of people that works together and strives to do better, especially when it comes to improving the customer experience.
Jay attributes their incredible growth over the years to those core values. In fact, the business didn’t really take off until those values were formally established and became part of the business’ DNA.
Some examples of how this manifests itself in some simple practices:
‘ All employees have the opportunity to present at regular all-hands meetings
‘ Teams maintain open whiteboards showing the things they are working on with facilitated areas for new ideas.

Jay writes a regular column on BNet called the No-nonsense Boss. Sounds more than worth checking out.

[This blog provided by Steve Bernstein of Waypoint Group, and cross-posted at the Customer Insight = Revenue blog]