#40 Dunning-Kruger Effect and Customer Experience


Welcome to the 40th edition of my customer strategy newsletter. The five topics this week are:

  1. The Dunning-Kruger effect and customer experience
  2. Data collection for my annual report on customer versus employee satisfaction
  3. Latest blog posts
  4. Notable items from other sites – Great infographics from Temkin
  5. Looking forward
The Dunning-Kruger Effect and customer experience

When someone asks me “What do our customers want?”, I tend to answer “I don’t know. We should ask them.” My reaction dates from my first experience asking Wrangler customers in Paris what they wanted, way back in 1981. My corporate manager, in Greensboro NC, told me he already knew what our customers wanted, and that I should not do the interviews I planned with the main boutiques around Paris. He was wrong. We got major surprises.

A few years ago, I had the rare privilege of visiting the Chinese cities of Jinan and Jining for my job. They are in Shandong provice, not far from Qufu, where Confucius was born. One of his quotes could be the original version of the Dunning-Kruger effect: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Confucius was 2,500 years ahead of social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who managed to prove that Confucius was right. In short, people performing badly at certain tests believe they perform really well, while those doing really well tend to underestimate their performance. Dunning and Kruger posit that this is true in all domains. You can get a quick overview of their work in this Wikipedia article.

Here are examples of where you see the effect in customer experience work:

  • Your leaders affirm that you have ‘industry-leading customer satisfaction’, and have no competitive research that backs this up.
  • Your company publicly says it has ‘an NPS of 92, compared to an industry average of 40’. This is a real example. The 92 was from a small survey of call center users. The 40 was from a properly-done competitive benchmark study. This is an ‘appples and oranges’ comparison.
  • Anecdotes are used to represent reality. I suggest doing searches on terms like “Delta’s disasterous customer service” or the same for American Airlines, or indeed for airlines in general. A few viral videos of people being ejected from overbooked flights or other bad experiences seem to allow journalists to say airline service is awful without anyone questioning it. In fact, customer satisfaction with airlines serving US consumers has never been better. Here is a link to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index data for airlines, from now back to 1995. When I brought this up to a journalist who had written the opposite, he replied that the ACSI data was ‘obviously wrong’. Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is pervasive and there is little you can do about it. CX leaders need to assume it exists, and continue their ongoing education on the science of listening to customers and driving improvements. Not everyone is scientifically literate, so success can only be partial. Like life, it’s a journey.

Data collection for my annual report on customer vs. employee satisfaction

Among the most read articles I have ever written are two on the relationship between employee and customer happiness. In short, my research showed that there is no relationship between the two in general, and that this also holds true for most individual industries. Since I have to assume there is a time lag between employee happiness trends and customer happiness, I have just completed the data collection on employee satisfaction. I should have the final customer data in March, I hope. My employee satisfaction data covers 350 companies and the scores have changed by less than one percent, year over year. For the first half of the year, customer satisfaction has improved slightly for the same companies, and it will be interesting to see the full year results and trends. Here is a link to what I wrote on the subject in January.

Our latest blog posts

Here are the latest posts. The most recent is the second in a set of seven articles I am planning on the main customer experience measurement and improvement systems. Older posts are still available on the blog page.

image The main customer experience measurement and improvement systems – Part 3 – Customer Effort Score The Customer Effort Score is the metric described in the excellent book The Effortless Experience by Dixon, Toman and Delisi. The primary focus is service-center work and the associated metrics.…
image The main customer experience measurement and improvement systems – Part 2 – CSAT / Customer Satisfaction When you are asked to rate your ‘overall satisfaction’ with something, you have entered the Customer Satisfaction rating system. It is a metric, rather than a system, and different companies do it in different ways. As a metric, it is by far the most common one we see. Read on to learn about its advantages and disadvantages.
image The main customer experience measurement and improvement systems – Part 1 – Smiley Buttons There are quite a number of customer experience measurement and improvement systems in use around the world. They are not all equal. This post is the first in a series of seven articles about the main systems.

Notable customer experience items from other sites

Bruce Temkin: Great collection of infographics

I am sure I am not alone in liking infographics, at least as things to post on office or cubicle walls. Bruce Temkin and his team have published quite a few over the last year. Click here to be taken to a LinkedIn page where you can download each individually or the whole collection as a collage.


Looking forward

My brother and I are doing our best to persuade people that our books are great end-of-year gifts for friends, colleagues and teams. (Hint, hint!) As always, Amazon reviews are the way you can help us most, so please do that, no matter what you think of our books. Here are links to each on Amazon.com. If you use a different country site, you can just open the link, then edit .com to .co.uk, .de or whatever:

Customer Experience Strategy – Design & Implementation

Net Promoter – Implement the System

Customer-centric Cost Reduction

“So Happy Here”: The Absurdist but Essential Guide to Better Business (Color edition)

“So Happy Here”: The Absurdist but Essential Guide to Better Business (Black & White edition)

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