by Ben Brennan
February 4, 2020

A few months ago, I held the last all hands meeting I would ever host as Senior Director of IT at Verizon Media. In this last global team meeting, I was thrilled to announce that, after four years chasing the audacious goal of providing the best IT customer experience in the entire industry, they had somehow achieved it, and according to the most vicious and accurate metrics available. At that moment, every member of the team knew that they were, very literally, among the very best in the world at what they did for a living.

My new year’s resolution is to empower as many teams as possible to get that same experience of achieving their most audacious goals.

World Class Confusion

If most mission statements in our industry are any indication, people in IT support are obsessed with the term “world class service.” Almost every mission statement contains some variation of that phrase. Unfortunately, even for teams whose talent and leadership exceeds that of the Verizon Media team mentioned above, world class service is more of a buzzword or an aspiration than something they really plan on achieving.

People in IT support are obsessed with the term “world class service.”
Tweet: People in IT support are obsessed with the term “world class service.” @why @ThinkHDI #servicedesk #techsupport #CX #custserv

After working both with teams who performed at world class levels and teams that couldn’t quite get there, there was one difference I noticed between the two that was disappointingly simple and preventable. World class teams define success in a way that helps them achieve it. Other teams don’t.

It is not easy to be the best in the world at something. Without everyone rowing in the same direction, it is near impossible. The reassuring news is that, at least in my consulting experience, defining success for your team according to the guidelines outlined below will kick off a cycle of excellence that will redefine your team’s service offering.

For the purposes of this article, we will use “world class customer experience” as our example. But whatever your team’s definition of success, if you run it through the three-step process below, you will significantly increase the chances of 2020 being the best year on record for your team.

Step 1: Make It Meaningful

Twenty years ago, having never run more than two miles before, I signed up for, trained, and ran the Austin Marathon. This was an incredibly meaningful experience for many reasons, but I can boil it down to these three:

  1. It was memorable.
  2. It was ambitious.
  3. It was objectively awesome.

Over time, I have learned that these same three traits also serve as a good litmus test for whether or not you are defining success in a meaningful way. If success as you define it would be memorable, ambitious, and objectively awesome, then you can count on it to be meaningful.

If we run our example of world class customer experience through these three criteria, the first two pass easy enough. If you become the best on the planet at something, there is no way you won’t remember it, and it is obviously about as ambitious a goal as you can have.

The third criteria, “It is objectively awesome,” requires a little more thought. If the term “is objectively awesome” throws you off, try “It is awesome in everyone’s opinion, not just to those in IT.”

The service desk is so named because we are here to serve, a fact we all need a reminder of from time to time. As such, we need to define success in a way that matters to our end users and stakeholders, not just to us. Fortunately, world class customer experience is something everyone can agree is awesome, so it passes the test. Whatever your team’s definition of success ends up being, the more customer centric it is, the more meaningful success will feel for everyone involved.

Step 2: Make it Measurable

In this golden age of data, we have a dizzying number of success metrics we can track for our service desk teams. As a math nerd, I love having real-time dashboards full of incredibly granular data. As a decision maker, the complexity can be a bit overwhelming.

IT is a little behind other industries in that we have yet to declare a “golden metric.” Put simply, a golden metric is a single metric that, regardless of the myriad other things you might measure, you can look to at any time and say “Great, we’re succeeding” or “Uh oh, things aren’t looking good.” Social media companies use Monthly Active Users, or MAUs as their golden metric. Doctors look to vital signs, or “vitals” to ensure the body’s most basic functions are stable.

Unfortunately, there is no industry best practice for choosing the right golden metric for an IT service desk team. What this means is that you’ll have to really do your homework and thoughtfully narrow down the dozens of available service desk metrics until you have short list for your team to vote on.

In our example of world class customer experience, we can disregard the myriad productivity and efficiency metrics, leaving us with a much more manageable shortlist of metrics that claim to measure customer experience:

  • CSAT (Customer Satisfaction)
  • NPS (Net Promoter Score)
  • CES (Customer Effort Score)
  • Combination CX Score
  • QSTAC®
  • IT Happiness Score

While it might seem like an insignificant choice, choosing your golden metric may be the most important decision you will make as an IT leader. Imagine if the taxi industry had defined success in terms of customer loyalty rather than profit margins. My guess is that if they had, Uber would have had a harder time completely upending a century-old industry in less than 10 years.

In light of the high stakes of this decision, it makes sense to skip to step three and consider the accuracy of our potential choices before selecting a golden metric. This will pare down the list even further, ideally leaving us with only one or two choices.

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Step 3: Make It Accurate

Making data-driven decisions is powerful in that it rapidly accelerates your progress by removing the need for arguing over what worked and what didn’t. That said, if the data you use to make your decisions isn’t accurate, you will still be accelerating quickly, just in the wrong direction, potentially resulting in disaster. In light of that, let’s revisit the metrics on our shortlist one by one and see which ones are accurate enough to be relied on as our golden metric for world class customer experience.

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT). Once I was brought in by the CIO of a large, well-known media company to address employee complaints regarding the IT help desk. In our first meeting, the company’s IT leadership proudly presented a beautiful graph showing their CSAT scores over the past two years. Quarter after quarter, the scores were near perfect, never falling below 99%.

In light of the underwhelming internal reputation the team had among their end users, however, the only thing their graph clearly demonstrated was that CSAT is a fantastically inaccurate metric for customer experience. While CSAT surveys are capable of providing solid qualitative insights into your service, the math behind the score is pretty weak, creating the potential for misleading results that lack the accuracy you want from a golden metric.

Net Promoter Score® (NPS). Using NPS for service desk teams is somewhat controversial. Some swear by it, including IBM’s internal IT support team and Apple’s Genius Bar. However, some equally progressive IT organizations claim NPS falls short in terms of granularity and actionable insights. Many also cite the confusing nature of measuring customer loyalty when your “customers” actually have no other IT team but yours to choose from.

Personally, I love NPS, though it’s not as granular or actionable as I’d like it to be. The math behind the score is incredibly accurate, which if you can get past the concerns above, makes it a solid option for your golden metric. NPS also comes with world class benchmarks, so unlike CSAT, NPS can let you know numerically what threshold your score needs to cross to be an industry leader.

Customer Effort Score (CES). While CES is designed to be used as a complement to NPS, rather than as a standalone measurement, I still feel it warrants honorable mention. While it doesn’t directly measure customer experience per se, it measures the effort it takes end users to use a tool or service, which is a refreshing take for teams who are looking for something new.

Overall CX Score. Jeff Rumburg has done some awesome writing for HDI and elsewhere on the topic of world class customer experience. Last year, when customer experience was Rumburg’s Metric of the Month, he actually broke with his own tradition and recommended a combination of three metrics: NPS, CSAT, and CES.

Jeff also came up with a tool that calculates an overall CX score by combining weighted NPS, CES, and CSAT scores together with some clever calculations. While I haven’t used it myself, I’m inspired by Rumburg’s innovative take on the topic and would recommend considering the Overall CX score on your short list of potential golden metrics. If you use it, let me know how it goes!

QSTAC. QSTAC is the tool that the Verizon Media team mentioned earlier used to track their progress towards the world class benchmark for customer experience. [In the interest of transparency, note that QSTAC is the company I founded.] While QSTAC has some great success stories, it isn’t free, which might be a deal breaker for some teams. If you have a little room in the budget, however, I’d leave it on the list.

IT Happiness Score. Yorizon’s IT Happiness Benchmark tool is another paid option, but one that I think brings a lot of unique value that other metrics don’t. One unique feature is that you get an “IT Happiness Score” not just for your service desk, but for every major component of the digital workspace, like email, intranet, etc. If you have ever experienced getting dinged on a survey for something that another team was responsible for, then you’ll appreciate the ability to hold all teams accountable for customer experience, not just the help desk folks on the front lines. If you’re open to a paid tool, I’d recommend considering this one as well.

Make It Happen

I can think of no better way to kick off this new decade than by defining success so clearly for your team that everyone knows what they can do to best help the team succeed. When smart people feel like they are showing up for a mission, rather than a job, they are going to bring the passion and energy it takes to succeed in ways you never thought possible.

In your next team meeting, I challenge you to agree on a definition of success that everyone can get behind, and then apply the MMA test to ensure your definition is meaningful, measurable, and accurate.

Let this be the year your mission statement isn’t just something written on a poster, but a clearly defined roadmap to massive success. Best of luck, I’m rooting for you.


Ben Brennan is the founder of QSTAC, Inc. and the author of Badass IT Support . His irreverent style, sincere passion, and contagious enthusiasm for customer-centric IT has proven a powerful combination. The result has been a decade of awards, accolades, and best-in-industry customer experience benchmarks for his IT teams at Twitter, Box, Yahoo, and most recently Verizon Media, where he was Senior IT Director. Now, with his new company QSTAC, Ben is taking the same proprietary tools and methods that fueled those previous successes and making them available to all, empowering any team to define, measure, and deliver a world-class customer experience. Follow him on Twitter @why .


Tag(s): supportworld, customer experience, metrics and measurements, support center, service desk, workforce enablement

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