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yet more arbitrary things to measure your performance February 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Sales Floor Stories.
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Look very carefully at the comic below. (click here to see a larger version)

Penny Arcade, 7/25/05

Penny Arcade, 7/25/05

See the sign on the store counter? It says:

Preorder something or get the fuck out of the store

You’ve probably noticed by now that your company has come up with more and more arbitrary ways to measure your performance. They usually do this by forcing you to do work that’s:

  • not in your job description
  • takes more time to complete than your actual assigned work
  • used to be done by someone who’s since been downsized
  • mostly a waste of your time
  • in the end reflects poorly upon you because you haven’t been trained to do it properly

In my college days, I worked at a video game store in a mall. It was a retail job, and I enjoyed it because it dealt with things I liked — video games. But shortly after I was hired, I realized that I wasn’t being judged on things like “customer satisfaction”, “good customer service”, or even “how much money is taken in by transactions with your employee number on them”. No, I was judged by these four items:

  1. Pre-ordered items per day. Despite what the customer actually came into the store to buy, it was our job to get them to commit to an item via pre-order, so we had to figure out what sorts of things were coming out soon that the customer might be willing to drop $10 on.
  2. Call list entries per day. If we couldn’t get them to pre-order, we had to at least put them on a call list so we could call them when the game came out. Toward the end of the day, I often stopped selling pre-orders so I could put people on my call list.
  3. Service plans. This happens at almost every store — service plans are almost 100% profit. But at our store, it was very difficult to sell them mostly because people didn’t come to our store to buy systems; they came to buy games. You can’t sell a service plan on a game.
  4. MSTs — multi-SKU transactions. A transaction didn’t count unless you sold the customer more than one item at a time. Very difficult to do when the majority of your customers are middle- and high-school kids who save up enough money to buy one game and that’s it.

The really tough part is that middle management knows exactly what’s happening with these arbitrary forms of performance measurement: if an employee does too good, then the company has no reason not to give a bigger raise when it’s review time. But by implementing something measurable and unattainable, it’s easy to say “you got a lot of great comments from customers, but your MSTs and pre-orders were pretty low, which detracted from your overall score”.

So which is more important to companies? Happy customers, or employees who can excel at arbitrary forms of performance measurement? Customers aren’t stupid; they know when employees are trying to keep them on the hook to get them to buy more things. They know extended service plans are pure profit and aren’t worth the money. Employees get upset and give worse service because they know they’re not going to get a passing grade in service plans or MSTs or pre-orders, and customers are unhappy when they get bad service.

Companies need to take heed: in this economy, keeping customers happy is more important than anything else. There’s less money to spend, and you really don’t want the competition getting money that you could’ve gotten but lost out on because your employees were forced to sell something they know the customers don’t need.

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