fake-customer-dataThe other day, my ten year old daughter asked me how she could get on the Disney Channel. As an aspiring actress (one of many careers she has set her sights on), a guest appearance on a laugh-track-laden sitcom must seem like the Holy Grail.

She didn’t like my answer. I told her how much work it takes to make it big, and how much she would need to practice, and how many years she would need to dedicate to it. I told her about people I knew from high school and college, excellent thespians, who have day jobs like the rest of us schmucks and do community theater at night because it’s a passion, not a job. I would have told her more but by that point her eyes had glazed over.

But maybe I should have skipped the sermon and just told her to get plastic surgery. And no, I’m not talking about THAT kind of plastic surgery.

I’m talking about palms.

Apparently, some folks in Japan have figured out how to cheat fate by altering their palm lines. A little zap from an electric scalpel and presto, you have a whole new chance at fame, fortune, and love.

Absurd? Sure. But we do it all the time. We seize indicators (some of which are arguably as valid as palm-reading) and pretend they guarantee the outcomes we want. Then we focus on achieving the indicator, not the outcome.

I met last year with a prospect who was responsible for marketing and customer experiences for a regional healthcare provider. He told me that they had undertaken a data mining exercise and observed a significant difference in loyalty among customers who rated their experience a “5” (the highest score) on their follow-up satisfaction survey, versus those with lower scores. Logically, they figured if they could increase the number of “5” ratings, they’d get higher loyalty overall. But rather than dig into the numbers to figure out what was behind the scores, or do additional research to identify satisfaction drivers, they started an initiative to boost scores by, well, boosting scores. You know the drill … “If you can’t give us a 5, please ask for a manager.”

The end result? Better scores, less insight, no impact.

So remember that the next time you see a statistic about customer satisfaction, or loyalty programs, or website sales conversion, or what-have-you. Chasing the numbers is like getting plastic surgery on your palm… it might make you feel better, but it probably won’t change things.

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