My job as a customer support engineer (CSE) at TAC was the most quantified I’ve ever had.  Every aspect of our job performance was tracked and measured.  We live in the era of big data, and while numbers can be helpful, they can also mislead.  In TAC, there were many examples of that.

Take, for example, our customer satisfaction rating, known as a “bingo” score.  Every time a customer filled out a survey at the end of a TAC case, the engineer was notified and the bingo score recorded and averaged with all his previous scores.  While this would seem to be an effective measure of an engineer’s performance, it often wasn’t.

In TAC, we often ended up taking cases that were “requeues.”  These were cases that were previously worked by another engineer.  Imagine you got a requeue of a case that another CSE had handled terribly.  You close the case quickly, but the customer is still angry at the first CSE, so he gives a low bingo score.  That score was credited against the CSE who closed the case, so even though you took care of it, you got stuck with the low numbers.

This also happened with create-to-close numbers.  We were measured on how quickly we closed cases.  Imagine another CSE had been sitting on a case for six months doing nothing.  The customer requeues it, and you end up with the case, closing it immediately.  You end up with a six month create-to-close number even though it wasn’t your fault.

Even worse, if you think about it, the create-to-close number discouraged engineers from taking hard cases.  Easy cases close quickly, but hard ones stay open while recreates are done and bugs are filed.  The engineers who took the hardest cases and were very skilled often had terrible create-to-close numbers.

The bottom line is that you need more than data to understand a person.  Most things in life don’t lend themselves to easy quantification.  Numbers always need to be in context.  Corporate managers are obsessed with quantification, and the Google’s of the world are helping to drive our number-love even further.  Meanwhile, reducing people to numbers is a great way to treat them less humanly.