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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Thum, Ph.D., CCXP

Book Review: Damned Lies and Statistics - What Customer Experience Pros Can Learn from Data Skeptics

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

Author's note: Sometimes the most helpful books on customer experience don't have the word "customer" in the title at all. I picked this classic up at my local library over the holidays and liked it so much that I decided to jot down some thoughts on why others in the experience management world might find the book useful, too.

Metrics and measurements are a core competency for credentialed customer experience leaders. Companies need good statistics, experience data, and operational metrics to make decisions about customer-oriented business improvements, projects, and staffing.

It’s the CX leader’s job to bring that data to the leadership table. But that’s not where the job ends. CX leaders must also present the data and customer insights to senior leaders, colleagues, and stakeholders.

Anyone who’s ever been in the CX leader’s job knows that, at times, CX data can make colleagues defensive. Why is that? Everyone in the company "should" want to do right by customers, right? But it's never that easy.

Anyone who’s ever been in the CX leader’s role knows that, at times, CX data and statistics can make people defensive. Why is that? Everyone in the company "should" buy into doing right by customers, right? But it's never that easy. Colleagues don't necessarily just buy-in. Oftentimes, they’re critical of the statistics you share. They may balk and resist, even in the face of what seems (to you) to be very compelling customer data.  

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best is a quick read of fewer than 200 pages. It isn't written for CX pros. But it is designed to coach readers on how to think deeply about the data and statistics they encounter every day. It does a great job of explaining why you shouldn't just accept data and statistics without critical thought.

In explaining to readers the techniques for thinking more critically about data and statistics, the author shines a light on a great lesson for CX pros: resistance to customer-related data that you may encounter from colleagues and stakeholders goes way beyond mere human stubbornness.

So, here's what to do: take a look at yourself and the data you present through the eyes of your audience.

Here are some perceptions that could be holding you back.

  • The presenter of data may be perceived as being biased and self-serving.

  • The presenter may be perceived as being prone to inflating statistics because it benefits the presenter’s cause.

  • The data appear to be inflated, miscalculated, or presented out of context.

  • You haven't explained definitions, measurement, and sampling techniques.

  • Flimsy organizational practices behind the collection of data make statistics look flimsy.

  • Data has been plucked out of thin air and mangled over time. 

Damned Lies and Statistics was published in 2001. The book may be older now, but the lessons still hold. Human beings may not just automatically accept data you share, no matter how compelling you think that data is. CX pros should understand why there's resistance. Use that understanding to better prepare data in a way that strengthens the business case you're building for your company's customers.

I found the book at my local library, but it's available on Amazon, too. Has anyone else read it? What were your takeaways? Let's compare notes!

Follow me on Twitter: @stephaniethum. Or on Instagram @sthumcx.

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