Figures, as Mr Osborne’s CSR has proved once more, can be used to tell us almost anything. As Disraeli is said to have said: “Lies, damned lies and statistics….”.
But too often in broadcasts, interviewees fail to do the obvious. They fail to use figures to put a particular issue into context.
Take one example. We now know that there are 7,413 complaints to UK banks every day. Appalling. But how many transactions, conversations, advice sessions do those banks conduct every day? In other words, how rare in fact are those complaints? No one told us.
Or another possible example. Suppose a global fast food chain (no names, no work for our learned friends) aims to achieve 99.99% customer satisfaction in all the meals they serve around the world. Not a bad target, but the staggering truth is that, if they serve 40m customers daily across the world, it means 4,000 people walk out of their restaurants every day dissatisfied, hungry and disgruntled. Imagine Paxman getting hold of that – “So what kind of business are you running? Four thousand unhappy customers very day….that’s nearly one and a half million every year. Does that make you happy? Do you sleep contentedly at night?”
Too often, the hand-wringing reply takes the following line – “There is always room for improvement in customer satisfaction and we are making big strides in reducing that figure…..”
Why not try this instead? “Jeremy, every day we send home 39,996,000 smiling, satisfied customers? That is a massive achievement. It makes me very happy. Wouldn’t you be happy with those figures for your programme?”
Putting the matter into context does not of course excuse bad customer service or any other failing. But it does help to balance negative questions and headlines. A good lesson for interviewees – context, but without complacency.