How interpretation of statistics can distort any picture

Marketing people are masters at giving distorted - sometimes downright misleading - interpretations of statistics. And often the numbers themselves are crap in the first place.

Which brings us to today's Crap Factoids, this time from RackSpace. (Please people, don't expect objective science from vendors, FFS). Here's the crap:

  1. poor customer service is costing UK businesses up to 1 billion man hours a year.
  2. 39 per cent of companies’ IT staff are estimated to be losing one working day or more per week on tackling IT problems and chasing suppliers.
  3. other workers right across the business also losing an average of five hours per week due to IT service issues
  4. and from here

  5. 69 per cent of organisations dropping IT suppliers in the last year due to service shortfalls.

Chokey the Chimp
OK from the top, Chokey

  1. There are about 30M people working in the UK but a quarter of then only part-time, call it 25M FTEs. That would be over 6 billion hours so i guess this number is only for white-collar workers. Very good, if you believe the underlying numbers....
  2. 39% of IT staff work on problems one day a week? I think it is "problems' in the broader sense of incidents+problems+faults, but we will never know. So 8% of IT staff effort goes on issues? Sounds about right. Nothing to get excited about though. That's what they are there for.
  3. Oh crap. ALL of your staff across the whole non-IT organisation spend an average of over half a day a WEEK on "tackling" IT service issues? I find this number incredible in the literal sense; I don't believe it.
  4. The list of types of outsourcing suppliers (I think, not just suppliers in general) includes apps, consulting, telco/mobile, hardware, security, storage, networking, hosting and ISP. Let's say the average respondent had half a dozen. For two thirds of companies to drop any one of their suppliers in any given year and to cite poor service as a reason sounds pretty normal to me. Best case, let me assume 6 suppliers and that the ones who dropped only dropped one. That means about 10% of contracts cancelled in any given year. Doesn't sound half as exciting as 69%.

As for the data itself, the paper says "This research was conducted by Vanson Bourne in September 2012 amongst 250 organisations with at least 250 employees. The study included organisations from private and public sectors". Cool. Nothing about how the 250 were sampled. Did they come from an industry with notoriously bad service? Did they come from a list of organisations that have complained about service? Did they come from a mailout or web ad to thousands of organisations and they self-selected? Was it only companies who outsourced (I think that is implied from some of the answers)? We don't know.

But I will bet you good money that companies that outsource IT services and then self-select by answering a survey about service are not the happiest customers on Earth.

The stats themselves were arrived at by asking the respondents to pick a number: how many hours per week spent chasing problems. Who was answering and how the hell would they know? What orifice did they pull the number out of? We don't know.

We don't even know exactly what questions were asked of the respondents - we only get the answers - and we don't know what priming went on in the introduction.

Some of the results are ... well a bit odd. "48% of enterprise respondents gave customer service the maximum importance rating". So the graph shows "what is of maximum importance when selecting an IT supplier" and the answers are "security 67%, customer service 48%, price 37%, technology 35%, Reputation 25%". Um .... Either these aren't percentages (in which case Customer Service is actually top for only 23%) or they allowed multiple top priorities, in which case it is a bit misleading to only quote the Customer Service number - it wasn't THE top priority. Given the other numbers it is a fair guess that all of that 48% listed at least one other "top" priority.

Let me make my own conclusions based on my guesses at the data:

Only half of 250 organisations that outsourced to IT suppliers and were motivated enough to answer a survey think customer service is a "top" priority and nearly all of them list something else as equally important. Only a small minority of them had to terminate a supplier contract in the past year and a quarter of them think customer service isn't even a high priority. About 8% of the staff effort in their now-much-reduced IT department goes on dealing with IT issues and suppliers, which is probably a lower ratio than in the non-outsourced companies. The survey showed that across the whole organisation, ALL staff spent over half a day every week chasing IT issues - make of that what you will.

It's all in how you say it, innit? Scientists try to say it objectively. Marketeers say it to pursue their own commercial agendas.

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