Grading customer service staff

James Dong
May 16, 2017 · 5 min read

The following is an email that I sent to the support team at Clutter. It reflects a lot of what I’d been thinking about in terms of reviewing the performance of customer service staff, so I thought it was a good thing to publish instead of a normal blog post. For context, the initial email I sent was triggered because many Clutter delivery or pick-up personnel asked me for Yelp reviews, and I had lengthy conversations with them about why. Would love to hear other opinions, and if they reply, will update.

(By the way, there are obviously many factors that a full review of customer service staff needs to account for, like accuracy of payment processing. What’s in scope here is just customer satisfaction from quality of customer service.)


Is it true that a key ingredient to being promoted as a mover (who I interact with as a customer) is via Yelp reviews that mention that mover’s name?


Hi James,

Thanks for reaching out. We have a variety of incentives for our team based on several performance metrics. Quality is always valued over quantity at Clutter, which also includes positive feedback we receive from customers about our team’s performance.

Kind regards,



Thanks and sorry for the delay on my end. This is a really really interesting challenge to think about.

FYI even if there are broader metrics that you look at to determine promotion, at least from my (2 steps removed point of view), it seems like the storage personnel think that the only thing that matters is a Yelp review. Because I’ve had in-depth conversations with them about it, and this is their perception (as relayed to me).

Intra-company communications aside, the issue with using reviews (at all) is that

1) Reviews are biased (i.e., bad quality)

- reviewing takes time; people tend to give this time out for extremely positive or negative experiences, rather than mediocre ones

- what is “positive, negative, or mediocre” anyway? everyone has a different grading rubric, and don’t even know what they’re grading half the time (is the product the physical exchange, the interaction with personnel, the online experience, etc.)

2) Reviews are limited (i.e., bad quantity)

- As a customer, I can/will only ever write one review for Clutter for one drop off or pick up experience. But I have interacted with ~a dozen of your team members across multiple drop off or pick up experiences

- Yelp may filter a review before you even see it, especially if I’m a “new” user and made an account just to rave about my experience with Clutter

This is a really good summary of the issues with reviews. I specifically want to call out an issue (relating to quality) that it discusses, which is guilt. Many users of Uber & Lyft are familiar with the fact that getting below a review threshold will cause the driver that job. So… unless someone is especially vindictive (and by the way, that’s also a problem on both a quantity/quality issue — fakes in either good or bad directions), everyone ends up getting roughly a 4/5 rating. I personally experience this many many times, I want to provide honest feedback to help a driver do his/her job better, but I don’t know how (especially because in many instances, the issue isn’t something that he/she can correct).

On the other hand, I employ customer service staff, and I also need them to perform. I need the assurance to know that I’m leaving the customer in good hands with them. While good training and mock “practice” ensures that the knowledge is transferred, there’s nothing that assures the employee follows company procedures when the manager is not around (and of course, the manager isn’t a helicopter).

Lastly, I understand that customer service staff need promotions the most. Customer service work in the Bay Area is pressured from all sides, insane costs of living, risk of automation, high customer expectations, etc. Most people who work in customer service are not interested in equity, alternative pay, etc. They need cash to pay bills, and the more the quicker the better. (It is a related but not entirely relevant issue to talk about where customer service staff get promoted to. I’ve spent many years working on human capital and organizational issues like this. In short, people need to feel there is some kind of path at your company, especially when money is at stake.)

Thanks to your team who triggered these discussions with me, I had them with my friends and co-workers. Our initial hypothesis is… secret shoppers.

The downside? You can already see how expensive and time-consuming this is (e.g., you have to train the secret shoppers to remove their biases/ ensure they have no stake, conduct multiple secret shopper tests per employee, constantly get new secret shoppers so your employees don’t catch on, etc.)

But the upside is that it seems to be more fair to…

1) customers who don’t have to feel like an employee’s future is in their hands

2) the company, which is getting [hopefully] an unbiased, standardized, and professional review

3) employees who don’t have to feel like their future is in the hands of fickle customers (that is, as long as they can be assured that the secret shopper process has more bias removed than the customer review, which should be about as difficult as minimizing biases across human capital [e.g., recruiting] more generally)

This is our initial hypothesis — we haven’t thought about this as much as a big company (comparatively). So… would love to know if you guys have thought about having “secret” storage customers. Perhaps just some random office stuff being dropped off to a random different location (not the usual address or receiver)?

Would love to hear it.


P.S. sorry for all that length and detail, this is something that I’m very keen on

A footnote that I’ve since thought about. I don’t think customer reviews or surveys or what not should be completely ignored, but that they shouldn’t be standalone, which is my perception of the situation based on what I was hearing from Clutter staff. Every source is going to have biases (anonymous surveys can be just as biased as reviews, since customers tend to want to do them only if they had an amazingly good or bad experience), but by having multiple sources, you can hopefully remove them.

I blog about life & work on my entrepreneurial journey. We’re building the best outdoor gear shop at Last Minute Gear!

James Dong

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Rent camping gear & snowsports apparel up to 1 hour before your trip! ( ). Formerly @BainandCompany & @Cal

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