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So I was at Massive Housewares Retailer* on Monday, and at the point of purchase, as part of the shopping experience, the cashier asked me if I would like to sign up for a Massive Retailer Charge Card with 0% interest. I turned her down at first. Her reply was "Alls you need to do is fill out an application. You don't even need to put your real Social Security Number on the form. Then they'll decline it, and you won't have the card, but I get a bonus. So do it for me."

Faced with the choice of doing something nice for someone, or not, I did it, blowing past an agreement that said I was providing my true and correct information, signed that with a false social security number, and felt a pang, and thought "What have I done?" quickly followed by "I wonder how many people do this every day?"

She handed me my (declined) application paperwork and told me I could just throw it out, but thanked me for helping her get closer to that bonus.

Massive Retailer has designed an incentive program that one employee has found a way to game, by asking people to commit fraud, for her benefit.

  • Has anyone designed such incentive programs?

  • If so, how have you tried to combat this type of "persuasion" at the cash register, in the design of the program, or training?

  • What kind of credit card acceptance rates would be considered successful / effective for an incentive program like this?

  • Do you look at individual cashiers' declined/approved rates?

  • How do you consider the cost of this type of interaction on the customer experience, where the customer feels pressured to help a cashier?

  • How about the impact on the brand?

*The name has been changed to protect the retailer.

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I don't think any incentive program needs to be designed around the employees who partake in forging documents. That's just a plain bad employee. –  DA01 Aug 22 '13 at 17:27
    
I agree that it's a bad employee. As we were waiting in line, another employee walked by and shouted to her, "Are you going to break the record?" Later we learned they were referring to the credit card sign-up incentive. She got the most applicants consistently. It was pretty clear that her co-workers were unaware of her secret workaround. My question is about trying to reduce unintended consequences of incentives, and curiosity if people take this into account. –  LindaBrammer Aug 22 '13 at 17:46
    
That's a design flaw in the system rather than a "bad employee". The employee wasn't so much "gaming" the system as responding to the system's actual incentives. –  uxzapper Aug 23 '13 at 0:14
    
@uxzapper - Design flaw? Do you think the retailer intended to promote this behavior on the part of their cashiers through the incentives they offered? –  LindaBrammer Aug 23 '13 at 2:35
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@LindaBrammer: No, but anybody considering incentives to influence the behavior of others would have a very distorted view of reality if they think that you can try to influence behavior by incentives and then not deal with the fact that people will go for the incentives any which way they can think of and those ways may not be what you intended them to do. You get what you measure, not what you intend. –  Marjan Venema Aug 23 '13 at 9:22
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2 Answers

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Although I haven't designed such a system, I have a few ideas about how you could make it work.

The major issue is that the cashier has been given too much authority. He is not only generating the lead, but is also 'marking' it as genuine. A good solution to this would be to make the application a two part process. The cashier generates the lead and enters some 'pre-application details'. Another department within the organisation would then be responsible for seeing the lead through. This department shouldn't be given incentive. Incentives should only be given for actions subsidiary to a person's role. If the lead turns out to be genuine, the cashier can be rewarded.

Alternatively, you could perform a follow-up phone call with random applicants and ask them about their experience. Perhaps you could ask them to confirm some of their details or for general feedback (a score out of 5). The worst performing cashiers should be investigated -- e.g. by mystery shoppers. If they are found to be acting in a detrimental way, they should be fired.

For the customer, being asked to commit fraud is a hugely negative experience.

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This is exactly what ended up happening. I received a letter from the retailer's new accounts function, asking me to "verify my information". Rather than doing that, I called them to let them know that if they were seeing a spike in bad applications from a particular location, it might have something to do with this store and their incentive program. –  LindaBrammer Sep 7 '13 at 18:36
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I have not faced this situation or worked in such a system, but thinking about it, this can be looked at it two ways:

a. Is this the right way to incentivise ? b. How does one monitor/manage

The first really calls for design thinking to be applied to understand customers and employess' natuaral motivation and then build process that align with that.

For the second part, I would not expect this to be a trend as that'll be a big red flag for a company- to see a huge number of applications getting declined. So I would expect this to be an outlier situation. There are stats models available that can be applied to identify outliers. So a reporting tool that provides data on this and helps identify potential problem areas could be of help.

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