PCT in Action

[Fred Nickols, 951028]

My company, Educational Testing Service (ETS), receives millions
of phone calls each year. Naturally, we are interested in reducing or
eliminating any unnecessary calls.

Past studies of telephone inquiries have focused on call content.
These have revealed few patterns and thus few promising avenues for
improvement. A recent study grouped inquiries a different way and
suggested to me that callers are in fact managing their own anxiety
levels. More specifically, candidates submit a registration form and
they must then wait to learn if their registration has been received,
and to find out which test center they've been assigned. Waiting
increases anxiety and, if it increases sufficiently, test candidates
pick up the phone and call ETS, even if only to confirm that we have
received their registration. Just that little tidbit of information could
reduce anxiety somewhat. The same is true regarding ticketing and
center assignment.

The reference condition that specifies an acceptable anxiety level
probably varies from individual to individual and from issue to issue,
but it does suggest that greatly reducing the time it takes to issue
a ticket, or perhaps immediately issuing an acknowledgement of
receipt of a registration, might go a long way toward reducing our
call volume.

I think what I've described is consistent with a PCT view of things.
It also is a very unusual view of the customer inquiry function. No
one, to my knowledge, has ever viewed incoming customer calls as
a device whereby customers manage their own emotional states. My
questions are: Has anyone on this list applied PCT to the customer
inquiry function? Is this the right place to pose such questions? If
not, where should I be posing them?

Thanks in advance for any guidance you might provide . . .

Fred Nickols
Exec Dir, Operations Staff
Educational Testing Service
MailStop 15-Q
Princeton, NJ 08541
(609) 538-6265 Tel
(609) 538-6270 Fax
fnickols@ets.org
nickols@aol.com

You are guessing that the person has become anxious about whether the
registration form has been received and that the telephone call is a means of
reducing this anxiety.

The reference perception is: I want to know that my registration form is
received and I want to know where/when I should report.

The actual perception is: I have not received any information from ETS.

The action is: I will make a telephone call.

The test of disturbance would be: Vary the amount of information which the
person receives from ETS:
        (1) No information sent.
        (2) We have received your registration form.
        (3) We have received your registration form and will
                        let you know where/when to report in X weeks.
        (4) We have not received your registration form.
        (5) We have received your registration form but there is a
                        problem.

The PCT approach is an individual, case by case approach. Your question
suggests that you are more interested in the group results so that you could
find a way of reducing the number of inquiry calls. The PCT approach may not be
appropriate for your interests.

Another thought is: If this is really a practical matter, how about asking the
person for an agreement such as--I will not call ETS for information until X
weeks have passed with no response. The applicant could fill out the X time.
In this way, the person is specifying what they want in terms of time. If ETS
responds before this time, the person shouldn't call. If ETS responds after
this time then the person is more likely to call, with the liklihood increasing
with the amount of time after X which goes by (the error signal).

···

From: David Goldstein
Subject: Re.: PCT in Action
Date: 10/29/95, 08:22 am

Replying to: [David Goldstein, 951029]

David writes:

You are guessing that the person has become anxious about whether the
registration form has been received and that the telephone call is a means

of

reducing this anxiety.

You are quite correct; I am guessing But I'd like to think that it
is an educated, or at least an intelligent, guess.

The reference perception is: I want to know that my registration form is
received and I want to know where/when I should report.

I agree that test candidates want the information above, but I'm
not so sure those information needs or wants constitute reference
perceptions. I do think test candidates form or have expectations
about when they should hear from us. In any case, I see no reason
why a reference condition (which I think is different from a reference
perception) couldn't be expressed in terms of an emotional state
such as anxiety. Nor do I have much doubt that a state of anxiety
can be induced by a lack of information, especially if it is important
and expected.

The actual perception is: I have not received any information from ETS.

Agreed; although, in many cases, I would be inclined to add "since x."
And x might be the date they submitted their registration, the date they
could reasonably expect us to have it, the date they expected to hear
from us, the time frame we specify in the bulletin, or some time frame
they've set for themselves. Whatever time frame is involved, and I think
this feeds a sense of anxiety brought about by a lack of information.

The action is: I will make a telephone call.

Agreed; and the purpose served, I think (or, if you prefer, the
purpose I am guessing is served), is to obtain information and
thereby reduce uncertainty and anxiety.

The test of disturbance would be: Vary the amount of information which the
person receives from ETS:
      (1) No information sent.
      (2) We have received your registration form.
      (3) We have received your registration form and will
                      let you know where/when to report in X weeks.
      (4) We have not received your registration form.
      (5) We have received your registration form but there is a
                      problem.

(1) is essentially what happens now. (2) is what I proposed by
way of an acknowledgement and (3) and (5) are variations of that.
I don't see how (4) could be effected, because we do not know
beforehand who is or isn't going to register.

The PCT approach is an individual, case by case approach. Your question
suggests that you are more interested in the group results so that you could
find a way of reducing the number of inquiry calls. The PCT approach may

not

be appropriate for your interests.

If, as I happen to believe, the group results in this case are the sum
of individual actions, then why wouldn't the PCT approach be
appropriate?

Another thought is: If this is really a practical matter, how about asking
the person for an agreement such as--I will not call ETS for information
until X weeks have passed with no response. The applicant could fill out
the X time. In this way, the person is specifying what they want in terms
of time. If ETS responds before this time, the person shouldn't call. If
ETS responds after this time then the person is more likely to call, with
the liklihood increasing with the amount of time after X which goes by
(the error signal).

This is a rational, sensible suggestion, and we in effect have just
such an arrangement in place by virtue of informing the candidate
how long it takes to process their registrations and when they should
expect their tickets. However, people don't seem able to tolerate the
time lapse and I'm not sure that negotiating one would make a big
difference. In this same practical vein, we could only negotiate a
time frame that would be inside the time envelope we could satisfy.

In any event, your comments have been helpful and I appreciate
your taking the time to reply.

Regards,

Fred Nickols
nickols@aol.com

[From Shannon Williams (951029)]

···

From: David Goldstein
Subject: Re.: PCT in Action
Date: 10/29/95, 08:22 am

The PCT approach is an individual, case by case approach. Your question
suggests that you are more interested in the group results so that you could
find a way of reducing the number of inquiry calls. The PCT approach may not be
appropriate for your interests.

The PCT approach seems to me to be a *goal* oriented approach, not an
"individual, case by case approach". And if Fred's system can accomodate
one goal for one person, then it accomodates that one goal for all people.

In other words, if Fred wants to reduce "the number of inquiry calls", he
must accomodate his clients who might make "inquiry calls". If 50 of his
clients might make inquiry calls for the same reason, then he can accomodate
all 50 when he makes his system acommodate only one.

PCT is very appropriate for Fred's interests because first he uses a PCT
point-of-view to guess why his clients are calling. And then he uses PCT
methods to determine if his guess might be correct for a useful number of
clients.

Shannon

Fred Nickols and William Shannon disagreed with my point that the PCT
methodological approach may not be appropriate for the research problem. Also,
Fred Nichols preferred to test that the controlled perception is the perception
of anxiety within the person.

By the phrase, " individualized, case by case approach " , I meant that the
Test for the Controlled Variable is applied to one person and the results
support or do not support that the variable is being controlled. Each time that
this is applied to another person, that constitutes a replication of the
experiment.

If you think of the pursuit tracking situation, the position of the line moved
by the computer is repeated over and over again. If you think of the self-image
studies which Dick Robertson and I did, each person experienced several
disturbances of his/her self-image.

I don't see how within the same person, one can disturb the experience
(perception) more than once. If one does it, in the imagination mode, it may
be possible:

Suppose that you sent in your registration form for the SAT on September 1,
1995. You know that the exam will be given on November 1, 1995. How many days
before the exam is given would you ideally like to know that your registration
was received and where you were to report? What is the least acceptable number
of days for receiving the ETS response?

       ideal---------------------------------------least----------exam
                Number of Days to exam acceptable
                 A B C D E

At each of the points A, B, C, D, E, what would your anxiety level be
on a scale of 0 to 10. And how likely on a scale of 0 to 10 would you
be to make a telephone call about the matter to ETS?

···

From: David Goldstein
Subject: Re.: PCT in Action
Date: 10/29/95, 05:25 pm

[From Shannon Williams (951029)]

···

From: David Goldstein
Subject: Re.: PCT in Action
Date: 10/29/95, 05:25 pm

Fred Nickols and William Shannon ...
                ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Just call me Billie.

Suppose that you sent in your registration form for the SAT on September 1,
1995. You know that the exam will be given on November 1, 1995. How many
days before the exam is given would you ideally like to know that your
registration was received and where you were to report? What is the least
acceptable number of days for receiving the ETS response?

      ideal---------------------------------------least----------exam
               Number of Days to exam acceptable
                A B C D E

At each of the points A, B, C, D, E, what would your anxiety level be
on a scale of 0 to 10. And how likely on a scale of 0 to 10 would you
be to make a telephone call about the matter to ETS?

I do not think that Fred needs/wants to know the above for each individual.
He wants to know the average answers for the group.

You wrote earlier today:

The reference perception is: I want to know that my registration form is
received and I want to know where/when I should report.

The actual perception is: I have not received any information from ETS.

The action is: I will make a telephone call.

The test of disturbance would be: Vary the amount of information which the
person receives from ETS:
       (1) No information sent.
       (2) We have received your registration form.
       (3) We have received your registration form and will
                       let you know where/when to report in X weeks.
       (4) We have not received your registration form.
       (5) We have received your registration form but there is a
                       problem.

To me it seems like Fred only needs to implement the test of disturbance
above. 500 hundred people get information #1, 500 get information #2
after two weeks, 500 get information #2 after 3 weeks, 500 get information
#3 after two weeks, etc.

I guess what you are saying is that you do not need a PCT background to
reach the conclusion that you need to implement the above test of
disturbance. And therefore, PCT methodology is not really helpful, because
you could reach that conclusion without knowing anything about PCT.

If that is what you are saying, then I guess I agree. But it all looks
like PC to me.

-Shannon aka Billie

Fred Nickols and William Shannon ...
                ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Just call me Billie.

Ha!

--R
----Richard Plourde --rplourde@scoot.netis.com