Why your boss is wrong to bonus you on your NPS score
Updated: Aug 7
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” is a now infamous quote attributed to the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker. As with most of his most often cited principles such as Management by Objectives (MBO) or the SMART framework it’s stood the test of time - but it’s also become the default defence used to justify a whole raft of vanity metrics in business today. One of the most widely used is surely NPS, or Net Promoter Score.
First introduced in 2003 by a Bain consultant writing for the Harvard Business Review, the Cult of NPS has grown so prevalent, there’s rarely a product purchase or service interaction that doesn’t include a ‘Can we take a minute of your time for a survey’ at the end of it. From talking to BT over live chat, to dropping your car at the garage, someone is going to pass you a feedback card or send you an unwanted email with the fateful question;
How likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
There are numerous challenges with replying on NPS, but perhaps 3 that are most dangerous today;
Best intentions rarely come true
It doesn’t ask you to make your introduction today, now, immediately - it’s talking about a hypothetical time in the future when someone asks you who you’ve got your broadband with. So much can happen between now and point X in the future - maybe they put the price up at the end of your first year, you didn’t like the new branding they launched, it was 18 months before someone asked you … Just because you said you were a solid 9 and therefore a Promoter doesn’t mean you followed through with the promise. It’s far too slow for today’s real-time customer experiences.
It lacks context
If you dig into a 4 star review on Amazon, or for a holiday on Thomas Cook, you end up in a rabbit hole of differing customer wants and needs demonstrated by their responses. The same is true of your likelihood to recommend a brand or service. That BT internet I thought was so good? I couldn’t possibly recommend it to my brother as he’s a gamer and needs a super fast connection. Nor my parents, who I know couldn’t justify £50 a month for something that includes BT Sports. I’ve gone from a committed ‘Promoter’ to an active Detractor, thanks to context.
Most people won't answer it
When’s the last time you answered one? I bet you don’t remember. On average, less than 3% of those asked to fill out a questionnaire after a purchase or service online will do so. There’s also an inherent bias associated with those who answer - and on the other side, an opportunity for you to ask those you think most likely to score you highly if you chose to do so. In a world where customers are providing ever-growing sets of explicit data, why would we ignore the majority of them?
So what should we use to understand customer satisfaction, and ultimately grow our business?
We need to focus on what customers do, not what they say they might do. Asking if someone recommends you is easy - in fact, that’s why we do it - but digging into what sits beneath customer satisfaction; the customer experience blindspots, cause and effect of changes you make, how customers respond to a given message or proposition, is far more useful. Start by identifying, isolating and visualising each of the core customers journey’s if you really want to know what makes them happy. Work out the pain points, and run tests based on a solid hypothesis, created from a significant set of data.
So keep on using NPS, but if you really want to show your boss you’re driving the business forward, focus on what the silent majority are telling you.