The Perfect Net Promoter® Survey Design

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Blueprints and drawing tools concept for construction or development“The one number you need to know”: who’d have thought that such a simple statement would cause such a fuss.

Some people actually believe that you only need one question in your Net Promoter Survey. But of course that doesn’t work: so let’s review the anatomy of a perfect Net Promoter Survey.

Your Survey Design Goals

When you design anything you need to have goals to focus you on what you are trying to achieve. A Formula 1 car and an SUV are both cars but they have very different design goals.

So it is with surveys. Get your design goals wrong and your Formula 1 survey could seat eight and have a maximum speed of 80 mph.

A lack of design goals is why so many surveys seem to have a split personality. They ask a few market research questions then a few customer feedback questions and even toss in a couple of marketing pushes.

So what should the design goals be for your Net Promoter Survey?



  1. Short: You want the survey as short as possible to drive up the response rate and lower the impact on your customers. This also allows you to run it in transactional survey mode which is very useful.
  2. Consistent: The factors that can skew the response on a Net Promoter Score® are many and varied. To reduce the changes in these factors as much as possible you want to ensure that the survey is consistent from one customer to the next and one wave or transaction to the next. Resist the urge to re-order questions, add new ones, change the wording of existing questions, etc.
  3. Enable driver identification: Asking one question, as some NPS® surveys do, is pretty much a waste of time unless you have an extraordinarily deep and wide customer behaviour dataset and the tools to do some very sophisticated data analysis. For most organisations you will need to add questions to understand what drives the score.
  4. Understand how to improve: You know what drives the score but you also need to know how to move the score.
  5. Collect NPS: You need, of course, to collect the NPS.

That’s it. No more, no less.

We don’t care if the customer might like to purchase that new service Marketing has been pushing or whether they follow us on Twitter.

Those questions are not relevant to the customer experience improvement process and have no place in our customer feedback survey.

Now that we have a good set of design goals the actual survey part should flow pretty easily.

1. The Net Promoter Question

Starting with the “Would Recommend” question seems like a pretty good idea, and it is. Putting this question at the start of the survey is generally considered best practice.

The easiest approach is to just use the question as designed:

”How likely is it that you would recommend [your company] to a friend or colleague? Where 0 is not likely at all and 10 is very likely.”

Can We Change the Response Scale?

No. Why would you? Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh but it’s close to the truth.

Typically I hear this question presented:

“Our Market Research/Customer Insights/Analytics Department has standardised on the 0-5/1-7/Alpha-Omega, response scale and we need to conform to their requirements.”

Sure you can change the response scale but all of the analysis and published literature is based on the 0-10 response scale so all of that data is worthless if you change the scale. 0-10 works and has been proven to work.

If you can push back against Market Research/Customer Insights/Analytics Department then do so.

If you can’t it’s not the end of the world but it does make things are bit tricky.

Can We Change the Wording?

As long as you are consistent it is generally agreed that you can change the wording a minor way. This works quite well for transactional surveys. For instance:

“Based on your recent branch visit, how likely would you be to recommend Megabank to a friend or colleague.”

2. The Qualitative Question(s) – Free text to you and me

The qualitative or free text question is a staple in a Net Promoter Survey because it provides the how to match the what we discover later.

This is an open response question that, if the survey is well designed, will receive a 40-60% completion rate.

“Please tell us why you gave that score.”

There are nuances that you can introduce such as changing the question in response to high and low scores to the “would recommend” question, e.g.

“Please tell us how we can improve.”

“Please tell us what you liked the most about us.”

In general this is not necessary but there is no harm in doing so.

Enabling Driver Identification

Now that you know the score and what to improve, you need know how to drive change so you need a way to identify what drives the NPS. This is the task of the driver identification part of the survey.

There are four main ways to run this section of the survey. Which you select depends on a variety of factors but let’s introduce each and then summarise the applications.

Tagging Free Text

The first generic method for driver analysis is to tag each of the free text comments with a theme or themes then use these tags to analyse the data and identify the most important tags. This requires you to tag the data and there are several ways to achieve that task.



Manual Tagging

If you don’t have many responses, maybe just one or two hundred, you can use the manual tagging approach. This works well if the same person does all of the tagging and you limit the number of tags to just 10 or 20.

Of course this is quite subjective which is why you should have the same person do the tagging to keep it consistent. As you can imagine, though, this gets old pretty quickly.

We once tagged more than 10,000 comments for a client. It took 3 months and we almost had a munity on our hands so if you have more than a few comments to tag try a different route.

Automated Text Analytics (Passive Tagging)

Computers can do a lot of things and analyse the text from your free text question is one of them. There are a variety of platforms that will take the text and parse it to provide a context and tag the response.

However, be aware that text analytics tools are not as point and shoot as they seem, or as advertised. These systems require training, technical skills and ongoing management to match them to your business.
They can also be expensive but they can be effective for large numbers of responses.

Customer Tagging (Active Tagging)

The last way to tag data is to have the customer complete the task. Of course you don’t call it “tagging” in the survey but that’s what they are doing.

To achieve this you add one more question to the survey with a series of check-boxes or radio buttons to allow the customer to tell you what was their biggest issue or what they liked the most.

This works very well and has the added of advantage of not needing to manage text analytics tools and never being wrong. After all, by definition, a customer can’t tag their data incorrectly.

Attribute Questions

The alternative to tagging of the responses is to use a series of attribute questions to score each of the attributes of your product or service. For example:

”How responsive were we when you called, from 1 to 7, where 1 is very unresponsive and 7 is very responsive.”

Using these scores you can determine which attributes are important to the customer and how well you are delivering them. This is where you need to focus your improvement efforts.

This approach has the advantage of being quite clear cut to implement but the attribute list needs to be complete.

The other issue with this approach is it increases the length of the survey (remember our goals). However, done carefully this work well.

Take care that you only include the attributes that are really essential otherwise you will grow a Christmas Tree survey: one with all sorts of things hanging off it.

Attribute questions can make the task of identifying the driver attributes a little easier because the statistical analysis is relatively simple; predominately linear regression models.

The Pick List of Perfect Surveys

Each of the perfect Net Promoter Surveys below meets our original set of goals:

  1. Short
  2. Consistent
  3. Enable driver identification
  4. Understand how to improve
  5. Collect NPS

So let’s review the various versions and highlight when they should be used.



NPS Question + Free Text Response + Manual Tagging

Companies with small numbers of customers can benefit from this configuration.

NPS Question + Free Text Response + Automated Text Analytics

Suitable for larger B2C and B2B organisations with high volumes of responses and the technical resources to support and manage the text analytics engine.

NPS Question + Free Text Response + Customer Tagging

Suitable for all organisations with more than a couple of hundred responses. The customer tagging aspect is easy to implement and manage. It requires no specific technical skills.

NPS Question + Free Text Response + Attribute Questions

Again suitable for all organisations. The statistical analysis is relatively easy which makes it accessible to many organisations.

So maybe it’s time for an audit of your existing Net Promoter survey. Does it cover the key goals? Is it one of the four forms noted above? If not maybe you should tweak it a little and make it perfect.

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