Is the NPS really so simple?


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The Net Promoter Score question or “NPS” (1) often seems mindlessly executed – at least from the customer point of view.

Would I recommend American Express on a conversation I never had? Or :

…when checking out of a hotel. I gave them a 7 (the hotel deserved 1) as I did not have the time for the inevitable follow up if I strayed from the passive. – Peter in NPS forum

So I wondered What is the right time to ask the NPS? and started a “discussion” on a LinkedIn forum. It’s proved popular – 23 comments to date.

Why? Professionals seem eager to talk about 3 issues they see with the “NPS”, namely:

  • “One” question is meaningless. Most professionals in the discussion point out that the score on its own is not useful and that what counts is understanding the underlying motivations of customers.

Even still, the NPS number is only that–a number–and outside of entertaining yourself by watching it move up or down or remain the same, it serves no further purpose. – Karl in NPS forum

  • NPS sounds simple but isn’t : It seems seductively easy : “instead of 30 questions just ask one!” But to get it right is complex. Forum participants like Mark from eGain point out that companies need to think about whether to ask the NPS from a “transactional” (ie after an interaction with the customer”) or a “relational” (ie in general what you think of company x) viewpoint. They also need to think about who to ask, when to ask, and what follow up questions to ask. In a recent Forbes article, even Reichheld himself (the inventor of the methodology) admits that that you can’t blindly trust NPS results.
  • It’s used often as a metric, instead of a movement. Many pointed out that the NPS does not in itself improve the customer experience. It’s what a company does with it that’s key.

The follow-up action is far more important than the measuring, though rarely do we see it – Guy from NPS forum

How to do it better?

If companies are going to stick with the NPS, then I’d love to see a major design firm create a best practices toolkit : “How to use and implement the NPS for maximum effect”. This toolkit would accept the fact that understanding the customer’s feelings about a company or transaction IS complex and embrace the design challenge – as Don Norman mentions, only when we accept the complexity (instead of trying to oversimplify it into one question) do we achieve richness.

The real problem is that we truly need to have complexity in our lives. We seek rich, satisfying lives, and richness goes along with complexity. Our favorite songs, stories, games, and books are rich, satisfying, and complex. We need complexity even while we crave simplicity. – Don Norman Living with Complexity

So what IS the right time to ask the NPS?

And then back to the original question I posed in the forum : When is the right time to ask the Net Promoter Score question? I loved this answer.

The ultimate answer is, when the organisation is ready and prepared to take action on what the customer feeds back. Only then is your question of questionnaire timing even relevant. . – Alan in NPS forum

Thanks all in the community for such great insights. Here’s hoping Bain & Co. or IDEO or another design company will design a complex, but uncomplicated, “How To.” It certainly seems needed.

1. The Net Promoter Score or “Ultimate Question” as designed by Fred Reichheld : “Would you recommend this to friends and family?”.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Lea Ward
Director at C.Note, a customer experience design & strategy firm based in Amsterdam. Active blogger & author of Trust Equity: How to create products & services that matter. Award winner IxDA 2012.


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