Net Promoter Score – a delicate case of the Emperor’s New Clothes?


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My guess is that you “like to be liked”…. right?

Is it enough to know you are liked or would you also like to know the actual reasons people do or don’t like you? So let’s ask someone:

On the following scale indicate how much I am likeable……

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Not at all Very much so

So your friend gives you an 8. Wow! You ARE pretty likeable!

However, think about it. Is it really enough to know you are liked? Wouldn’t you also like to know the actual reasons WHY people like you? This would allow you to keep doing those things that make you likeable. It would also help you avoid doing things that might threaten your likeability rating. You might even discover a strategy for increasing your score to a glorious 10.

What if someone gave you a 4? Would you ignore the feedback, dismiss it as an idiosyncratic score, and forget about it? Or would you take the score as an opportunity to discover something about yourself that could be improved? You could use the feedback as useful development information to enable you to work on those negative areas that could potentially improve your score.

The above illustrates a fundamental problem with the NPS. The score is very accessible, very understandable, a useful management metric, but also very one-dimensional. In truth the NPS hardly offers any useful insight into the likeability of someone, or the performance of a business, or the potential ‘advocacy-index’ of a brand. The average recommendation score from a surveyed group of consumers lacks any useful background explanation.

What does a score of ‘7’ actually mean? How does the NPS tell us why we didn’t achieve an ‘8’ or ‘9’? What specific areas need to be worked-on in order to increase my brand score? Where are the consumers’ emotional signatures in response to having contact with your brand?

Does the NPS score address the non-rational or subconscious triggers that guide consumer behaviour? What size is the emotional component included in the NPS score? How have consumers judged the specific components of your brand? How does the NPS score measure how your customers reflect or socially discuss your brand?

These are some of the problems with treating the NPS as some sort of Holy Grail of performance measurement.

The NPS is increasingly being exposed as being theoretically and practically threadbare. The author is quite surprised at the lasting reputation that surrounds the NPS and its continuing use.

I recently asked three senior directors working in brand development (retail, finance and pharma) about the NPS and what sort of useful information it provided. They each thought for a moment, and then each more or less replied along the lines: “It shows us if a customer might recommend us”.

I then asked them what would be the most crucial question related to the NPS feedback. The response was a generic “why”. The directors would want to know why customers do or don’t intend recommending the business.

Having recently undertaken considerable work with academic and business colleagues on the psychology of brand recommendation I have come to the conclusion that there are three significant factors as to whether customers recommend you, trust you and go on to act as brand ambassadors. These factors are carried in the minds of your customers:

Emotional experiences generated by contact with the brand/business.
The perceived characteristics of the brand.
A subsequent conscious evaluation powered by cognitive/social reflection.

The NPS score does not offer any insight into any aspects of this vital brand- strength information and so it is psychologically so to speak, lacking.

Like any slight-of-hand trick, once you dig a bit deeper you will realize there is no ‘magic’ in the NPS at all. The ‘objective’ number of the NPS offers no psychological understanding of the customers, no insight into where the positive or negative attitudes towards the brand might have arisen and no sense of the cues triggering emotional experiences.

In order to explore these details of customer psychology, the measuring instruments need to be much more sensitive and sophisticated than a single numerical scale can provide. Such tools are now available in the consumer laboratory in the form of physiological arousal measures and they are available on-line in the shape of Implicit Attitude Tests. These tests can generate data that can be interpreted by Behavioural Psychologists to uncover the more subtle and yet more powerful emotional triggers of consumer behaviour.

Dr Simon Moore

Dr Simon Moore
I am a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society with a wealth of commercial/consumer insight experience. I work with organisations and brands in the areas of behavioural economics, emotion profiling and customer experience, engagement and advocacy. I have specialist knowledge of customer-brand personas, biometrics and consumer irrational decision making. I am an author and regularly present papers at academic and business conferences. I often appear in the media providing psychological insight into organizational and consumer matters.


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