NPS may be hurting your employees

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If you’re looking for a reason not to use NPS as your top-line CX metric, I’ve got one for you:  Depending on your business and/or your business model, it’s just plain dumb.

I’ve always been skeptical of the overwrought overthinking of the overpromise of what the subtleties of the Net Promoter System’s insights are supposed to provide:  That those enthusiastic promoters of your brand are more likely not only to recommend (as they’re literally asked) your brand, but also to come back themselves and spend more money with you.  It’s not that that doesn’t generally make sense.  It’s just that:  Why all the convolution?  As per Cosmo Kramer, if you want to know if your Customers will come back and spend more, why don’t you just ask that, instead of performing some sort of marketing Rube-Goldberg-meets-Jedi-Mind-Trick analysis about what’s subconsciously behind your Customers’ answer to a question about recommending you to their families, friends, or colleagues?  It all seemed a bit clever by a half to me.  Also, a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to, well, ask them what you actually want to know.

This came into stark relief the other day when my partner and I went to a big box department store in our neighborhood.  I won’t mention which, but it’s an international huge store that you’d definitely know if I mentioned it.

Anyway, we hadn’t even arrived home when he received an email asking him to fill out the typical NPS survey.  As he read it aloud in the car, he was incredulous:  “How likely would I be to recommend [the local store of the big internationally recognizable and ubiquitously known and seen chain] to your family or friends?”  Now, he’s not a statistician like me, but he was very capable of assessing the actual likelihood of that ever happening:  Zero.

It’s not that we didn’t have a perfectly pleasant experience there.  It’s not that we left in a huff, unsatisfied with the service, cleanliness, efficiency, selection of goods, or anything else.  In fact, the rest of the survey (his answers to the amplification questions) was all 9s and 10s as the follow-on questions asked about these and other aspects of our visit.  One might wonder then, why a guest would be so unlikely to recommend this store.  Well, he elucidated in the free-text box under the top-line NPS question (paraphrasing):  ‘I never talk to people about this, it’s not a topic of conversation with my friends, relatives, and co-workers.’  He was generous enough, though, to also explain his reasoning, that the experience was positive and he enjoyed and will likely himself return (sound familiar?) to the store.  I’ve been on the receiving end of what appear to be conflicting Customer responses, so I kind of insisted he clarify himself as he did, as a professional courtesy.  But still, perhaps the brand deserves to stew a little bit, considering the incoherence of their survey questions.

The funny thing is, I’d bet my next lunch that, if I ever actually sat down with anyone in a leadership position within this corporation (and it just so happens I actually know someone who is) who was part of the development of that survey and honestly inquired what the likelihood of any of their Customers ever having a conversation with any of their friends or family that would include a recommendation along the lines of “oh, you’ve just gotta go” to the store in question, that person would surely admit that the chances approach zero.

The real shame is, it’s quite possible (especially at a huge, corporate institution like this, where creativity and curiosity are not usually the order of the day) that top-down policies mean that the kid who checked us out that day may have gotten some sort of ding on his own performance, when in reality he did a fine job.  And therein lies another reason you should sincerely consider the implications of choosing NPS (or, more to the point, how you use it).  If you’re holding one individual responsible for an NPS result, you’re really putting him or her at risk.  Considering it’s always a team effort to work with Customers, assigning a single NPS survey responsibility to one person can have disastrous impacts.  If we’d had a bad experience (or even in our case, where we simply answered the survey honestly), it’s possible that this team member would be punished or otherwise held to answer for it, even if it had nothing to do with his performance or congeniality.  For what it’s worth, we did give high scores on the checkout experience, so he’s likely fine.

But it still emphasizes the point:  This is part of the problem when we “do things the way we’ve always done them,” or otherwise simply go along with professional trends.  We paint ourselves into corners and don’t anticipate the potential negative side effects.  That’s really something from a profession that’s centered (as ours is, or at least is supposed to be) on, among other positive approaches, thinking differently and taking a longer view.  Isn’t that, after all, part of our job?

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