Why Use Net Promoter Score? Pros & Cons

What is Net Promoter Score (NPS)?

Net Promoter Score ,or NPS, uses a 0 to 10 scale and asks customers how likely they are to recommend your brand to a friend or colleague.

Customers who score 0 to 6 are known as detractors. They are unhappy customers and can put you at risk of negative word of mouth.

Customers who score your brand from 7 to 8 are considered passive. They are generally satisfied but not particularly enthusiastic or passionate about your brand.

Customers who score from 9 to 10 are known as promoters. They are the loyal customers who are likely to keep buying your products and tell their friends and colleagues about it too.

Who uses NPS?

NPS (or the Net Promoter Score) seems to have been with us forever, but it’s only 15 or so years old.

Businesses worldwide have adopted it as a standard measure to determine whether their brand is viewed positively by customers. Its beauty lies in its simplicity, and it’s the bedrock of so many customer experience programmes.

Why use Net Promote Score?

I was recently asked if I would recommend NPS to a friend or colleague, and my answer was a hesitant “Yes, but”.

So why the qualification?

From a personal perspective, some of the positive sides include:

  • The simplicity
  • The fact CEO’s and Board Directors can understand it easily
  • I like the combination of a measure with the accompanying verbatim explanations
  • I also like the fact that it is easy to create a simple visual dashboard

So why would I only score it a 7 or 8 and not a wholehearted 10? Because there are some downsides.

Negatives of using NPS

The NPS measure is sometimes used poorly

Often the question is asked in the wrong context. This can either annoy the customer or, if answered, can impact the accuracy of the results and analysis.

In the right context the question works. But I’ve seen a company ask their employees if they would recommend an internal service to a colleague or friend!

Firstly, they don’t usually have a choice. And secondly, if it’s not a service everyone in the organisation uses, can they really recommend it to the person next to them? Personally, I feel it is used too generically as the ‘question to ask’ in every situation, when more relevant questions would offer greater insight. Thus the recommend NPS question isn’t appropriate in every situation.

Over-reliance on one number

What’s the problem with tracking a single, easy to understand measure? I’ve already said it works well as a benchmark measure. But too often it’s used in isolation, or without the detail.

If the trend remains consistent or improves a little, it can act as a comfort blanket. It’s easy to say ‘look aren’t we doing well’ rather than looking through the detail. If you rely on tracking one measure are you missing anything in the bigger picture or nuances in service over the last period?

Sceptical? Well have a look at the following chart and ask yourself:

  • What conclusions do you draw from it?
  • What recommendations would you be putting to the Board?
  • Is your service getting better or worse over the 5-year period?NPS chart

Looking at NPS in isolation you’d conclude the service is getting better.

Great news let’s celebrate!

But look at the average scores and they’re getting worse.

Oh dear, put the champagne back!

But hold on, promoters are going up and detractors are going down.

Party time!

But how can the average score be so different?

What’s actually going on here?

Well, although the data in this chart is hypothetical, the important fact is that each measure shown is derived from EXACTLY the same data set. And I’ll happily show you!

So, what’s my point?

Well it comes back to my experience of how these measures are used. Over-reliance on one number, whether NPS, average score, top 2 box…, can lead to misleading conclusions being drawn. If there is a sudden change to the measure, alarm bells start ringing. But the underlying trends may have been there all along, if only the picture was studied in more detail.

Cultural bias affects scores

Respondents in certain regions of the world score on a different scale. For cultural reasons they will never score higher than an 8 or a 9, whereas in other regions a score of 10 is no big deal.

This is fine when looking at countries in isolation but making comparisons or attempting to merge for a single headline figure can become a big problem. This is potentially true of any measure, but with NPS so widely used, it’s now a major factor in Global customer experience programmes.

So… why use Net Promoter Score?

So back to the original question, “Would you recommend NPS to a friend or colleague?” Yes, but…

  • Yes because it is simple and easy to apply, but not in every situation
  • Yes because it shows trends in a single number, but no because you shouldn’t ignore the bigger picture
  • Yes because it works around the world as a consistent measure, but no because you have to factor in cultural bias.

Any measure used in isolation, without an appreciation of the of the underlying data trends, will ignore potentially critical nuances. Obsessive focus on a single measure can miss key areas of dissatisfaction or exemplary customer service. Sure, it’s a really useful measure, and a desire to improve the NPS score will inevitable improve the customer experience, but don’t ignore the bigger picture.

How to measure customer experience beyond Net Promoter Score

While NPS can be a valuable metric, we always recommend looking deeper to spot underlying trends which could be hidden by relying so heavily on a just one or two simple metrics like NPS or CSAT. The key is to really understand your customer by:

  • Mapping and following your customers’ journey and asking the most appropriate question at the right time
  • Ask for feedback when it’s convenient for your customer and when you’ll get information you need – not just every single time you interact with them
  • Consider other metrics – like customer churn rate and average resolution time. In combination, these will give you a more well-rounded insight into your customers’ experiences and behaviours.

To learn more about other metrics that can be used in customer experience programmes please read our blog on What metrics to use for CX measurement? Alternatively take a look at how we manage customer experience programmes.

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