Would you recommend NPS to a friend or colleague?

Net Promoter Score

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. However, 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 I like the simplicity and the fact CEO’s and Board Directors can understand it easily. I like the combination of a measure with the accompanying verbatim explanations. I 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?

The measure is used poorly

Often the question is asked in the wrong context and therefore the results are misleading.

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 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? I wonder if it’s used too generically as the ‘question to ask’ in every situation, when more relevant questions would offer greater insight. 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. As long as the trend doesn’t look bad 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?

Skeptical? Well have a look at the following chart. 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

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.

Look at the bigger picture

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.

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