Guest Blogger

In September 2014, we posted an article on our website about the misuse and abuse of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) number that we had witnessed.

Since then, on our social media feeds and at our events, we have had many more people contribute to the debate and add their own experiences.

Our biggest fear at the time of the original article was that NPS had become ‘all about the number’ and organisations were forgetting the reason for measuring it in the first place. It had become less of a guide to future customer behaviour (and a universally comparable benchmark to boot) and more of a target and thus a measure to beat people about the head with if it was too low, or a number to crow about if it was high.

As is inevitable when such numbers are used, the ways in which the number was calculated, used and displayed began to stretch the spirit of NPS to the limit. And at CSN, we saw and were told about a worrying increase in the number of organisations who are focussing solely on the number and some  that are even trying to influence customers (sometimes very subtlety, sometimes not) in the way they answered the question. Here are just five we have seen or heard about, ranked in order of how well the organisation tried to hide what they were doing.

Very Subtle – A giant in the motor industry says to any customer that doesn’t’  score them 9 or 10 out of 10 that ‘that’s not our usual standard’ and implies they might have got it wrong, and thus gives them a chance to increase the score.

Fairly Subtle – One of their rivals goes one better by helpfully giving customers an example of how to complete the feedback form. The 9 and 10 boxes are in green and the detractor scores of 0-6 are in red. The guide shows a big tick in the green box.

Fairly Unsubtle  – One of the UK’s largest utility companies told a customer that they might get a survey and they should answer it using the 8-10 scale. Either they were very sure they wouldn’t get anyone wanting to rate them below that, or worse still, maybe that’s the only options the survey offered.

Not Subtle At All –  A large high street retailer gives to out their till receipts and one staff member told a customer ‘my name is [Jane] and if I don’t score a 9 or 10 on the survey, I won’t get a bonus’!  Also a large leisure company said to their passengers ‘please score us 9 or 10 when you get the questionnaire as its good for us’.

Bloody Ridiculous! – On judging one large national retail organisation in an awards programme, we discovered their unusually high NPS score was because, in their words, ‘we count 8, 9 and 10s as promoters’. But on further questioning they defended their position by saying ‘our research company said it was OK’. So that’s all right then.

Add to this stories of customers being asked to complete NPS (and other) surveys while the supplier stands over them and watches them complete the survey, and it is clear that not everyone lives or dies by the simplicity of this one question. Instead they seem intent on increasing the number in any way they can. But to what end? If they are trying to reach an internally set target, then the organisation need to look at the way they set targets. Other than that, it’s hard to see what benefit an artificially higher score provides.

As mentioned, NPS is a predictor of future customer behaviour so misuse of the number is dangerous. By helping to push the number up it creates at best, a false sense of security and at worst, a misleading number that isn’t worth the paper it is printed off on when someone runs to show their directors how good it is.

NPS is a great number to track but it’s important to remember that it’s a symptom of customer loyalty not the cause. Customers will recommend or not because of something that has happened to them during their experience as a customer. It’s vital to identify these areas and understand what the key drivers are that impact on the NPS scores. This will get an organisation on the right track when they are focussing resources, budget and time on their customer service issues. Also, if more time was spent on asking detractors and passives why they weren’t scoring higher, instead of trying to get them to score higher, the outputs would be of far greater use in identifying areas for improvement.

And a customer won’t change their behaviour in real life, so even if they are influenced into nudging their score into promoter territory, they won’t act and talk like a promoter. So while the number might be (artificially good) the reality is that the customer will not be a promoter BUT the organisation will think they are and treat them as such.

Of course, the longer term problem here is that if they had kept the customer as they were, the organisation could be striving to make them into a promoter. Instead they are standing by, admiring their scores and not doing anything for that customer that would really make them into a promoter (and remember that even those that do legitimately score 9 and 10 won’t always actually recommend either).

Hopefully, these instances end up as anomalies rather than a trend but, given that NPS is one of the few commonly used and universal customer service benchmarks, let’s hope that it doesn’t become a figure that raises eyebrows and loses its positive standing in the world of customer service.

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