I had planned to do one last post about the Net Promoter Conference in San Francisco to recap my session. But it turns out that Jessica Tsai from CRM Magazine did a great job capturing it in her article called “The 5 Levels of Customer Experience Maturity,” so read her article if you want to hear about my session. One thing that she didn’t mention was a quote I used from Ghandi (in addition to the quote from Morpheus that she mentioned in the article). How often do you get to hear a blending of wisdom from Morpheus and Ghandi?!?

So, rather than recap my session I’ll share my thoughts on the Net Promoter movement. Some of this is captured in my post abocut Fred Recihheld’s speech and the subsequent comments on that post. But I decided to vet my thinking in a Q&A format. So I will ask and answer a series of questions:


Q: Where is Net Promoter Score (NPS) at in its lifecycle?

I’d say NPS is entering early adolescence. The excitement and exuberance of a single measure for customer loyalty is giving way to some second-guessing and rethinking. Companies are learning that it’s not as easy as just using NPS, it takes hard work to figure out how to best use NPS to improve customer experience. The NPS conference, though, was at the right level. Rather than promote the greatness of the NPS metric, Recihheld led the charge around figuring out how to use it as a catalyst for change.


Q: There’s been a lot of debate about the value of NPS, is Net Promoter a good thing?

Yes, absolutely! Despite the mistakes and drawbacks of NPS, it has been enormously successful at catalyzing the attention of senior executives on the issue of customer experience; it’s made customer experience relevant to the executive suite. And one of the best things about NPS, which doesn’t get enough attention, is that it has introduced a common language around customer segments: Promoters, Passives, And Detractors. The use of common vernacular is a very powerful tool for aligning organizations.


Q: What have been the biggest problems with NPS?

NPS has been marketed as the “ultimate question” and the single metric you need to run your business. While this has been an important part of its success in garnering attention, it has led many practitioners to misunderstand its true value. The key value of NPS is not as a metric, but as part of an approach for improving customer loyalty. NPS’ role is to segment good outcomes (Promoters) from bad outcomes (Detractors) so that the company can diagnose the drivers for each of those situations. This only becomes valuable when the company uses this insight to change what they do so as to create more good outcomes in the future.


Q: Could another question work just as well?

Yes, I believe that there are other questions that could also work as a diagnostic. For financial services and health care firms, a question around customer advocacy could work. At Forrester, we’ve tracked customer advocacy by asking consumers how much they agree with this statement: “<Firm> does what’s best for me, not just what’s best for it’s bottom line?” Also,  satisfaction questions can work. As I’ve said in the past, any company that can institutionalize processes that create more satisfied customers and creates less dissatisfied customers will do well.


Q: Are there places where an NPS question doesn’t work?

Yes, there are many places where the net promoter question isn’t appropriate. I always discuss voice of the customer efforts (of which NPS is a part) in the context of five levels of insight: Relationship tracking, interaction monitoring, continuous listening, project infusion, and periodic immersion. NPS fits nicely in the relationship tracking bucket but is not a good fit for the other levels of insight. Satisfaction questions actually work much better for interaction monitoring.


Q: It sounds like satisfaction can be a useful concept, why doesn’t it have the same “buzz” as NPS?

Fred Reichheld. The excitement about NPS was created by the energy and dynamic nature of Reichheld. While satisfaction methodologies have been around for a lot longer time than NPS (see theacsi.org), they lack a spokesperson who is as persuasive as Reichheld. Through a combination of his HBR article, books, consulting, and speaking engagements, Reichheld has created “the buzz” around NPS.


Q: What should companies using NPS do going forward?

First of all, get everyone in the company to use of the three labels for customers: Promoters, Detractors, and Passives. Then, make sure that you shift your thinking from “tracking” NPS to using it as part of a diagnostic approach for improving customer experiences. You should create the following endless loop: NPS identifies Promoters and Detractors, diagnostic analysis identifies what separates those outcomes, change the experiences for customers based on that insight, and then create more Promoters and Detractors, and then NPS identifies Promoters and Detractors, etc.


Q: How do you keep executives aligned with these efforts?

Executives will (and should) only keep focusing on NPS (or, more correctly, customer experience improvements) if they see business value from those efforts. So NPS practitioners should work with their finance teams to build models that show the value of creating more Promoters and decreasing the number of Detractors. Without this clear connection to financial results, it will be hard for companies to continue to invest in this area. This type of insight will help executives understand that creating Promoters is a fundamental part of their job. And, finally getting to my quote from Ghandi:


“All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”


The bottom line: NPS has great potential, but the results are up to you.

This blog post was originally published by Temkin Group prior to its acquisition by Qualtrics in October 2018.