This week, the WSJ published a scathing take down of the widely used, wildly popular, Net Promoter Score or NPS. In an article titled, “The Dubious Management Fad Sweeping Corporate America”, the authors suggest “willingness to recommend” has been sold to corporate America as the one customer satisfaction metric to rule them all. The article ignited a furious debate between NPS Advocates and Detractors (sorry, I couldn’t resist), with even NPS creator, Fred Reichfeld of Bain, weighing in. He says he never intended it to be used this way.

Getting the Most from Net Promoter Scores

In our opinion, the unmasking should have happened sooner, but it’s unlikely now to make much difference. NPS is here to stay, whether we like it or not. We have wasted too much digital ink trying to convince clients there are better ways to measure customer satisfaction, ways that are more mathematically stable and meaningful. We’ve given up. The idea of one easy to understand metric is simply too seductive.

If NPS is a fact of life, our view is why not make the most of it? While it may not be a stable or true reflection of customer sentiment, it potentially provides a segmentation approach, albeit a crude one, by handily classifying customers as brand lovers, brand haters and brand “mehs.

people graphic

Slicing up of a customer base can be a useful starting point for a deeper dive: why do Promoters love us and what turned Detractors off? Insights gained from this type of analysis are fundamental to improving everything from customer experience to positioning.

We suggest, however, that the truly transformational insights may lay beyond Detractors and Advocates. Passives may be just two points on the scale, but their value to future revenue could be disproportionate. Detractors are notoriously difficult to win over --- meaning a lot of resources can be spent for little gain. Happy customers are presumably already at least somewhat loyal – how much more is there to gain? Passives are by definition ‘on the fence’. As such, they may be more susceptible to winning over than Detractors, and, if there are enough of them, offer more potential revenue gain than would be possible by making happy customers even happier.

Seeing Into the Hearts of Passives

duckIn our experience, studying customers who are less passionate about a brand is often a bigger challenge than studying those who have strong feelings. In interviews and focus groups, they often have little to offer. To get these noncommittal customers to open up requires more than simply asking questions to which they simply shrug and say they haven’t really thought about it. If you think about it, questions about why you didn’t do something you never thought about doing in the first place is a losing game.

Our answer to this challenge is to create immersive experiences to ensure they have something meaningful to say. One of our clients, Maple Leaf Farms, the country’s leading brand of duck products, asked us to explore why people who enjoy eating duck in restaurants hesitate to buy it at the grocery store and cook it at home. We had already concluded that getting ‘duck inclined’ specialty store shoppers to make just one duck purchase a year would increase sales nearly 40%! To find out what would move them toward duck, we invited 30 non-purchasers who say they like duck into a community and gave them a series of shopping and cooking assignments involving duck. The insights became the basis for a new retail strategy.

In Conclusion

At last we can agree, Net Promoter Scores are not the be all and end all. They are a blunt instrument and can be misleading as a measure of customer sentiment. But if used as a first step to a deeper analysis, this board room may just be a good way to involve management in finding hidden gold.