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When is Net Promoter the Wrong Customer Loyalty Question to Ask?

Guy Letts

In a casual Tweet I counselled against indiscriminate use of the Net Promoter ® question. It prompted an anxious reply from one of our most valued customers who wondered whether he was using the question inappropriately. He should rest easy. I often find it’s the people who are most concerned to do the right thing who have the least cause to worry.

For those not familiar, the Net Promoter model is a popular customer loyalty measure based on one simple question “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

It’s a good question, because the bar for ‘recommending’ is very high. I might say I’m ‘satisfied’ with a company, and willing personally to put up with their inconsistencies but I will hold back from actually recommending anyone who I fear might one day reflect badly on me or my judgement.

It’s a good sign unless it masks over-reliance on a tool

Of course, for us customers it’s to be welcomed that more companies are checking to see whether their customers are happy with their performance. Net Promoter can help in the goal of delivering great service to customers and, for the company, reaping the business benefits that follow.

But, as with any tool or methodology, the arbiter of success is the skill of the people behind the activity, and how thoughtfully they execute the process, not the tool itself.

So, depending on your vintage (and revealing mine) you may have weathered Kaizen, BS5750, TQM, six-sigma, Net Promoter and latterly ‘social customer service’. And yet, you may conclude that despite an abundance of acronyms, your experience as a customer is still not a lifetime of constant delight.

Therefore the tool is largely irrelevant, but it can make things a bit easier if you use it wisely.

It’s the ‘ultimate question’…but not the only question

Often billed as the ‘ultimate question’ I applaud Net Promoter’s simplicity in a world gone mad with 20 page surveys.

But it’s a loyalty measure, so it’s not appropriate to ask it if the customer has not had a chance to become loyal. Asked too soon, and it’s like asking “How much do you love me?” at the start of a first date. Fair question, lousy timing.

So after a sales enquiry, it’s way too early for the ‘recommend’ question, but quite in order to ask “How well did we deal with your enquiry?”.

In contrast, after I’ve bought something from you, gone through the full range of finding out about you, placing an order, experiencing your website, your transaction processing, your communication and the quality of your goods and service…? Well, now I’m definitely going to have a view and by the way thank you very much for taking the trouble to check!

And there should always, always, always be an open-ended question with a text box accompanying the rating to give people an opportunity to elaborate. Then, as a company, you will get a measure of sentiment AND actionable feedback. Which we observe will actually be more positive, more often than you expect, if you are one of those people who cares enough to get this right, like our wonderful customers.

Don’t forget what’s most important to the customer

But that’s not quite the end of the story. Because gathering feedback is just the beginning. Asking for feedback does not engender loyalty. It’s what you do about it that counts. That’s what really generates loyalty and recommendations.

If you’re considering starting, or improving, your NPS program, see how we can help, or just get in touch.

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