Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to Stop Worrying and Love Net Promoter Score

In a post last week, I referred to the Net Promoter Score.  Net Promoter serves as a highly-sensitve indicator of overall customer experience.  Because I like this approach, I wanted to spend a little time discussing it firstly to give it the attention it deserves, but secondly because I think it has very clear pluses and minuses.

I’ll outline the methodology briefly and then spent more time on its usefulness, since methodology matters less than usefulness.

How it works (briefly; I promise)

Fred Reichheld, a wonk at Bain & Co., published a paper in the Harvard Business Review outlining the concept of his “ultimate question.”  Reichheld recommended asking customers “how likely would you be to recommend us?” on a scale of 0 (“no way, Jose”) to 10 (“golly, yes”).  Based on his research, this question gave the best insight into customers’ experiences.  He characterized those who gave a score of 9 or 10 as promoters and those who gave a score of 6 or less detractors.  He characterized 7s and 8s as neutrals.  To get your net promoter score, subtract the percentage detractors from the percentage of promoters.

So, if 50% of survey respondents were promoters and 20% were detractors, the Net Promoter Score would equal 30%.  Note that Net Promoter Scores may fall below zero.


When Net Promoter debuted in the early 2000s, its proponents hailed it as a panacea for market research.  One question, they said, could identify all of a company’s ills and lead smart managers on the path to global domination or boxes of free kittens or something.  However, years of experience have shown what it does and what it doesn’t do.

What it does

For the time- and analysis-poor manager, Net Promoter serves as the canary in the coal mine, a simple indicator of a brand’s health.  He can look at the Net Promoter Score for the month/quarter/year and get a basic indication of brand health.  Better yet, if he has the time to compare that score with the previous period’s score, he can determine whether the brand has gained or lost groud.

What it doesn’t do

Quick, what metric does the entertainment press to describe the success of a movie?  Usually, box office totals.  So in 2009, “Avatar” made nearly three-quarters of a billion.  Was it really 44 times better than “The Hurt Locker,” which won the Best Picture Oscar that year?  Just as no one number can quantify how great a movie is, no one number can tell a marketer what her brand does well or poorly.  Net Promoter makes a great headline for a report, but it merely serves as an indication to the marketer to dig deeper to learn what tactics and approaches define that indicator.

How you can use Net Promoter

By all means, include Net Promoter in your customer surveys.  However, don’t rely on it alone as an indicator of your success as a marketer.  As I outlined in my previous post, see if you can tie rises and falls in Net Promoter to other scores on your surveys.  What you find may help you push that number up.

Have you had success (or failure) with Net Promoter?  Please share in the comments.

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