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Net Promoter Score – if relationships were judged by a single number
by Mark Smith

How would you explain the Net Promoter Score’s limitations in an anecdote? Well, imagine if a friend or colleague catches you in a moment you’re not very proud of. They’re standing within earshot, when in an irritable fit, you’ve just snapped at your partner or been on the receiving end of an outburst. And you’re filled with this dread because you know that this one single moment in time will be relayed to everyone you know, filtering through the grapevine.

You can almost hear the gossip reverberating through your network: “Well, well – it looks like that Instagram-perfect couple isn’t that perfect after all.” You can feel the looks of pity. Tonnes of false assumptions will be drawn around that little image capture and it’ll distract from a more all-encompassing view of ‘you’ or your relationship. It’s particularly irksome if you care about what people think of you. But let’s face it: most of us do.

That’s the Net Promoter Score (NPS) for you. It can capture your relationship with your customer at a weak moment, leading you to base your marketing tactics for the foreseeable future on a deceptively low score. If the NPS catches a loyal, brand advocate in a heated moment and this customer marks a low score on the scale, the tool will simply assume the customer is a detractor. Registering a short-term negative sentiment could propel the marketing team to tailor the wrong sort of message to a customer who may in fact be very loyal.

Requesting feedback from the customer after time has passed could gauge real, enduring sentiment and even redeem the NPS marginally, but another thought-provoking criticism of the NPS lies on the score steering customer service or marketing towards too much emphasis on detractors. We always want what we can’t have. And so, for the thrill of a chase, customer service latches on to negative feedback, forever in pursuit of those whom the brand may well never ‘have’ and ignoring faithful, devoted customers. In doing so, the management team may also overlook the ‘whys’ behind positive scores from loyalists and miss valuable opportunities to ensure positive attributes of the brand are well fortified. To top it off, passive scores are also ignored in the calculations: a ludicrous supposition given it is a lot easier to convert an agnostic, passive customer than a detractor into a loyalist.

The NPS is not a strong predictor for future growth, although some correlation does appear to exist between performance and positive scores. Compared to other indices or tools, it doesn’t excel dramatically.

A repository of customer service assessment tools and brand loyalty measures surround us nowadays, catapulted by a wealth of data bubbling to the surface from a range of social media channels. Overwhelmed companies might choose to focus on the bare necessities and pick NPS as an easy, low hanging fruit or stick with it for the sake of simplicity. But we live in a world where such is the complexity and granularity of the reams of data flowing in that it’s detailed personal information and data that drives decision-making; in fact, it’s data that drove the outcome of the American election and reportedly propelled more voters towards Brexit. So why would you opt for a reductive, single number to gauge your relationship with a customer?

While the NPS shouldn’t be completely dismissed as a customer measure completely – it is still a simple, palatable measure and a good starting point to evaluate customer service efficacy – there needs to be compelling evidence it’s working for companies to use it as – at best - a building block for better evaluation measures.

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