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NPS isn’t really about recommendation

November 21, 2015

For anyone in the know, this might sound a little bit crazy. Afterall, the NPS question reads:

“How likely would you be to recommend our service to a friend or family member?”

NPS certainly isn’t always a reliable predictor of recommendation behaviour. Arguably, we practitioners should be able to use the company’s NPS score as a measure to predict the likely word of mouth factor to apply to new customer acquisitions, possibly as part of a CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) calculation. However it is rarely used this way and there is a very good reason as to why.

What people say and what people do isn’t always the same. Just because someone says that they are likely to recommend a service doesn’t mean that they actually will. Being a promoter isn’t necessarily the same thing as being an advocate. Or a ‘superpromoter’ or a ‘zealot’. ’This being the case, NPS cannot be relied upon in this way.

So why is NPS so popular? Why even have it at all?

One of the key motivations for the introduction of NPS was it was felt by some that, as a metric, CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) had had its day. This certainly isn’t (necessarily) the case and in the past few years, as some of the weaknesses of NPS have been unearthed, CSAT has begun to experience a resurgence. But why did some people believe that CSAT had become an unreliable metric in terms of predicting satisfaction or loyalty?

The potential weakness with the satisfaction question (“How satisfied with… are you?”) is that it can be answered too easily. If you have just been through an experience with an organisation, and they ask you a series of questions relating to your ‘satisfaction’, it can potentially be easy for you to go down the survey giving ‘5’s or ‘8’s or 10’s’ across the board. The CSAT question doesn’t challenge you in any way – it doesn’t always make you think.

However the NPS question is different. When you are asked “how likely are you to recommend to a friend or family member?”, what the questioner is really asking is whether, for the sake of the brand, you would be prepared to put your close personal relationships on the line. Now that really does make you think.

Thinking about it, in order for you to be prepared to recommend a service to someone close, you really do have to be satisfied with it. So, the deep-rooted purpose of NPS is really about understanding customer satisfaction. However being prepared to recommend and recommending are not the same thing.

However not everyone’s brain works in the same way. Some people, who think in a more literal and logical way, will interpret the NPS question as meaning “will you be recommending?”. Some people will also answer with a low score, not because of displeasure or dissatisfaction with the service, but simply because they are not the type of people who make recommendations, or because they envisage the product as being one that you wouldn’t typically make recommendations about, such as toilet paper or a funeral service. So, like CSAT, NPS has potential weaknesses too.

However that can be said of all metrics, not just CSAT and NPS. Customer Effort, Net Easy and all the other metrics have their weaknesses. For this reason, trying to use a single metric to measure all touchpoints along a complex journey can be overly simplistic. Arguably Customer Satisfaction, by its rather straightforward and simplistic nature, might be the best to apply across the board. Its strength comes, quite ironically, from what was originally perceived to be its main weakness!

And those logical and literal people who might ‘overthink’ NPS can actually find CSAT to be perfect for them. Being pedantic can mean that the question is the most logical one to use, because it asks what it is means to ask!..

So if you’re going to ‘hang your coat’ on any particular metric, please consider the potential strengths and weaknesses of all of them. Including NPS…

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Posted by: Ian Williams

November 21, 2015