Net Promoter Score – It’s not the size that matters, it’s what you do with it

When Fred Reichheld first wrote about Net Promoter surveys and calculating a Net Promoter Score way back in 2003, he called it “The one number you need to grow”. He was referring to his research that showed that organisations with a bigger Net Promoter Score grew quicker than those with a smaller one.

Ever since then, his critics have criticised NPS as just a number. Comments such as this are common:

“It lacks actionable insights.”

“I have a Net Promoter Score of +35. So what? What can I do about that?”

“It doesn’t specify why people are Detractors.”

If Net Promoter was just about the score, then it would be pretty useless. But it’s not the score that matters.

A score doesn’t help you improve customer loyalty any more than a thermometer helps you get better when you’re sick. It’s just a number. Both only tell you if you’re getting better, worse or staying the same.

But Net Promoter isn’t only a score. We don’t just ask customers for a rating. We ask for their feedback on what we’re doing well and what we could do better.

Importantly, Net Promoter recommends a number of practices to put that feedback to work to actually improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. And when you adopt those practices, your Net Promoter Score will increase, reflecting your improvement in the eyes of your customers.

So, regardless of the size of your Net Promoter Score, here are some practices that you can adopt in a customer support environment that will make it even bigger:

  • Contact Detractors straight away and leverage the Service Recovery Paradox. When you acknowledge a customer’s issue and deal well with the situation, you have a precious opportunity to turn that customer into a fan.
  • Aggregate all verbatim customer feedback from Detractors and Passives and identify recurring themes about what upsets and disappoints people. The theme that is most frequently mentioned is the area you need to address first if you want to shift that NPS up. Similarly, you can learn about your strengths by analysing the verbatim feedback from Promoters.
  • Regularly communicate with customers. Acknowledge your failings. Share your improvement plans. Announce the actual improvements you’ve made. And use each opportunity to thank your customers for completing the survey and for helping you identify these improvements. When you ‘close the loop’ this way, your customers will see the ‘whats-in-it-for-me’ of completing your surveys.
  • Use customer feedback to coach your support staff. Reward and recognise staff who deliver consistently good customer experiences. Share and discuss positive feedback in team meetings. And use customer feedback to support performance management discussions.  Staff want and need regular feedback and what better source of feedback for customer-facing team members than that from customers?
  • Treat your Net Promoter Score as a Key Performance Indicator.  I’ve written before about how traditional Service Level Agreements cause IT support teams to be too focused on time-based measures of performance. At the end of the day, support quality can only be measured by your customers.
  • Track your Net Promoter Score over time to understand the impact of changes and improvements that you’re making. Did that new customer portal really make a difference? How much did customer satisfaction improve when you brought your Service Desk back in house?
  • Watch your survey response rate carefully. Your response rate is a proxy measure for customer engagement. If your customers don’t think you’re ever going to doing anything with their feedback, they won’t bother completing your survey. World-class response rate targets are in the region of 60%. Within the context of internal customer support, I find that that 20% is a good target.  If you’re in single digits, you’re either spamming your customers with too many surveys or they have no confidence that your survey is worth completing. Or both. You can get some tips on increasing your response rate here.
  • Calculate and compare Net Promoter Scores for all of your support teams, not just the Service Desk. Who are the stars? Who is letting the side down? By doing this you can identify pockets of good behaviours and practices that you should standardise across all your teams.
  • Find others who are using Net Promoter to measure internal customer satisfaction levels and learn from those who have a higher NPS than you. This is the real benefit of doing benchmarking. Not just comparing yourself to to others for the sake of it, but to find others you can learn from.
  • Democratise customer feedback by sharing it widely. Don’t hide your team’s Net Promoter Score in the middle of a monthly management report. Display it on a big screen for everyone to see. And why not display real-time customer feedback on a big screen too?

Using Net Promoter surveys to measure customer satisfaction with internal support teams is easy. But if you want to actually improve your NPS, these are some of the practices that’ll help.  Do you have any you think should be added to the list?

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