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The real power of NPS

Yesterday I was running a workshop with the leadership team of a major retailer. We were working through the learnings from a series of customer immersion which they had conducted the day before. This is an ongoing program where the members of the leadership team conduct a qualitative instore interview with a customer every 3 months. If you are interested you can read more about how this works here.

There is a section in the guide – about 5 minutes – spent understanding the customer’s NPS score. Why they have given the score they have (you need to ask this at the time of recruitment). And most crucially, what the retailer would need to do to get them to lift to the next bracket.

It is a really interesting exercise. One thing it does is shine a light on the limitations of this question. At some level, customers push back. “I don’t recommend any business to my friends”…. “An 8 is the maximum I’d ever give”.

I can see how people who are held to ransom by the weaponisation of NPS would be alarmed by the apparent arbitrariness of the score.

But the reality is that businesses beyond a certain size do need to have an ongoing measure of customer sentiment.  And any tool is going to have its limitations.

The key is to understand why. Why that score, why not a higher score, and for that matter, why not a lower score? What’s the context in which this is given? Despite the common assertion that I don’t recommend things to friends, we know that people do share and recommend and forward and post and comment. That very good and very bad experiences do move people to share their experiences. It’s just that they won’t do it for mediocrity. For ordinariness and sameness. Most of us are Passives most of the time. But when was the last time they came across a business, a movement or a charity that was worth sharing? What was it about this experience that moved them?

Generally, speaking businesses who live by NPS know that the way to make gains is to move Detractors into Passives, and Passives into Promoters. Incrementally nudging upwards. And the way to do this is by engaging in a deeper conversation with them.

If you ask these questions – why an 8? What would we need to shift that up to a 9?… then you open a dialogue where anything is possible. Some people won’t be able to come up with anything (not in five minutes anyway) but if you’ve been having a longer conversation with them you should have some clues you can follow up on. You want to give them permission to talk about the tiny ideas and the audacious ones. Listen to them. Test them out, even the audacious ones (especially the audacious ones) but also address those tiny things too. They add up.  If you are a behemoth of a business that obsesses over NPS always remember that there’s a niche player without your overheads or hierarchy or way of seeing the world who is coming after your customers. If you are not prepared to try new things to delight them, you may not have them there in the future.


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