The Net Promoter Score in the marketing research and insights industry 

What is the Net Promoter Score?

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a key performance indicator used to determine a respondent’s likelihood to recommend a product or service to their network. In the article “Re-evaluating the Net Promoter Score,” authors Sarah Konkey and Julia Fox explain that companies believe it is an important growth measurement tool. The NPS consists of a rating scale from 0-10. The scores within the 0-6 range are detractors, the scores 7 and 8 are passives and the scores 9 and 10 are promoters. The NPS question is commonly phrased as: “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend this product to a friend?”

NPS is often used to track a customer’s relationship with a brand or company over time. Alan Hale, author of “20 steps to make the Net Promoter Score more actionable for B2B,” believes that the NPS is used as a tool to measure customer loyalty, not satisfaction. The scale assesses the personal risk a respondent would take in recommending the product or service to a friend, colleague or family member based on the relationship they have with the company instead of the specific transaction they had. 

When do companies use the Net Promoter Score?

A company will often use NPS when they want to measure its customer sentiment or satisfaction. While many believe the NPS is flawed, Hale argues that it should not be blamed for its incorrect usage. In “How to create raving fans in B2B markets,” he establishes that the rating will not be actionable if it is used incorrectly. Some companies use NPS when they need a benchmark to check on the progress they've made with the relationship they have with their customers. 

Why is the Net Promoter Score controversial?

While useful when used correctly, NPS is surrounded by controversy. Many believe it is an effective, efficient and low-cost form of measurement while others believe it is flawed and easily manipulated.

The Net Promoter Score limits customer feedback.

Individuals who participate in NPS surveys cannot fully express their opinions as their only feedback options are a range of numbers. NPS requires respondents to simply click a button without offering their thoughts on their customer journey or opinions on any potential improvements. Other forms of measurement can be more effective and offer more in-depth data.  

Andre Barroso, author of “Measuring brand health: Is NPS out of touch?,” says that NPS lacks accuracy because companies use it as a one-size-fits all approach to measure brand health. There is a reliance on it, yet it is only one question which is not representative of a customer’s entire experience. Barroso says, “It also doesn't take into account who the survey participant would recommend or why.” In the article “Study attempts to add nuance to NPS’s likelihood to recommend,” author Julie Wittes Schlack reinforces the idea that the customer intent to recommend a company or brand doesn't offer meaningful or actionable results, especially when compared to behavioral data. To fully understand brand health, a more complex and personalized approach must be conducted. 

The Net Promoter Score is easy to manipulate.

Konkey and Fox say that the NPS can be skewed to achieve the desired results. Companies can manipulate their score by targeting who receives the survey and to obtain a higher score, companies can send the survey to their most loyal customers. 

A higher importance is placed on the score instead of the intent to improve the customer relationship.

A score does not result in improvement within the relationship a company or brand has with a customer. Hale argues that the concentration on the score, not the improvement of the relationship is one of the reasons the NPS has a poor reputation. He says that NPS scores are often used by CEOs as vanity, not as a way to improve or solve customer pain points.

The Net Promoter Score question is unrealistic.

In the article “By the Numbers: Get your metric right,” author Greg Ryan points out the NPS flaws. Among them is the phrasing of the question itself. The question is based on the likelihood a customer would recommend a product or service, but Ryan argues that individuals don't naturally recommend company products to their friends and family. Instead, it would be better to ask the likelihood to purchase the item or service rather than focusing on recommendation. Ryan also says there are computational issues when using NPS. The score itself is not symmetrical, with the two top scores being promoters compared to the bottom six scores being detractors. 

What are the alternatives to the Net Promoter Score?

While including an NPS survey at the bottom of a follow-up e-mail, receipt or general survey is inexpensive and efficient, it does not offer a full, complex picture. Konkey and Fox recommend collecting both attitudinal and behavioral data and pulling insights from more holistic data sets. 

Pat Osorio, author of “Benefits of analyzing and leveraging consumer reviews,” says that user reviews can be a powerful and spontaneous source of rich feedback, offering a closer perception of reality. Offering the option to leave a review is beneficial to the company and future customers. Individuals can share specific aspects of their customer journey, what they enjoyed, any necessary improvements and detailed feedback on specific product attributes. Companies can incorporate the feedback to make future adjustments to their strategies or products and services. User reviews also function as a form of validation for prospective customers who rely on them when debating on making a purchase.

Accurately using the Net Promoter Score for success

While NPS has its flaws and should not be the sole form of measurement, when used correctly many researchers believe it can be used to gauge the relationship a brand or company has with its customers. Blending NPS with qualitative data allows for a broader and more accurate point of view.