OPINION12 December 2012

Not particularly satisfied


A Net Promoter Score isn’t a measure of customer satisfaction, but businesses can often treat it as though it is. This leads them to overlook the emotional and social aspects that drive consumer recommendations, says Simpson Carpenter’s Paul Griffiths.

Some may criticise the NPS metric itself; others will say their company is not doing enough, quickly enough. But all-too often the problem we see is that businesses confuse NPS with satisfaction, which leads them to rely too much on the functional drivers of satisfaction and neglect the emotional and social aspects that drive consumers’ likelihood to recommend.

NPS asks customers to indicate how likely they’d be to recommend a brand to a friend or family member on a 0 to 10 scale. We group those scoring a 9 or 10 as ‘promoters’ and subtract those scoring anywhere between 0 and 6 as ‘detractors’ and this gives us a Net Promoter Score.

The 0-10 scale itself is key, as is the respondent’s attitude towards recommendation. The following findings from interviews with 1,000 UK adults show what we mean.

Recommendation is emotional

Measuring emotion is more and more popular in research. Yet how many NPS programmes have truly embraced the emotional aspects of their customer relationships?

  • 70% of our sample indicated that by recommending a brand they (at least occasionally) are putting their personal credibility at stake. Most also told us that they only recommend brands that they believe in.
  • Over half of our sample said that, at least some of the time, they buy brands on recommendation – even if they’ve been disappointed in the past. The emotional confidence from recommendation trumps experience.

Recommendation is social

That NPS captures word-of-mouth is considered by many to be an advantage. Yet few NPS programmes have worked through the implications.

As a social measure, NPS is about believing, not necessarily seeing:

  • Almost 50% of adults said that they have recommended brands they have never used themselves. 28% said that they do this “always” or “sometimes”;
  • Over one-third said they recommend brands that they themselves have been disappointed with.

Understanding the social aspects of recommendation is vital. We looked deeper to reveal:

  • Recommendation isn’t for everyone. Among customers of six major categories, 71% said they would “always” or “likely” recommend a provider that they’re satisfied with. This seems comfortingly high, but implies 29% would not recommend a supplier they’re satisfied with. Indeed, a tough minority ( 4-7% by category) would never recommend a provider that they’re satisfied with.
  • Younger people recommend more than older people. 18-30 year-olds are more likely to recommend brands they have not used themselves than older people. We often see data showing younger people as more pre-disposed to recommending than older people, prompting the thorny question of whether and how to re-shape the customer base to a younger audience.

Turning now to the 0-10 NPS scale we can see that:

  • It takes more than satisfaction for some people to be a promoter. Only a 9 or 10 score makes a promoter. When we asked our sample to imagine that they’re completely satisfied with their provider, 20% said that they would not score a 9 or 10. For these customers, you need to do more.
  • Negative word-of-mouth can hurt. We then asked respondents to imagine that had heard bad things from somebody else about a provider which they were completely satisfied with. While this may have little or no impact on satisfaction, the proportion who would definitely or probably score a 9 or 10 for NPS drops heavily – e.g. for car insurance, dropping from 59% of customers to 47%. Lower confidence leads to a lower NPS – no matter how well you satisfy your customer.

What to do?

NPS has given market research unprecedented presence at board level within companies. Yet the growing frustration from mis-firing NPS programmes risks devaluing research just when it is starting to be taken seriously.

So here’s some pointers.

  1. Use your research to tell you what recommendation means to customers for your business in your category.
  2. Use your research to tell you what it takes for customers to score a 9 or 10.
  3. Use your research to tell you what bad experiences people are most likely to talk about.

With this information to hand you can:

  • Fix problems. NPS emphasises the need to capture and manage negative word-of-mouth. Put problems right as quickly as possible and actively manage your communications.
  • Do what you say. People put their credibility on the line when they recommend. Don’t let them down.
  • Say what you do. Recommendation is social. Feed your customers stories that they can and want to tell others. Communicate the hard work you’re doing. Each time you do something, talk about it.

Paul Griffiths is commercial director at Simpson Carpenter

1 Comment

12 years ago

Well done Paul. Some interesting and additional thinking around NPS and its role in devaluing research. You may be interested in my article entitled Likelihood to recommend – Holy Grail or Fool’s Gold published in ESOMAR’s Sep/Oct issue of Research World. You can download a PDF copy from my website: http://www.peter-shreeve.co.uk/latest-thinking/ Pete

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