It’s Time to Bury Net Promoter Score

The bastardization of Net Promoter Score has now reached fever pitch with even the Boy Scouts of America using the metric to predict future growth. This is not to say that NPS has no place in some companies. But for most, NPS shouldn’t be used at all – especially small to mid-size B2B providers. 

The Problem

Let’s pretend that this morning you go to the doctor and your doctor says, “We have discovered a new way to determine exactly how long you are going to live – using one metric that we calculate from a blood sample.” On face value, it sounds great. But, there’s a catch – actually there’s multiple catches. See, by using this calculation, if your score is low, there is no way to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that you can take corrective action to improve your health score if needed. Alternatively, if your score is high, we can’t tell you what to do to keep it high. Secondly, we are only going to measure portions of your blood sample periodically and track the fluctuations – so it will take three years (or more) to get a meaningful trend – an absurd amount of time to know if you are going to live long after retirement. Lastly, it is super expensive to get benchmark data on other patients so comparing yourself to others won’t really be possible. 

These are some of the common problems faced by B2B companies that are measuring Net Promoter Score. NPS was not intended to be used by B2B companies, but yet it is used every day.  Per Harvard Business Review’s article ‘The One Number You Need to Grow’ (December 2003):

“By substituting a single question for the complex black box of the typical customer satisfaction survey, companies can actually put consumer survey results to use and focus employees on the task of stimulating growth.”

The word ‘consumer’ stands out in the above excerpt in all its glory but has somehow been forgotten. Even so, the broadness of Net Promoter Score makes it incredibly difficult to move the needle within organizations to positively impact change. A low NPS can be the result of so many client engagement points. Finding the direct correlation is even harder than finding the needle in a haystack since there are multiple haystacks in even the smallest organizations. Additionally, the trend data for B2B companies is incredibly difficult to find – especially with direct competitors. For several years at Technology Service World in the after conference cocktail reception, I was directly engaged with peers from other software providers comparing each other’s NPS like a “mine is bigger than yours” contest for geeks all in an attempt to derive some type of useful benchmark. 

The Solution

Though NPS should be shelved for B2B organizations, the good news is that there is a replacement that when used properly can solve the above deficiencies with NPS.  Say hello to CES.

Like Net Promoter Score, Customer Effort Score (CES) which was also introduced by HBR in an article entitled /Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers’ (July-August 2010) asks a single question: “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” Available answers are 1 to 5 with 5 being very high. Continuous improvement in removing obstacles for customers to do business with you is key to long term growth. CES measures the perception of those obstacles during the customer journey. 

Therefore, the key to a comprehensive Customer Effort Score survey process is to not measure customers on a periodic, time based basis as is often done with NPS. Instead, the CES survey should be sent at key events during the customer journey – for example after every 5th engagement with the support team, directly at the end of training or when they customer pays their yearly invoice. By measuring CES at key times within the journey, the benchmarking can be done within the organization and allow the executive precision on where to focus attention on improving. 

As a result, Customer Effort Score (CES) represents the better path forward for most B2B companies as compared to NPS. Indeed, Harvard Business Review said as much when illustrating that CES had a higher predictive power for repurchasing than NPS. It’s easier to use and more valuable and, as a result, should replace NPS.