Why Net Promoter Scores are NOT Good Measures of Your Reputation

March 30, 2013

By: Marjorie Benzkofer

Do you have a single relationship in your life where you could ask just one question and fully understand the current mindset of that person?

Why then do companies rely so heavily on a single, “silver bullet” question to measure their relationship and reputation with customers?

Net promoter scores are gathered by asking one simple question — “How likely is it that you would recommend [insert company name here] to a friend or colleague?” Proponents of the method believe that by tracking customers who are promoters, passives, or detractors you get a clear measure of your company’s performance through your customers’ eyes.

But if I stopped you on your way out of a restaurant and asked “How likely is it that you would recommend to a friend or colleague having another meal at the restaurant where you just dined?” does that answer really tell me anything meaningful about the experience?

You might answer as a strong promoter, but only because you know the owner well and want to be supportive even though you had a terrible meal. You might score as a detractor but the fault lies entirely with a horrific dinner companion rather than a problem with the restaurant itself.

Perhaps it is one of many interesting stats on a dashboard of insights, but it hardly tells the complete story one needs when it comes to your reputation and the future of your business. Net promoter scores aren’t a sufficient basis for action. They don’t provide insights that can be used to shape programs or operations. Yet in a search for simplicity in an era of big data, too many executives have begun to cling to this number like a lifeboat.

Those who embrace the Net Promoter methodology will be quick to say that it is important to follow up with additional questions about “why” a customer responded as such. But that insight seems often to get lost in the appendices as companies rally the competitive spirit of their management and their employees around a single number.

But anyone who really invests in developing a meaningful relationship – whether with a mate, a friend or a customer – knows it takes work and a deeper understanding of real expectations and experiences.

Executives who want to understand how and where their reputation is driving their business and where it is holding it back must explore a variety of fronts about around how a company is creating value, how it is perceived as having an impact on society and even the degree of confidence in management’s ability to do the right thing when the going gets tough.

All of these things require a deeper exercise in reputation research. And that research should go beyond just the end consumer. The shared opinions and beliefs of regulators, employees, investors all have the ability to accelerate a company’s growth or stop it dead in its tracks.

Next time you are at lunch with someone, ask them if they would recommend to a friend or colleague having the lunch again. Wait for it. Then ask yourself if you really got what you were looking for.

Marjorie Benzkofer is the Global Lead of FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Management Practice. You can reach her at Marjorie.Benzkofer@fleishman.com.