The One Question that Rules Them All

It seems an increasing number of companies have been jumping on the “likelihood to recommend” Net Promoter question bandwagon, but are not willing to go so far as letting it be the one question they need to ask. Meaning the question is usually buried in a much longer survey  Even worse, sloppy surveys seem to modify the original form of the question in ways that break the validity of the Net Promoter model. Below is one such example (click to enlarge):

What is Net Promoter?

For those of you who don’t know, that one question is: How likely are you to recommend [our company] to a colleague or friend? The question scale is 0 to 10 with 0 being not at all likely to recommend and 10 being very likely to recommend. It revolutionized the industry because instead of having to ask an up-to-20-minute customer satisfaction survey, a company could instead ask just this one question. Here is the question wording directly from Satmetrix:

If you use this exact question and scale, you can then create a Net Promoter Score (NPS). The 0 to 6 responses are bucketed together as “detractors”, 7 to 8 are “passives”, and 9 to 10 are “promoters”.

To create a Net Promoter Score, subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters:

This methodology was created by Fred Reichheld (with Bain & Co.) and Satmetrix in 2003. They have openly shared the exact question wording, scale, and formula for creating a Net Promoter Score (NPS). This openness, it seems, has resulted in lots of folks thinking they can haphazardly modify this question with little thought or effort.

What’s wrong with the example modified question?

The modified version of the NPS question that I started with is taken from a survey aimed at job applicants for an HR team. They included, as a note below the question, an explanation of how the company would be using the NPS and what it means to them:

Through the asking of the “Net Promoter Score (NPS)” question we want to understand your feelings and feedback about the service experience you have received from us.

The main issue is that the majority of folks taking this survey won’t know what the NPS is. So mentioning it, along with the company’s reasons for asking, will have caused confusion among some survey respondents and left others wondering what a Net Promoter Score is

What makes the question even more problematic is that the ratings scale is labeled with the language used internally for analysis (detractors/passives/promoters) and does not match the question language, causing further confusion. The labels used are internal labels that a market researcher would use to bucket responses during analysis of the survey data.

Another issue is that the question asks respondents how likely they are to recommend. Therefore, a respondent will be looking for a scale of likelihood.   The wording, scale, and colors may also increase cognitive load on respondents because they have to try to figure out if “00 Detractor” means they are LESS of a Detractor than a “06 Detractor”. Or since 6 is bigger than 0 if a rating of “06 Detractor” is worse.  The colors may lead some to believe they should think of each bucket within itself instead of as part of the whole 00 to 10 range.

The moral of the story: don’t attempt needless modifications of the NPS question; use it out of the box.


3 responses to “The One Question that Rules Them All

  1. What’s the best known case study of a company using the pure form of NPS successfully?

    • I haven’t heard anecdotally about who is the best known company using the full NPS model. Satmetrix offers benchmarks based on their own survey of some 24,000 U.S. consumers(i.e., these benchmarks aren’t an aggregate of actual data they collect for their own clients). In 2013, USAA had the highest score.

  2. Pingback: Survey Reporting Basics, Top Box: King County Example | Insight Chaos

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