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Is a new industry standard keeping executives from focusing on the relationships that matter?
"Would you be willing to recommend us?"
This question, underlying the Net Promoter Score (NPS) concept, is capturing the imagination of many executives in diverse industries (See "Influential Leaders" September 2007). Tired of five-inch-thick reports on customer satisfaction -- most of them simply Excel graphs in rainbow colors -- executives are flocking faster than ever to the NPS, gravitating to the concept due to its simplicity and clarity.
These executives fail to realize that they're not solving their core issue -- they're simply replacing one problem with another. Previously, many customer-satisfaction reports failed simply because no action followed them. Executives gathered in the conference room for several hours, reviewed the results, nodded in agreement, and left to continue their business as usual. The multibillion-dollar customer research industry failed to notice what was wrong with that picture and continued to spoon-feed businesses expensive statistical data, little of which was actionable.
Now, however, with NPS, executives can finally reduce their time commitment to customers' responses to a single question. But consider why you bother to ask for customer feedback in the first place, and what you do with it. Rather than driving change, NPS aligns with the corporate desire for a collective "Thank you" letter: Executives somehow think that customers simply forgot to send that letter, and they'd like to give customers a last chance to do so through a customer survey. In other words, "Would you recommend us?" equals "Aren't we great?"
When high scores arrive, no one wonders, "What did we do to deserve it?" -- the company's greatness is obvious, most of all to itself. Only when complaints and dissatisfaction are expressed do internal arguments start.
In our study, 71 percent of respondents claimed that they have difficulties obtaining internal buy-in for actionable customer feedback. Stripped from the politically correct tone, executives who receive bad scores simply call the customers liars. They cannot handle the bad news, denying it through any one of several rationalizations: The sample is not representative; only the upset customers responded; it was the wrong time; they were the wrong questions; and so forth.
Customer feedback must be designated from Day One as a vehicle to drive actions. In fact, before launching any attempt to solicit customer feedback, a group of managers must have the responsibility to act. Even if your scores are high, you should focus on the efforts that led to those scores and how to adapt and improve them. Feedback should never be a vehicle for bonuses or self-gratification, as it is with many companies.
In short, don't ask, if you can't act. Customers are not looking "to vent" -- they're seeking action and change. You should be ready to deliver both. And when you do ask, ask the questions that can lead you to action. Net Promoter Score tells you nothing about what you need to do to get better. If you want to be honest with your customers, ask the questions that will improve your relationships, not your score.