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Would NPS be better if its scale only had three numbers?

A question I have been asking myself recently is: Would Net Promoter Score (NPS) be better if it’s scale only had three numbers?

Now, before I get accused of heresy, let me say up front that I am a fan of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system’s central question:

“How likely are you to recommend [our product or service] to your colleagues, friends or family?”

In fact, I think it is a useful and valuable question the answer to which can help firms better understand the levels of loyalty and advocacy that exists within their customer base.

When asking the question, the NPS system asks customers to rate their likelihood to recommend a product or a service on a zero to 10 scale. Those customers that score the firm zero to 6 (not likely to recommend to neutral) are labelled as Detractors. Those scoring 7 and 8 are labelled as being Passive, whilst those scoring the firm 9 and 10 are labelled Promoters and extremely likely to recommend.

However, on the back of a recent interview I conducted with Nicola Millard of BT, I found myself questioning the value of a zero to 10 scale for a couple of reasons:

1. BT’s Simple Approach – BT have developed a new scoring system, ‘Net Easy’ – inspired by NPS and Customer Effort Score (CES) – which helps them understand how easy it is for their customers to do business with them. Their experience and other industry research shows that if you make it easy for your customers then they are more likely to return and be loyal. More interesting is how their ‘Net Easy’ score system has been stripped down to a minimal three point scale, where -1 is for difficult, 0 is for neutral and +1 is for easy.

2. The Questionable Value Of Some Scores – Michael Lowenstein of Beyond Philosophy made a comment on my interview with Nicola and in it he said that, in studies that they have conducted, only an NPS score of 10 showed a moderate correlation with actual positive and resultant customer behaviour (repeat custom and advocacy). He went on to add that scores of 8 or 9 show ‘virtually no connection to perceived value and future action’. So, if research shows that a score of 8 or 9 gives no real indication of what a customer is going to do in future then, surely, the question must be: what is the point of having a score of 8 or 9?

The problems don’t stop there if we add in the subjective element at play within larger scales. For example, a score of eight, nine or ten, depending on the product or service, will mean different things to different people of different gender, language, age, culture and experience. Personally, I know that I struggle with some of these scales and gauging the difference between being fairly likely, quite likely, very likely or extremely likely.

Surely the thing that is of real value to a customer and a business is whether or not the customer is satisfied, found it easy to do business with them or whether they are going to recommend them. Or not.

So, if we want clearer answers and insights then shouldn’t we be brave enough to ask fewer and more definite questions? Would it not, therefore, be more useful to just ask a customer:

  1. Are you satisfied: Yes? No? Neutral/Don’t Know?
  2. Did we make it easy for you? Yes? No? Neutral/Don’t Know?
  3. Will you recommend us to your your colleagues, friends or family? Yes? No? Neutral/Don’t Know?

Wouldn’t these type of questions and scales not produce more direct, useful and actionable feedback?

Therefore, would NPS (or any customer facing scale for that matter) be better if it only had three numbers representing yes, no or neutral/don’t know?

This post was originally published on my column here.

Adrian Swinscoe

Adrian Swinscoe brings over 16 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies. Adrian Swinscoe is a customer service and experience advisor, speaker, workshop and masterclass leader and aspirant punk at Punk CX. He helps to create, develop and grow businesses that take care of their customers in the best way possible and create the great teams that are required to do that. A former teacher, economist, manager of businesses and leader of teams. He is also a contributor for Forbes, where he writes about customer service and customer experience.