What? Zero is a good Net Promoter Score?

Deep-Insight works with clients spanning all industries – and our results show that it can be tougher to deliver services consistently well (and build strong relationships) in some industries than it is in others.

One particularly tough industry is the provision of Outsourcing services. These services include IT, payroll, finance, manufacturing, call centres, washroom services… in fact, there are very few functions and processes that have not been outsourced. This phenomenon is not just confined to the private sector – some of the biggest outsourcing deals involve the provision of services to local, regional and central government clients.

Over the past two decades, outsourcing has become commonplace as companies have focused on their core areas of expertise and hived off other functions to specialist organisations that can provide those services better, faster, cheaper than they can. Unfortunately, many of these arrangements fail to deliver the expected benefits, and many service providers get badly burnt when large contracts that they have bid for, and won, run out of control.

I spend a lot of my time with senior executive teams – including those in the outsourcing industry – helping them understand what their major corporate (and government) clients think of them. When I present their customers’ feedback to these leadership teams – in the format of Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) – one of the most common questions I get asked is “Are those scores typical of our industry?”

Put it another way: they want to know what a ‘good’ CRQ or NPS score is for their industry.


Many executives tell me that their industry is different. My stock response is that the nature of a business relationship is the same regardless of what industry you operate in. If the fundamentals of a business relationship are the same from one industry to the next, there should be little difference in CRQ or NPS scores across different industries.

And yet, in practice, we do see significant differences in certain industries. For example, corporate banks seem to find it easier to build strong relationships with their corporate clients than companies that provide complex outsourcing solutions.

So why is this? Why does it appear to be so difficult for service providers to get really good customer feedback results and scores? And – back to the title of this blog – what is a ‘good’ Net Promoter Score if you operate in the Outsourcing industry?


Several academics such as Jérôme Barthélemy have tried to address this question. Jérôme has identified the “7 Deadly Sins of Outsourcing” – the pitfalls that companies blunder into when they make a decision to outsource a process or entire function to a service provider. These seven sins are:

  1. Outsourcing activities that should not be outsourced;
  2. Selecting the wrong vendor;
  3. Writing a poor contract;
  4. Overlooking personnel issues;
  5. Losing control over the outsourced activity;
  6. Overlooking the hidden costs of outsourcing; and
  7. Failing to plan an exit strategy (i.e., vendor switch or reintegration of an outsourced activity)


It’s not just the company that’s doing the outsourcing that’s at fault. The vendors – or outsourcing service providers – are also guilty of their own deadly sins, the most common of which (the Terrible Three) are the following:

-The Sales – Delivery Gap. This typically happens when a vendor has a ‘bid team’ – a professional sales and commercial group – that bids for new contracts. Before the ink is dry ve to be able to on the contract, the bid team has moved onto the next major deal, having handed over delivery and implementation to a completely different team that looks at the contract and shouts: “WHAT? You expect us to deliver that? With those resources? And for that cost?”

-The Efficiency Challenge. Outsourcing providers need economies of scale to make money. The unit cost of providing payroll services to 10 companies is lower than to a single company, but only if the service provider can establish a large efficient ‘factory’ for the delivery of these services. In most cases, the ‘factory’ managers operate on principles that are based on efficiency and cost containment rather than on delighting the customer.

-The Offshoring Issue. As discussed above, service providers must run an outsourced operation at a lower cost that the company doing the outsourcing. One way of achieving that is offshoring – locating the ‘factory’ in another part of the world where labour costs are significantly lower. So the UK service provider moves the IT development to India, or the Australian service provider transfers the call centre functions to the Philippines. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s meticulously planned and executed. Often it’s not, and even when it is, there are always teething problems.


In a previous blog I said that an ‘average’ Net Promoter Score for a European B2B company is in the region of +10% and that scores in excess of +30% are truly excellent.

Our experience is that an ‘average’ NPS score for Outsourcing companies is negative – typically in the region of -10% and that any NPS result in positive territory can regarded as a good result.

So there you have it. Zero CAN be a good Net Promoter Score for some European B2B companies.

If you are a senior executive in a company that provides outsourcing services, you can settle for mediocrity and target your staff to achieve a zero or slightly positive NPS. Alternatively, you can work with your clients to make sure they avoid the 7 Deadly Sins (as well as making sure you avoid the Terrible Three internal sins), thereby outperforming the competition and making much greater profits for you and your shareholders.

Why B2B Benchmarking is NOT a good idea!

If I got a penny for every time a client has asked “How do we compare against our competitors?” or “How are we doing against the benchmark for our industry?” I’d be a rich man.

Most of our clients want to know how they are doing against the benchmark score for their industry. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them: “If you really aspire to being a mediocre company, then I’ll tell you what the average score is for your industry and how you compare against the average. But you can do better than that. You can be UNIQUE.”

In fairness, some of our clients have latched on to the message that they should ignore the competition and focus purely on being indispensable to their customers, but it’s still tempting to see where you stand in a league tables against your industry peers.

So let me ask a few questions about why you want to do benchmarking.

-What exactly is your industry? Are you in the insurance industry, or the insurance broking industry? Or both? Or are you an outsourcing company that specialises in insurance third-party processing? These are all different industries, with different dynamics. And there are differences in average scores from one industry to the next. For example, we know from experience that IT and BPO outsourcing companies tend to get lower than average scores from their clients, while corporate or business banking companies tend to get slightly higher than average scores. Firms operating in niche markets sometimes find it easier to be seen as different and unique.

-If I say you’re at the industry benchmark, will you really be happy? If you aspire to hit the average score for your industry, or your country, or the globe, you’re setting the bar pretty low. What you’re telling me is that you want to be an average company. To take my point to its extreme, benchmarking is little more than a recipe for mediocrity.

-Do you realise that international benchmarks are inherently flawed? This is not just because the insurance broking or widget-manufacturing markets in the Netherlands have a completely different structure than they do in Australia. It’s also because Dutch and Australian clients have completely different approaches to the way they answer customer surveys. There are some good academic papers on how different nationalities are pre-disposed to answering questionnaires differently. Let me give just one example. Some people will claim that the average Net Promoter Score (NPS) for B2B companies is between 25% and 30%, regardless of industry. However, these figures are heavily skewed towards US companies. Our experience of gathering NPS scores across 86 different countries since 2006 is that the average NPS score for any B2B industry is closer to 10%. But then again, our clients are more heavily weighted towards European and Australian respondents, who generally tend to score less positively than their American counterparts.

If you really do want to benchmark yourself, then let me suggest that you approach the subject of benchmarking in a slightly different fashion:

  1. Start by setting the bar higher. Aspire to be the best, or at the very least to be ‘Unique’ in the eyes of your customers. Our database at Deep-Insight shows that only 10% of B2B companies are considered Unique by their clients, but these Unique companies have significantly stronger relationships – and retention rates – than the ‘average’ company. Unique companies typically have twice the number of ‘Ambassadors’ and have NPS scores of 30% or more.
  1. Benchmark yourself against your own performance last year. That’s a much more reliable way of seeing if you are becoming more customer-centric or not. The journey to becoming a customer-centric organisation is a long one – don’t think you’re going to achieve it in anything less than three years – so be sure to check your progress formally on at least an annual basis.
  1. Benchmark yourself internally. See what your clients think of you, compared to the scores that are achieved by other divisions or business lines within the same company. If you’re an international company, benchmark yourself against other geographies (but watch out for the cultural differences between, say, American and European divisions.)

Good luck!

Why Sample Sizes are Nonsense (in the B2B World)

Most of Deep-Insight’s work is based on helping large international B2B organisations run effective Customer Experience (CX) programmes.

The key to running a good CX programme is understanding how to change the culture of an organisation to make it truly customer-centric, and that has to be based on regular high-quality conversations – both formal and informal – with your B2B clients.

Without regular client feedback, sales directors and account teams will not be in a position to address small issues before they escalate to a point where they damage or destroy the client relationship.

When we plan Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ™) assessments for our clients, one of the questions I regularly get asked is “How many of our clients should we sample?”  The stock answer that I’ve been using for the past decade is “Think Census, Not Sample”. In other words, get feedback from your entire client base – every single one – and it’s the answer I still use.

It’s not meant to be a glib response but there are a few subtleties underpinning the answer that are worth exploring.


Many market research and customer insight people – even in B2B organisations – tend to approach the subject of customer feedback from a consumer perspective, where there are tried and trusted approaches for surveying large customer bases, or “populations” to use the technical term. If you’re not that familiar with these approaches or terminology like random sampling, margins of error and confidence levels, have a look at the Box below.


If you’re not a market researcher or statistician, don’t worry – there are plenty of good primers on the Internet explaining the basics of sampling techniques and associated terms – here’s one from YouGov.

You’ll also find several handy little calculators on the Internet (here’s a link to one) which let you know how many respondents are required for a particular population (customer base) in order to give a confidence level and margin of error. From this, it’s easy to calculate the number of individuals you need to invite to participate in a survey in order to get a robust answer.

Most opinion polls are conducted with a random sample of at least 1,000 people and here’s the reason why: pollsters like to be confident that their results are within a margin of error of 3% or less. Supposing the voting population in a country is 10 million people. Plug that number into our online calculator and we see that a 3% margin of error and a confidence level of 95% requires a sample of 1,067.

All that is fine if you’re working in a consumer environment or if you have tens (or hundreds) of thousands of SME customers. However, the traditional sampling techniques have less value when you are a B2B organisation and the vast proportion of revenues is generated by a handful of large clients. There may be a “long tail” of smaller customers but in most cases the Pareto Principle applies, whereby 80% of revenues are generated by 20% of clients. In some cases, the ratio can be 90/10 rather than 80/20. In such cases, the old traditional sampling approach needs to be chucked out of the nearest window and a different set of principles applied.


Our approach is to be pragmatic and follow the money – concentrate on those clients that generate the majority of the revenues, and do a ‘deep dive’ into those relationships.

It’s probably easier to explain using an example.

Case Study – Large UK Services Company
Revenues: Over £1 billion
Key Clients: 100
One of Deep-Insight’s UK clients has over 10,000 employees and generates annual revenues in excess of £1 billion. However, its customer base is actually quite small and the contracts it has with these key clients are extremely large. The company has several hundred clients in total but the vast majority of its revenues come from the ‘Top 100’ and even among the ‘Top 100’ the revenues are skewed heavily towards the 10 largest clients.

So how do you run a CX programme when your client base looks like this? In that particular case, the company has chosen to focus exclusively on its ‘Top 100′ clients. Purists might argue that this is not representative of the full customer base. This may well be true but it definitely is representative of the full revenue base, and that’s the commercial perspective of “following the money.”

From a pragmatic perspective, it makes little sense to take a sample of the Top 100 clients. You should attempt to get feedback from every single one and ideally you want to get a wide representation of views from across each of those 100 clients.

Even from a statistical perspective, it makes little sense to sample – if you need convincing, have a look at the second Box below.


Suppose there are 10 key individuals (at most) in each ‘Top 100’ client whose feedback is really “important” (in other words, the decision-makers who will renew the current contract when it’s up for renewal) that’s still only a population of 1,000 individuals across your Top 100 clients – run the numbers and you’ll see that you need to include all, in order to get a statistically significant sample.

Let’s plug those figures from our Case Study into the online calculator and see what happens.

For a population of 1,000 decision-makers, we need 278 responses to get a robust score (robust being a margin of error of 5% and a confidence level of 95%). Deep-Insight will typically achieve completion rates of 35-40% from its online B2B assessments so that means we need to invite 700-800 of those 1,000 key individuals to participate.

If you think a margin of error of 5% is too high, then plug in 3% into the online calculator. Now the number of responses jumps to 517 out of 1,000. This means you DEFINITELY need to invite all 1,000 to participate to get anywhere near your target margin of error.

Successful CX programmes in B2B companies are not built around statistics. They are built around empowering staff and providing account managers with all the customer feedback they need to manage client relationships more effectively. That means getting feedback from ALL individuals in those key clients and working really hard with the account teams to get participation and completion rates as high as possible.

So when you’re planning your next Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ™) assessment, remember to get the account managers involved and “Think Census, Not Sample”.