Are you going to NPS me? Yes, I am!

This is the topic of a talk I’m giving this week at a conference in Melbourne. It is in response to another talk entitled “Are you going to NPS me? No I’m not” in which Dr Dave Stewart of Marketing Decision Analysis will be presenting the case that Net Promoter is a deeply flawed concept, and should be discarded by organisations that espouse customer advocacy. To be honest, Dave’s position is probably close to what I thought of the Net Promoter Score concept when it was first introduced by a pretty smart academic and business consultant called Fred Reichheld back in 2003. Reichheld’s basic premise was that you only need to ask one question in order to understand if a customer is going to stay loyal to you or not: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?”
Fred, being the excellent marketeer that he is, proclaimed the benefits of this Net Promoter Score (NPS) concept in respected publications like the Harvard Business Review and then in his own book The Ultimate Question which came out in 2006, shortly after I took on the CEO role here at Deep-Insight. Since then, NPS has became very popular as a customer loyalty metric. However, it has also attracted some heavy criticism – in particular from one researcher called Tim Keiningham who gave NPS a particularly scathing review saying that he and his research team could find no evidence for the claims made by Reichheld. (It should be said that Keiningham worked for the market research company Ipsos so his views may not be completely unbiased.)

At that time, my own view was that NPS was probably too simplistic a metric for business-to-business (B2B) companies. I also felt that Deep-Insight’s own customer methodology – which also included a ‘would you recommend’ question – was a much better fit for complex business relationships. And if I’m honest, there was an element of ‘Not Invented Here’ going on in our own organisation as well.

So we decided to ignore NPS.

But here’s the thing: our customers didn’t. When we ran customer feedback programmes for customers like Reed Elsevier and Atos in the UK, ABN AMRO in the Netherlands, Santander in Poland, and the Toll Group in Australia, they would all ask: “Can you add in the NPS question for us – we have to report the numbers back to headquarters?” Of course, being the good marketeers that we were, we duly obliged. However, we always gave the results back in a separate spreadsheet, so that it wouldn’t contaminate our own reports and our own wonderful methodology!

Roll the clock forward to 2013. NPS still hadn’t gone away. In fact it had become even more popular, particularly with large international companies where a simple understandable metric was needed to compare results across different divisions and geographical areas. And when I finally looked into it, I discovered that Deep-Insight had actually been gathering NPS data from customers across 86 different countries since 2006. That little fact was an eye-opener, and we now even use it on the front page of our website.

Around the same time we also did some research into our own database to find out what really drove loyalty and profitability in our clients. Now this is not an easy thing to do, as many of you who have tried will know. But where we had several years of customer feedback data, it was relatively straightforward to analyse how many of our clients’ B2B customers were still with them, and for those who have deliberately defected, we investigated if that defection could have been predicted by a poor Net Promoter Score or by any of the metrics in our own CRQ methodology.

I have to say that the results were quite interesting. It transpired that while a low ‘Likelihood To Recommend’ was not the BEST predictor of customer defection, it was actually a pretty good one. Deep-Insight’s overall Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) metric was a slightly better predictor. A poor Commitment score – one of the key components of CRQ – was the best predictor of whether a B2B client was going to defect to the competition or not.

So there we had it: NPS did actually work.

It worked not because it’s the BEST predictor of whether a client was going to defect, but because it’s a GOOD predictor, coupled with the fact that NPS has been embraced by some of the world’s leading organisations as an easy-to-use and internationally-accepted customer benchmark. At Deep-Insight, we may have come a little late to the party – we only incorporated the Net Promoter Score into our customer methodology in early-2014 – but we have found the combination of NPS and our own CRQ metrics works really well for our clients.

Now let’s go back to the cartoon at the top of the blog (and thank you Tom Fishburne for allowing us to use it). Surely if there’s is a statistically purer methodology than NPS, why not use that instead?

The answer is simple: most senior executives aren’t interested in re-inventing the wheel. They are much more interested in taking the feedback from their clients and acting on it, so that they can protect and enhance the revenues they get from those clients.

So for those B2B executives who are wondering if NPS is the right customer metric for them or not, I would suggest that you’re asking the wrong question. What good CEOs and Sales Directors are asking these days is:

“If my Net Promoter Score is low or if I have a lot of Opponents and Stalkers as clients, what do I do?”

In fact, the really successful CEOs and Sales Directors are spending the time thinking about the challenges of putting a really effective customer experience (CX) programme in place, rather than worrying about the purity of the metrics. That’s what you should be doing too.

 

Susan and Bill have Relationship Problems! (Part III)

The last time we met Susan and Bill, they were discussing survival tactics. Thankfully, they have managed to get the company back on an even keel – excuse the boating pun – over the past few months and now have a new challenge to face.

At the last board meeting, the CEO asked them to prepare a strategy that would transform the company from an ‘Even Keel’ company to becoming a ‘Leading Edge’ company.

“I don’t want us to be competing on price. I want us to be seen by our clients as unique, innovative, really easy to do business with. Now it’s up to you two to make that happen. Get back to me by 23 September with a strategy. And it better be good.”

Unfortunately, Susan and Bill are at loggerheads trying to plot a course towards that Leading Edge organisation that their CEO so desperately wants to become.

Different Views from Sales and Marketing

Susan“Leading Edge is a simple sales concept. Leading Edge = More Sales. It really is as simple as that. We can become Leading Edge if Bill provides me with market-beating products. That’s the thing he can’t seem to grasp.”

Bill:“Leading Edge is a complex brand concept. It’s how you are seen vis-à-vis the competition. We’re a services business and the differentiating factor is the quality of our service and account teams, not the products. That’s what Susan fails to grasp.”

Susan’s view is (as usual) plain and easy to grasp: “Give me decent products/services and I’ll sell them. If the products/services are Leading Edge, we’ll sell more of them. It’s not really my job to DESIGN them, so don’t go asking me about transforming this company into a leading edge organisation.”

Bill has a slightly more nuanced view. He accepts that it’s his job to translate customer needs into the sorts of products and services that the clients will love and buy, but he also makes the valid point that he and Susan are in a B2B services business, and that Susan’s account teams (as well as the Service/Delivery teams) have a key role in making the service a Leading Edge one in the client’s mind.

Bridging the Gap

As usual, Bill is half-right. And so is Susan.

But let’s start by bringing a little clarity on the terms we are using. Let’s begin with a definition of what a ‘unique’ brand is in the business-to-business world.

In the B2B world, the uniqueness of your brand is dependent on a combination of whether you provide a unique Solution for your clients and whether they find the Experience of working with you to be uniquely satisfying.

Deep-Insight defines Solution as a combination of innovationleading edge and value-for-money. These are three related but slightly different concepts but if you score well on all three, the chances are that you have an offering that can help your clients improve their standing in the marketplace in a way that none of your competitors can provide. When we talk about ‘solutions’ we’re not just talking ‘product’. As Bill says, it’s as much about how the account managers, sales and delivery teams position your company’s product or service, as it is about the product/service itself.

Experience is a measure of how easy you are to do business with and if you are seen as a trusted partner. You can have the best products or services in the world but if your clients can’t work with you and don’t see your people as trusted partners, your brand is going to suffer.

So when Bill and Susan’s CEO talks about wanting to be a unique, innovative, leading edge company, he’s really talking about building a B2B brand that excels at all the different elements that we group under the headings Solution and Experience. And that means the Bill and Susan need to work together to get all those elements right. But as the methodology above shows, you can’t build a unique B2B brand without having an excellent service to underpin it. So Bill and Susan and going to have to rope in the Operations Director as well. We wish them well on their journey.

Ultimately, the real definition of Leading Edge will be dictated by your customers. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask them.