What? Zero is a good Net Promoter Score?

Deep-Insight works with clients spanning all industries. From experience we know it’s tougher to deliver services consistently well in some industries than it is in others.

One particularly tough industry is Outsourcing. Outsourcing services include IT, payroll, finance, manufacturing, call centres, washroom services and so on. 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 firms. The theory is simple: focus on your own core competences and leave the rest to firms that can run those activities 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, spiral out of control.

I spend a lot of my time with leadership teams helping them understand what their major corporate (and government) clients think of them. When I present their customers’ feedback – 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 in our industry?”

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

Some industries are different

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. There should be little difference in CRQ or NPS scores across industries as the fundamentals of a business relationship are the same.

And yet, in practice, some industries ARE different. For example, corporate banks seem to find it easier to build strong relationships with their clients than companies that provide complex outsourcing solutions.

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

7 Deadly Sins of Outsourcing

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:

 

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

 

 

 

The Terrible Three

It’s not just the company that’s doing the outsourcing that’s at fault. The vendors – or outsourcing service providers – have 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’ that competes for new contracts. Before the ink is dry on the contract, the bid team has moved on to the next major deal. They leave the 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. One way of achieving lower costs is through ‘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. 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. Very often it’s not, and even when it is, there are always teething problems.

What is a GOOD Net Promoter Score for an Outsourcing company?

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 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 be 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). If you’re successful, you’ll outperform the competition and make much greater profits for you and your shareholders.
Does NPS Work for B2B Companies

Why B2B Benchmarking is NOT a good idea!

Am I better than the competition?

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. But the thing is that B2B benchmarking is not a good idea.

Seriously. You should strive to be a ‘Unique’ company and not an average company.

Most of our clients want to know how they are doing against the benchmark score for their industry. My response: “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. They should focus purely on being indispensable to their existing customers. Still, it’s 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. Because B2B benchmarking is not a good idea!

What exactly is your industry?

Are you in the insurance industry, or the insurance broking industry? Or are you in both? Or re you an outsourcing company that specialises in insurance third-party processing?

They’re all in the insurance world but these are very different industries. They have different dynamics and there are differences in average scores from one industry to the next. For example, we know from experience that many IT and most BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) companies tend to get lower than average scores, while corporate banking and professional services companies tend to get higher than average scores. Firms operating in niche markets also 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, 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.

But I still want to benchmark my performance!

I thought you might say that.

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.)

Remember that B2B benchmarking is not a good idea. It’s not a BAD idea. It’s just that you should ignore the competition and become unique for your customers.

Good luck!

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

This is the topic of a talk I’m giving this week at a customer loyalty 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. Dave will say that NPS 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.

Tom Fishburn

Net Promoter Score

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. The question is: “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. He then promoted it 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, NPS has also attracted some heavy criticism. Tim Keiningham 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.

The Rise of NPS

But here’s the thing: our customers didn’t ignore it. 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.

Is NPS a good predictor of loyalty?

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. If they 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. A low ‘Likelihood To Recommend’ was not the BEST predictor of customer defection. However it was actually a pretty good predictor. 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 came a little late to the party. We only incorporated Net Promoter Score into our customer methodology in early-2014. Today we find that the combination of NPS and our own CRQ metrics works really well for our clients.

The future for NPS

Now let’s go back to the cartoon at the top of the blog (and thank you to the wonderful Tom Fishburne for allowing us to use it). If there 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.