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Do Cultural Differences Impact the Net Promoter® Score?

by Cvetilena Gocheva

Currently Trending

NPS Financial Services / 27 Banking NPS Scores 2023

by Cvetilena Gocheva

Yesterday we had three enquiries within an hour from different countries relating to exactly the same topic. This one is typical: "I'm searching for information if there are cultural effects that impacts the NPS. I'm specially interested in if Dutch customers are "harder" to receive a high NPS score from then the rest of Europe”. It's not normal to hear such a specific pattern of questioning like this, and at first we thought it might be some kind of sophisticated botnet attack attacking customer loyalty firms. But when we spoke to one of the questioner it was clear it was genuine, apparently triggered by one of the company's Big Client survey results just coming back. And you guessed it, a low score from the Low Countries.

I was asked, in a conspiratorial way "Is there something like a "Dutch Effect" on scores?"

Is it true that the Dutch don't like to give a 'Ten'?

I have read before of cultural impacts on the Net Promoter Score caused by country differences, but I had not heard of this phenomena called the "Dutch Effect". I found it amusing,  because I am often called out on the effect of culture on the score. I have been in meetings all over Europe, and have been told by experts (mostly from the market research community) that:

  • "Swedes don't like to give 10s - it's part of our culture"
  • "Germans will never give a 10. In fact the German scale is 1 - 5, and reversed, where 1 is good"
  • "Us French, naturally, would never give a 10. That's too American".
  • Also "The Dutch would not give a 10 as they do not want praise too highly - it's a Calvinist thing".

My conclusion: each nationality initially believes NPS will not work in their country.

Results not great? We can fix that...

Last week, I had a shocking but thought provoking meeting at a well respected market research company in Holland. We discussed a recent survey they had done, using a Net Promoter "Would you recommend..." question for the first time on a normal annual satisfaction survey for one of their clients. Results were mediocre, but not significantly up or down on the previous year.  But when they calculated the Net Promoter Score it came out as mildly negative. Rather than give the client this potential piece of bad news they improved the NPS by including EIGHTS!* I was literally speechless as they went on to say that "it made the score look better". And on a similar trip to a large  insurance company I saw that they had softened up NPS by including 8 scorers.

I love the Netherlands, having made it home five years ago, and I would unhesitatingly recommend living here with a bicycle-powered 10. But I think it's fair to say that the Dutch have some development work to do on Customer Service (I'm looking at you, telcos). And that is surely the root cause for something like a "Dutch Effect". The reason for the low Dutch scores is just down to poor service here. That's the cultural difference - the Dutch I know say its because they hate to be subservient - it's down to national character. An equality that other societies do not have. That causes the rubbish service, which they are somewhat  resigned to. Nothing to do with being culturally 'low markers'.

On the other hand, when a company gives a good experience, my Dutch friends treasure it, and promote them in an enthusiastic way. They would certainly give a 10 if asked.

Flat Land, Not Flat Scores.

Back to my questioner at the top. I shot right back at him "Is there a difference in services offered or delivered in your NL subsidiary, benchmarked to the rest of Europe?" and he replied a little sheepishly "Probably, yes".  So we looked into the reasons there, and I suggested that rather than look for excuses on the low score, look at the reasons behind it. Tough I know, but fair.

Oh dear. The NL is the lowest here. But a good reason - the popular Dutch payment system 'iDeal' is not available to shoppers, and also delivery was significantly slower than other countries.

Here are some examples from our clients of scores from around Europe. Some of our clients have low NL scores, in others NL is even the top. The reason seems to be entirely down to service differences.


A very reasonable NL score. No 'Dutch Effect' here. Some recent improvements put the Dutch service ahead of Germany, but not as much as FR or AT which had been testing some better help pages and delivery methods.

No Weighting

I am prepared to believe that cultural changes can make differences in scores. But I’m going to share some advice we give all our CustomerGauge clients:

  1. Segment scores by country, division (or significant point of difference on service level) so you can understand what is affecting the score.
  2. Only compare apples with apples. If the service is identical, then you can do some useful benchmarking across countries with Net Promoter Score (later, you might conclude some cultural differences)
  3. Use the Net Promoter Score as an improvement point. Benchmark against improved performance. Measure continously so you can see how Country A or the score changes over time - look for at least +1 NPS point per month improvement.
  4. Getting a Promoter is tough. It's meant to be - competition for customers is fierce, so raise your game and aim for 9s and 10s.
  5. Even if the Dutch/Germans/Swedes/French/Your Customers NEVER give a 10, a 9 is also a Promoter.

At CustomerGauge, we only use "pure, standardised NPS" and we don't weight scores. Tell us what you think. Tot Ziens!


Proof that Germans and Swedes can also mark high (although some improvements need to be made overall).

*If you are not following this, you need to know that Net Promoter is calculated on '%Promoters' less '%Detractors'. Detractors give 0 - 6 on a scale of 0 -10. Promoters give 9 or 10, not 8s. Ever.

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