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Just One Last Question: Four ways Columbo and the Net Promoter Score are alike...

Blog by Adam Dorrell
February 14, 2018

columbo-crop.png15 September 1971: 40 years ago tonight Peter Falk starred for the first time as the rather crumpled TV detective Columbo (and that first episode was directed by Steven Spielberg, fact fans). Quickly becoming a primetime fixture of my youth, Columbo was my favourite TV ‘tec, at least until Starsky and Hutch came along.

The Net Promoter® Score helps companies measure and understand their customers loyalty. Companies with a high score are said to grow faster than other companies.

So what do Columbo and the Net Promoter® Score (NPS) have in common?

  1. Easily imitated, but hard to do well. In the 70’s, Columbo was about the most imitated cop on TV. Everyone from Mike Yarwood to the class clown could do an impression of him: you hunched over, slurred some words, said “Sir, my wife, she’s your biggest fan” and you were away. Of course, it took Falk’s commitment to perfection to keep the character interesting and engaging for nearly 30 years. • The Net Promoter® Score is a simple concept: It’s just the single question and a common scale. Deceptively simple – you can use any survey tool and work out the numbers in the spreadsheet. But like Colombo, the art is in the detail. You need to get the right question, and consistent approach to surveying.
  2. “Just one question”. Columbo gave the impression of knowing little. He lulled the murderers into a false sense of security, often playing up to their vanity. Then he asked them a seemingly innocent question that trapped them into revealing their secret. • With NPS, the “just one question” asks the customer to rate how they would recommend the service, and follows up with a request for a comment. Simple, but deceptively revealing. The short survey means high engagement (50% is not uncommon in our projects), and just reading the comments gives a great deal of insight into the issues.
  3. You already know "whodunnit". The Columbo Show turns the crime story on its head - it's called an inverted detective story. The audience knows the identity at the beginning, and the suspense is in working out how Colombo will solve the crime. • I’ve found with Net Promoter projects that most junior employees can usually already list the reasons that customers will give before the survey. Like Colombo, the fun is piecing together the “voice of the customer” evidence, and showing it to the senior managers. It is only then that the “guilty” managers make sure the right actions can get prioritised, and the employees empowered to change things.
  4. Keep asking questions. I always admired Columbo’s dogged determination. Despite his shambling appearance, he is a talented detective that has an eye for detail and can piece together puzzling evidence. He wears down his suspects by seeming to befriend them and asking question after question: “You know, there’s still something puzzling me...” or “I lay awake last night thinking about what you said...”. • And that I believe is the secret to a good Net Promoter initiative – you must never stop. You have to keep asking questions, after each transaction if possible, and keep searching for the reasons your customers want to leave you, or why they are your biggest fans.

Peter Falk died in June this year. In my opinion, he was one of the great TV stars. And his legacy lives on. By following in the footsteps of Columbo, and adopting some of Columbo’s habits, you too can play detective with the Net Promoter Score and hunt down value-destroying crimes in your business.

At CustomerGauge, we have a ton of material to help you get started, and some highly efficient tools for the Net Promoter super sleuth.

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