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Net Promoter Score: the "Wow Signal" for Business

Blog by Adam Dorrell
February 14, 2018


Thirty-two years ago this week, the UK was coming to the end of a summer that featured the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the anti-establishment version of “God Save the Queen” by the Pistols and a new film called “Star Wars”. In Ohio, a volunteer observer at a radio telescope was looking through print-outs of antenna data, and was so excited by what he saw that he wrote “Wow!” on the margins.

What Dr Jerry R. Ehman had found is debated to this day. The 'Wow! Signal was a startlingly strong signal detected on August 15, 1977 by the SETI project at The Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University. The signal bore expected hallmarks of potential non-terrestrial and non-solar system origin. It lasted for 72 seconds, the full duration Big Ear observed it, but has not been detected again. Amazed at how closely the signal matched the expected signature of an interstellar signal in the antenna used, Ehman circled the signal on the computer printout and wrote the comment "Wow!" on its side. This comment became the name of the signal, and has been featured in popular culture since (“X-Files” etc).

SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) projects use scientific methods to Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Various techniques are used, but all scan parts of the sky consistently in a measured way, then carefully analyse the results to look for data that stands out from the background noise.

Companies with Net Promoter Score® programs are doing a similar observation activity, but on their customer base. By using a slim survey of just a few questions, they consistently measure their universe of customer loyalty (either on individual transactions, or on customer relationships) and analyse the 0-10 score and Voice of Customer to understand how to improve customer services. Sometimes the results can have a similar “Wow!” effect that Jerry Ehman found.

To illustrate, I have two (real, but disguised) examples here from our software CustomerGauge that helps companies measure Net Promoter Score.

Segment Analysis of Net Promoter Score

The first shows how doing some simple segment analysis can throw out some interesting data. In this case the data is segmented by salesperson. Although the number of responses is a little small, it was obvious from the high score and positive customer comments that one of the salespeople was doing something special. These customers were incredibly positive about how they had been dealt with, and the score reflected that. By analysing the customer feedback (sometimes called “verbatims”), the Net Promoter Score team found that this salesperson had developed her own quoting tool that allowed her to respond quickly to customer requests. This “Wow!” factor was making the difference, and the quoting tool was adopted by the company as a best practice. In the next survey the customers showed their appreciation.

Time analysis of Net Promoter Score

The second example shows Net Promoter Score responses each week to a particular customer service team. Scores were consistently around the “10”, and were getting worse. But at some stage, the scores jumped up, and then rose to a new plateau at around the 30 mark. After looking at the background, our client found what happened: The department manager had resigned, and scores were tailing off. It appeared that morale and leadership were low. The upward spike in scores was due to a new manager coming in, and setting new standards for service and customer interactions, which immediately had a positive (and lasting) impact. Same team, different leadership style – but significant improvement in loyalty. The new manager was also a fan of Net Promoter, and used customer feedback to reinforce good behaviour. Result for company? Widespread adoption of this persons techniques, and using Net Promoter in other service teams with CustomerGauge measurement.

Using the Net Promoter Score is not always about finding the “Wow!” signal. It can be most useful to show a consistent improvement over time. But cultural adoption of a new metric can take a while – and flagging examples of small but significant activities can be used to impact a large organisation. Unlike installing a radio telescope to search through galaxies, starting a Net Promoter Score program with CustomerGauge is not expensive, and you can be up and running with your own program within two weeks. Call it “SECI” if you like: Search for Extra-Customer Intelligence, and start to hunt for your own “Wow!” signal.

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