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NPS® as part of a longer survey: An all too common mistake

Blog by Ian Luck
February 14, 2018

In the last few years the Net Promoter System® has become increasingly popular, however as a result of this NPS is being used in ever more ways that deviate from what NPS truly is. Many companies use it but adapt it to their own practices. Rather than change for NPS they want NPS to change for them, but is this any longer NPS?

Personally I am flexible to change, so long as NPS’s functionality still remains the same. For new methods may be conceived that provide greater efficiency or better suit the culture of a company, but if it no longer serves the same function then it is no longer NPS and has become something else. One area where companies continually destroy the functionality of NPS is in making NPS part of a much longer survey.

Why then is there incompatibility between NPS in its true two to three question form and long surveys? What is it that makes NPS lose its functionality if it is made part of a longer survey?

What’s so bad about long surveys anyway? To begin with: Response rates

One of the key drivers behind NPS’s creation was a reaction to the horribly low response rates of lengthy market research or feedback surveys; response rates that typically range from 5% to 10% and sometimes even lower.

The strategy of NPS is to understand customers but also remain short enough that large numbers of customers are willing to respond. Alternatively, many surveys blatantly compromise response rates in favor of wanting to know more and more. What good is it knowing more though, if no one responds? This is why a typical NPS survey length is just two to three questions, which receives a response rate of roughly 40% all the up to 70% in some cases.

Alternatively, a response rate of only 5% or 10%, means it becomes increasingly difficult to make statements about your entire customer base; the confidence of any predictions or claims become very low. As stated above, a long survey lets you know a lot of information about a very small group of people. Ask yourself then: Would you rather know a lot of information or know all of your customers?

It’s not just about response rates: Long surveys are just a lot of work

Long surveys require large amounts of work to even achieve the poor response rates listed above. To receive barely passable response rates, enormous effort to entice respondents is continually needed through incentives, continual emailing, calling, social media campaigns and other media.

While the stress of implementation pertains to increasing response rates, long surveys too also cause headaches in design. As departments and individuals vie for their own research interests, the task of deciding upon what to ask and how to ask requires a great deal of work and discussion.

Rather than asking a few key questions that are specific in their nature, long surveys often mean the amalgamation of many different research interests or areas of query. Questions are constructed that attempt to answer too many ideas in one survey. While many of the questions posed within surveys are often a waste of time, as a great deal of data is already available to companies through sales data and customer accounts. The desire to know a lot of information rather than know all your customers, as the question was posed above, becomes quite irrelevant in many surveys as much of the information a company needs is only available.

While at the analytical end, the result of surveys are often so complex, they are only analyzable by research experts, taking weeks or months in some cases to produce results. NPS style questions then, quickly get lost amongst the mass of other questions and cease to be analyzed independently.

Compared against other questions, customer loyalty becomes no longer the number one priority of analysis. While furthermore, the vast array of questions asked means a great deal of them are not acted upon, and ultimately prove wasteful.

True NPS should be easy

When NPS is carried out in the correct manner, that being a short survey, design, implementation and analysis become far less taxing.

The two to three questions that companies’ employee sometimes differ a little from the standard questions of NPS, but their ultimate goal is the same; to measure loyalty and the reasons behind such loyalty. Thus there are limited permutations that designing the survey can take.

There is little need for a large number of questions, as smart surveying means tapping into the wealth of data a company already has about their customers. Things such as demographics, purchase history and even call center interactions are all there for the picking. Through just two or three smart questions paired with data already obtained, NPS surveys can gain as much data as long unstructured 30 question research surveys. Additionally, NPS does not look to know every little aspect of a customer’s experience with a company. For NPS takes the position that gathering this data is ultimately wasteful, as the vast majority of it will not be acted upon.

Implementing NPS surveys still require work such as sending out surveys, deciding when to send or who to send them to. However the need to push, struggle and strive to get customers to respond has no relevance, as the shortness of NPS surveys does the work for you.

Analytically NPS works as an instant feedback system. Analytics teams do not need to spend weeks cross-referencing data, performing complicated regression analyses and significance tests, and creating graphs that still need interpreting for the majority of the company.

The score the customer presents you with and their painpoint or praise is right there for everyone to understand. NPS measures the extremes, the highs and lows of a customer’s experience, looking to know the really good and the really bad things. This serves the function of making it is easily actionable not only because it measures extremes, but also because of the small number of questions it asks. Keeping NPS in its true form means what you really want to know – loyalty – is not diluted and confused by a wealth of other information.

There are numerous more reasons why NPS as part of a longer survey destroys the functionality of NPS, but the aim of this article has been to highlight those few that appear to be the most damaging and the most common. The perception that so long as you ask loyalty related questions, irrespective of the length of the survey, is doing NPS is false. NPS is a customer feedback system that is not simply about what it measures but about how it measures.

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