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Stop Playing Games with the Net Promoter System®

Blog by Ian Luck
November 16, 2022

I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: NPS® isn’t just about the score, it’s what you do with it. Therefore, it constantly baffles me that companies are still trying to “game” their Net Promoter System®—ultimately skewing results, stagnating progress and losing the true value of their CX program.

As a consumer or employee, you may have experienced the “gaming” process some companies play in order to bloat their Net Promoter Score®. Gaming a Net Promoter System includes any practice with the purpose of achieving a higher score. Some gaming techniques are unintentional, others aren’t. However, there are four standard techniques I’d like to touch on, with some general examples of how they tend to play out.

Introducing Bias by Signaling Outcomes

It seems innocent enough: Why wouldn’t you help customers identify what scores designate a detractor, passive and promoter? Wrong. Despite what you may tell yourself, “educating” your customers on the NPS scale introduces bias. This may frustrate some frontline employees. For example, some customers may never give a score better than 8, believing it to be a good score.

Educating customers on how the Net Promoter® scale works and the categories behind it is one of the most common gaming techniques out there. Why the drama? Well, think about it: You telling a customer that their score of 6 makes them a detractor influences how they answer their next survey.

Many companies do this type of gaming, perhaps without the c-suite even knowing about it. For example, after visiting the Microsoft Store to demo their new virtual reality system (VR; very cool by the way), I was prompted to take an NPS survey in the store. Instead of leaving me to simply take the survey alone, the employee who gave the demo promptly told me that 9 and 10 are the only scores that register as positive. Whether the employee knew that he was effectively guiding my answer, it’s hard to know. But, you do see the problem, right?

Explaining the scores and the categories isn’t the only way companies try to “educate”. Many companies will ask CustomerGauge CSMs if they should color the scale or use different smiley faces to show the three categories. To this we say: NO! Again, a Net Promoter System only works if you get accurate and immediate answers, not guided responses. Much like Apple who listens closely and systematically to their customers. If a customer gives you a score of 9 but is a passive, you’re less likely to identify areas for improvement or link your Net Promoter Score to revenue growth.


Remember, how you train your employees to understand the Net Promoter scale shouldn’t be used on customers. You’ll only dirty up your data.

Now, before you say, “Well, how will our customers understand the scale?”, stop! Have faith that your customers understand that 0 is a bad score and 10 is a good score. Typical NPS surveys are clear about how the scale works, such as Apple’s shown below.


Alternatively, you can also ask a follow-up question: “What would it take for you to give us a 10?”, for example, to gain a better understanding of the data. You can also make it a practice to filter out nonsensical scores like, such as, if a customer gives you a 0 and then puts “Excellent service” in a comment box. However, this happens few and far between.

(As a side note: I also discourage swapping the scale from 10 to 0. Often companies do this to also skew their scores. Management should make sure to at least check on the types of surveys that employees are sending out to ensure this doesn’t happen. Again, doing something like this does nothing to help a company monetize their customer experience, and if anything, can do more damage than good.)


Don’t mistake bribery for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. Offering customers incentives for giving a good score is an intentional form of gaming. Why on earth would I not give a score of 10 to a sales person if I knew that I’d get a free oil change as a result?

Ultimately, this type of gaming should be discouraged among employees. This can be difficult when bonuses and overall performance are tied closely to NPS scores. There are ways to remedy this issue:

  • Centralize/automate communication to customers about surveying
  • Involve management and executives in closing the loop
  • Ensure a direct delivery of surveys to customers (don’t have employees directly call for an answer)
  • Educate employees about the benefits of accurate results

A related alternative to bribery is threats, for instance by indicating that customers may receive a poorer service if they don’t give a high score. Threatening customers with poorer service isn’t going to win people over. Your employees aren’t running a mafia operation so no shake-downs, please.


Imagine: After visiting a dealership, you get a call from your sales rep. They tell you about a survey they are sending, and then go on to describe how their job depends on the score you give. Yikes.

Besides this being an awkward position to put your customers in, guilt-gaming also has a big impact on your NPS score. Imagine every employee at a dealership does this. Corporate then looks at those numbers and says: “Hey, look at how good the dealership in Burlington, MA is doing. Let’s find out what they’re doing and use it to inform our other locations in the Greater Massachusetts area.”

It’s important to remember this data has a domino effect on how companies adjust business processes based on Voice of Customer. To ensure that this type of gaming doesn’t happen, companies can centralize/automate communication to customers about surveys as well as involve management and executives in closing the loop.

Picking Favorites

While everyone likes a bit of flattery, constructive criticism is necessary for well, being constructive. The same goes for your customer experience program. Picking customers that are likely to give higher scores is a common gaming tactic.

Net Promoter System contacts

An intentional form of this type of gaming can happen when employees either “cherry-pick” survey participants or exclude customers likely to churn. Ultimately, it results in only a partial view of your company’s true customer experience. It’s vital for your survey sample to be representative of the population.

However, this type of gaming can also happen unintentionally. For instance, many B2B companies suffer from a poor CRM data quality and not having sufficient contacts per customers. People registered in your CRM database are typically your main contacts and the people you have the best relationships with.

To solve this, ensure that you have a robust survey system that does not involve any frontline staff in choosing who to send surveys to. Also, be careful about those systems on your automated telephone system (i.e., “please stay on the line to take our survey”). Agents can cut off the caller if they feel the experience might not have been up to snuff.

To learn more about ensuring a good sample size for your survey, check out our Root Cause Analysis eBook.


To ensure that this type of gaming, intentional or not, doesn’t happen, it’s vital that you get employee and cross-company buy-in. Prepare training materials that warn employees of the dangers gaming can have on the results of your system.

Looking for more best practices? Click below and check out our latest eBook on monetizing your Net Promoter System.

About the Author

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Ian Luck
Ian has been in the CX market for over a decade evangelizing best-practices and strategies for increasing the ROI of customer programs. He loves a loud guitar, a thick non-fiction book, and a beach day with his family. You can catch him around the north shore of Boston, MA.
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