The popularity of The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld has resulted in a plethora of Net Promoter Score ® implementations in small and large organisations.

Looking at the headline you probably think I am another academic or market researcher criticizing NPS®. On the contrary I think NPS® is a great concept. So why do I think many NPS® implementations will fail?

To explain why I believe many NPS® implementations will fail it is important to understand what NPS is all about. In my view NPS® is about three key steps:

1. Asking the Ultimate Question “How likely are you to recommend ‘xyz brand’ to a friend or colleague?”

2. Asking the reason for the score.

3. Finally taking strategic and systematic organisation wide action based on 1 & 2 above to increase promoters, reduce detractors & try to neutralise every detractor you find.

It sounds very simple doesn’t it and that is precisely the issue. The fact that NPS® is simple to understand is its greatest strength also a potential weakness. Just because it is simple to UNDERSTAND does not mean it is easy to IMPLEMENT and EMBED in an organisation.

The popularity of The Ultimate Question has resulted in a series of DIY implementations that are destined to fail. You see steps 1 & 2 are relatively easy. The most important step in terms of deriving business benefit and driving growth is Step 3 which is not as easy. Obviously you do not get results just by asking the 2 questions.

Another way to look at Step 3 is using the ‘voice of the customer’ to re-engineer an organisation’s systems, processes, culture, service, products so that it is geared to create promoters and reduce detractors. This is a completely different to a traditional organisational mindset which is about making gradual and marginal improvements to products and services with a view to merely improving customer satisfaction.

So what do you need to consistently get your customers to rate you rate you 9 or 10 against the NPS® question?

  • Strong executive engagement – This can make or break your program. How do you ensure visible long term support?
  • Staff engagement – You cannot engage customers without engaging your staff first, so how do you engage them?
  • Using the voice of the customer to enhance key strategic initiatives.
  • Designing processes to deliver customer feedback to staff and functional areas that are in the best position to take corrective action.

So let’s look at a series of examples of doomed DIY NPS® implementations:

  • A major bank does not brief staff about its NPS® strategy or the rationale behind it but asks them to recite a script after every transaction that goes a bit like this “Did I provide you with 10 out of 10 service?” This does not really roll off the tongue naturally now does it? Do you think their staff are engaged? Obviously NOT!
  • Some car dealers ask customers to rate them highly on the NPS® question while the price is still being negotiated so obviously customers feel pressured to score them highly.
  • A popular retailer asks the recommend question but not the reason why. So they know their score but they have no clue as to the reason why. So they cannot take any corrective action.
  • A retailer that asks the Net Promoter Score ® question to prospects as well as customers. Now as a prospect how can you recommend a product/service without buying it and fully experiencing it?
  • A major utility asks the NPS® question as part of its sample based tracking survey but no corrective action is taken and front line staff are not even aware of the score.

The strangest aspect of this is that all these organisations believe they are doing ‘NPS®’. As these implementations inevitably will fail guess what they will blame. You guessed it, they will say something along the lines of “NPS® does not work we’ve already tried it”.


To exacerbate the problem there are so-called marketing gurus that write articles in marketing magazines that suggest organizations should just add the Net Promoter Score question to existing tracking surveys. NPS® is best used as an operational metric but for this you need a census approach as opposed to a sample based survey approach.

They also suggest that you don’t need external help, rather you can do-it-yourself. Obviously if it was that easy everyone would be doing it and actually reaping the results.

So what’s the solution? Get qualified help from the beginning with someone that has experience in developing and implementing organisation wide initiatives and a track record of delivering results.

Ideally engage a firm that is a licensed Net Promoter Loyalty Partner and ensure that the person who is working on your implementation is Net Promoter Certified.


Net Promoter and NPS Net Promoter Score are registered trademarks of Satmetrix Systems Inc., Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld