Ignore the “Net” in NPS: Manage Promoters and Detractors Independently

Business Methodology:
Pete Abilla

Reviewed by:
On June 7, 2013
Last modified:September 5, 2013


Managing Promoters and Detractors are often forgotten, and instead the "Net" in NPS is managed instead. This article debunks that notion and provides a different way.

Mobilizing an entire organization to a single number, such is the benefit of the Net Promoter Score. But, doing so can be misleading and can lead to behaviors overly-focused on the score and, moreover and ironically, completely miss the spirit of NPS: Improving the Customer Experience. Yes, improving the Customer Experience and improving the NPS score are not always synonymous. And, when we think they’re one and the same, we can say Goodbye Customer.

To the detriment of most companies and organization, too many are focused on the NPS score. As a consequence, they often miss the mark. The “Net” in NPS is too far from the bone, as it were, and so it makes sense that the mark is often missed by organizations.

What is needed is an understanding of the component and atomic parts of NPS. That takes us closer to the bone and the heart of the Customer Experience.

Net Promoter Score

For review, NPS is calculated by taking the % of Promoters Less the % of Detractors (img src: Satmetrix).

nps score calculation

As you can see, the value of NPS is that it is statistically very difficult to obtain promoters – there’s only a 2/11 chance of obtaining a promoter. With 7/11 of the weight slanted toward detractors, it forces the enterprise to listen and focus it’s efforts on reducing the root causes of detractors.

“Net” in Net Promoter Score (NPS)

I claim that focusing on the “Net” in NPS encourages us to miss the mark. Let me explain. Suppose the following:

Net Promoter Score (Daily)
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
NPS 40 40 60 50

Given the table above, would you agree that Day 1 and Day 2, because the NPS was the same, that the customer experience was “flat” – that is, there was no change in the actual customer experience? How about Day 3 and Day 4? Would you say that there was a degradation in the customer experience?

Now, let’s see what happened on Day 1 and Day 2.

Net Promoter Score (Daily)
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Promoter 60 50
Passive 20 40
Detractor 20 10
NPS 40 40 60 50

As you can see, 60% of Day 1 were promoters and 50% of Day 2 were promoters. Additionally, Day 1 had 20% detractors and Day 2 had 10% detractors. Yet, both Day 1 and Day 2 had an NPS of 40%. Would you still say that both day 1 and day 2 were the same in terms of customer experience?

Now, let’s see what happened in Day 3 and Day 4.

Net Promoter Score (Daily)
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Promoter 60 50 70 75
Passive 20 40 20 0
Detractor 20 10 10 25
NPS 40 40 60 50

Looking at Day 3 and Day 4, would you say that the customer experience was better on Day 3 than on Day 4? After all, Day 3 had an NPS of 60 and Day 4 had an NPS of 50. Surely, an NPS of 60 is better than an NPS of 50, right?

As you can see, Day 3 had 70% promoters and day 4 had 75% promoters, yet Day 4 had a lower NPS. Most organizations would be in a firefight, trying to understand why Day 4 “dropped 10 points”.

Manage Promoters and Detractors Independently

My example underscores the importance of managing Promoters and Detractors Independently of each other. This subtle, but most important nuance in the Net Promoter Score program is often missed, sending organizations in a tizzy chasing the overall NPS, when the individual component parts are telling an entirely different story.

Miss the Mark, Customer as Collateral Damage

Until organizations understand the subtle difference between the component parts of the Net Promoter Score and continue to manage the “Net” of NPS and not its atomic parts – Detractors and Promoters – the customer will continue to be the casualty. Evaluate how you are managing your NPS program. Test what I’ve shared here. You and I owe it to our customers.

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  1. says

    Great points — aggregate metrics can feel handy, and (almost) always hide data. NPS looks like an over-simplification, and you do a terrific job of explaining exactly how and why. Lesson: keep your atomic data handy!

  2. Peter Johnston says

    Your explanation of social media shows how an old-fashioned mindset can trip up new thinking.
    It is a bit like deciding that the sun revolves round the earth with you at the centre of the universe.

    People don’t log on to social networks to broadcast to you or receive broadcasts from you. They log on to talk with eachother. It is peer-to-peer networking, not a medium between company and customer.

    Your people graphic shows 60/20/20 detractor, fence sitter/promoter.
    It misses out that probably 80% plus of the time they don’t even know of your existence. More than that – they don’t care.
    How can they promote you if they don’t know you exist?

    Social is pivotal in many decisions. It is where people tell others about “cool stuff” they’ve bought, creating envy and desire in others. It is where people who have a vaguely defined problem find brands which could be solutions. And it is where people who are working towards a purchase decision get warned off bad products or untrustworthy companies.

    For a company it is also where you build a reputation as guys who can, who go the extra mile and who listen and produce what people want. Treating it as a sales channel is putting blinkers on a horse then asking it to do dressage.

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