Net Promoter Score: The Best and Most Humbling Way to Improve Yourself and your Business
Last January, at the end of an exhausting week in New York, during which I ran a design sprint, led a full-day summit for 120 senior product leaders in tech, interviewed the former CEO of Etsy and gave a new talk on passion and purpose, I went back to my hotel room. Before crashing, I sent out a pile of Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. NPS measures the willingness of your audience to recommend you, your company or your product to a friend or colleague. I consider NPS to be the ultimate customer satisfaction measurement tool and I measure my work religiously.
The results rolled in quickly. Here’s how I did:
- Design sprint: 80
- Product leader summit: 68
- CEO interview: 40
- Talk: -36 (yes, negative!)
I’d like to say I took it in stride, but the truth is, after a physically and mentally-draining week, I sat on my hotel bed and cried.
Experts tell you to embrace failure. The truth is, failing sucks. I spent hours preparing and rehearsing, and it took a lot to stand up in front of people I respect and share my thoughts on a very personal subject. Getting a negative score really hurt. But it also drove me to ask myself some tough questions, collect more feedback and rewrite the talk. I’m proud to say that when I gave the revised talk a few weeks later, I received an NPS score of 40, and eventually got it to 63.
If you really want to be the best you can be, NPS surveys are the most direct, honest way to figure out where you need to improve. Between my role as a product leader at startups and a VC at Spero Ventures, I’ve easily sent out more than 100 NPS surveys, and I’ve found the feedback invaluable.
Below are five tips on how you can get the most out of running your own NPS surveys:
Tip #1: Learn how NPS works
To measure NPS, first ask your audience: “On a scale of 0–10, would you recommend our [insert what you’re measuring here] to a friend or colleague?” The NPS is calculated by subtracting the % of survey respondents who are detractors from the % of survey respondents who are promoters. Your score will land somewhere between -100 to 100. (Pro tip: Survey Monkey has a pre-set NPS question which will automatically calculate the score for you).
Tip #2: Understand your score
If most of your audience gives you a score of 9 or 10, you’ll end up with a high score. Promoters are people who love your product and will shout it from the rooftops. If most of your customers give you a score of 0–6, you’ll end up with a low or negative score. Detractors are important to understand, as they can have such negative views that they could complain about their experience on social media. If 100% of your audience gives you a 7 or 8 (we call them “passives”), you’ll end up with a score of 0. Yes, NPS can be brutal.
A very good NPS score is 50+. An exceptional NPS score is 70+ (Google, Apple and Amazon NPS scores are typically in the 70s). A decent score is in the 0–40 range, but there is room to improve. If your startup’s NPS is below 0, you have a lot of issues to address.
Sometimes, I see the NPS score reflected incorrectly in pitch decks. NPS: 9.1/10. Don’t do this. The NPS number is a raw number from -100 to 100. Reporting it improperly may lead investors to question if you understand how to measure your other business metrics properly as well.
Tip #3: Know when to measure NPS
Generally speaking, you should measure NPS immediately after the end of your customer’s full experience with your product or service.
The faster you distribute the feedback link, the higher the response rate. For an event, send your survey later that night. For a product, the timing is less clear. Measuring it too early can result in misleading scores.
When I was Chief Product Officer at Keaton Row, a personal online styling platform, we asked the NPS question immediately after our customers had received their personalized digital lookbook — a collection of recommended clothes, curated by a stylist, based on the client’s body shape, style preferences, and needs. Our initial NPS scores were in the 70s — a ridiculously high score for an early stage startup.
Later on, we began measuring NPS 30 days after the customer had signed up. We were horrified to learn that our NPS had dropped to the low teens (and in some bad months, negative). How was that possible when the initial NPS was so high? It turns out, after our customer shopped from her lookbook, she experienced issues with out-of-stocks, the returns process, and customer service responsiveness. As harsh as it was to accept, the 30-day NPS was our truest score, as it was an accurate measure of our customer’s full experience with our service.
Tip #4: Learn why your customers feel the way they do
NPS can be much more than a customer satisfaction tool — it can also be a powerful learning tool. More important than the NPS question itself are the follow-up questions. I always ask two additional open-ended questions: “What did you like best?” and “What could be improved?” You can use your promoters feedback to learn what your secret sauce is, double down on that and also use it to inform your value proposition messaging for your website and advertising efforts.
When filtering for detractors responses, you can learn what’s not working and use the feedback to guide your operations and product roadmap.
Tip #5: Do something about it
As a result of what we learned at Keaton Row, we prioritized a project to automate the returns process, surfaced more accurate inventory and out-of-stock information to our customers, and increased the number of customer service staff across different time zones.
We also used NPS as a monthly KPI metric that was displayed on our business dashboards, and discussed our monthly score at our team meetings. For us, the only NPS number that was good was an NPS that was better than last month’s.
I always ask startups if they are measuring NPS. If they aren’t, I have to wonder whether the team is truly as customer-oriented as they say. Why would you not measure how your customers feel about your product, and use it to get better? I’m an NPS devotee and always looking to learn more. If you use NPS in your business, how has it worked for you?