To NPS or Not To NPS?

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By Evan Rich

I love everything about Delta Airlines from their customer service to their loyalty program. I’ve picked vacation spots based on where Delta flies, and I’ve even opted to take a stop-over rather than fly direct to my destination on another airline. But what do I do a few days after my flight when an email arrives asking how likely I am to recommend Delta? I ignore it. According to a quick GMail search, Delta has asked me this very simple question more than 100 times, and yet I still have never provided them with an answer.  

A (not so) brief intro to NPS

“How likely are you to recommend Business XYZ to a friend or colleague?” is the question asked to generate the data points used to calculate a company’s Net Promoter Score, or NPS. Respondents will be asked to provide a numerical response, ranging from 0 (Not at all likely) to 10 (Very likely). If you’re already fluent in NPS, then you know how scores are calculated and may want to skip ahead to the next section.  

Customers who respond with a 6 or lower are considered to be detractors. If asked about your business, they will likely provide negative feedback and attempt to dissuade the prospective buyer from utilizing your service. Detractors may even take to social media or other forums to voice complaints. Customers who answer with a 7 or 8 are considered passive in that they won’t voluntarily recommend your product and, if asked, cannot be counted on to deliver a strong endorsement.

Your promoters (9s and 10s) truly love your product and will gladly tell anyone who asks them. In fact, they’ll seek people out to tell them how great they think you are and encourage them to give your service a try. NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of respondents who are detractors from those who are promoters. Thus, scores range from -100 (0% promoters, 100% detractors) to 100 (100% promoters, 0% detractors). Though it varies by industry and business model, general consensus is that an NPS greater than zero is the mark of a relatively healthy client base and anything over 50 is elite.   

Why NPS matters…

There are plenty of tools out there that do all of these calculations for you, but I’ve spelled it out in painstaking detail to demonstrate how high the bar is for earning a promoter. Your promoters will be an invaluable asset at every turn in your existing relationship, delivering valuable product feedback and partnering with you to secure renewals and qualify up-sells. They’ll help you generate new business opportunities by introducing you to their peers at other key accounts and even refer top talent toward your organization.

Your promoters will give you an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses because they want to see you succeed. However, the same can often be said of your detractors. They may be frustrated by some element of your product or service, or they may just be annoyed with the frequency of your surveying, but they still want you to succeed. Someone in their organization made a decision to buy your product, and even if that person is no longer around, someone you’ve surveyed will have to absorb the switching costs. Asking users why they’ve given you a low score can uncover potential issues with your product or service and highlight potential churn risks. NPS surveys initiate an opportunity for you to have this conversation before it’s too late.  

…But it isn’t everything

On the 0-10 scale, I’m an unquestioned promoter, 10 out of 10, for Delta. I’ve encouraged friends and co-workers with reward status on other airlines to switch to Delta, and I’ve recommended their co-branded credit card to more than a few people. So why haven’t I filled out a single survey? I thought about this, and came up with a few explanations that I think address some of the flaws with NPS. In no particular order:

  1. Nothing has changed since the last time they asked.

  2. Everything is fine. If I’m not happy about something, I’ll let them know.

  3. It’s not clear to me who, if anyone, benefits from my answering this question.

  4. I’m too busy. I don’t have time for this.

  5. If they offered me some incentive, I’d likely complete the survey.

Some of your customers will opt out of NPS surveys because they don’t see the point of them or don’t think it’s worth their time. That’s okay. You can try offering SWAG or gift cards to incentivize people to respond. Your score still may not be perfectly representative of your entire customer base, but the data you will obtain from customers who do answer your surveys will be invaluable to strengthening those relationships and have a meaningful impact on how you think about the overall customer experience.

Do you need help determining if it would be valuable for your organization to gather NPS data? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers Leadership Coaching. For more information on our consulting services as well as our classes and other engagements please visit our website at

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Evan Rich - Evan formed the Customer Success team at NS1, an infrastructure technology company that is changing how internet applications are delivered. As Director of Customer Success, he is responsible for account management, support and professional services. Evan holds a BS from Cornell University and resides in New York City.