Net promotor score gaming, busted!

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Johan Van Genechten

Johan Van Genechten

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Customer Interactions can be observed absolutely everywhere. Last week I was waiting at the reception of one of our clients, when I witnessed an interesting one; the delivery of a brand new lease car.

It all started great. The car was not delivered at the dealership but at the employer’s premise, so with a clear focus on ease and convenience for the end customer. The lady from the dealership also tried her best to make the driver feel truly important and valued. She took the time to explain everything about the car in detail and even handed out a sharp looking brochure, including contact information for repair and maintenance and a map with driving instructions to the dealership.

I remember thinking ‘That’s how it’s done! What an excellent experience.’ The driver must have thought the same.

But what happened afterwards really disappointed me. Suddenly the dealership employee took out a questionnaire and started explaining to the driver that a phone call would follow - a transactional satisfaction survey. No harm done of course, but then she started telling the driver in clear terms what to answer and what not, because it would impact her bonus and even the marketing budget of the dealership.

What I first considered to be a perfectly orchestrated customer experience now suddenly felt more like a manipulative story. This company invested a lot of money in acquiring customer feedback, in personal customer care and proactive information sharing. But begging your customer for a good survey score makes this positive vibe disappear to make place for a negative, uncomfortable feeling of being manipulated.

Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey, the conceivers of the NPS, refer to this phenomenon as ‘gaming survey data’ by a company’s own employees. They even make a special reference to car dealers, being ‘notorious for begging customers for top survey scores’. (Click here to read the original article).

People indeed behave the way they are being measured, so make sure you measure well. Although there is no silver bullet, there are ways to avoid these misinterpretations and manipulations.

(1) First of all, instead of simply asking a default NPS question, dive deeper and ask your customers to clarify their answers with an open question. Customer loyalty and satisfaction is not only about numbers and percentages, but also about root causes, consequences and correlations. This input will be crucial to get a clearer view on what exactly drives or blocks customer satisfaction.

(2) Secondly, try to make your survey ‘sabotage-free’ by actively involving your employees in the feedback process.

Convince them of the importance and potential of genuine customer feedback. Provide them with customer feedback in a timely way. Make sure that not only the evaluation gap - between the interaction and your survey - is sufficiently small to be relevant, but also that frontline people have to wait no longer than a week to receive the results. Don’t embed feedback metrics into incentive pay too soon. Make sure they are mature and accepted in the organisation as catalyst for change, before you attach formal reward systems. Last but not least, explicitly communicate about the practice of gaming and make sure to have a clear agreement on the consequences. What’s your opinion? Did you ever get into contact with gaming?

“Net Promoter Score” is a registered trademark of Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company and Satmetrix.

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