My Daughter Made Me Do It: Adding a New Question to the NPS® Survey

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

E.B. White, of The New Yorker fame and the White of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, taught that simplicity releases power. I completely agree, which is why there are only two questions in the classic Net Promoter System® survey:

  1. How likely are you to recommend our [service, product, or company] to a friend? (0—10)
  2. What’s the primary reason for your score? (open-text verbatim answer)

This simplicity has released a lot of power in terms of clarity and action, making the Net Promoter Score® an effective approach for building better relationships with customers and employees, and a valuable tool for more than two-thirds of all large companies.

For my daughter, Jenny, however, that isn’t good enough. She has added a third question.

Jenny works for a large wine-and-spirits retail chain called Total Wine & More, and is responsible for, among other things, customer feedback. "Dad, you’re not going to like this," she told me not long ago, knowing that I can be a bit of a stickler about NPS, "but we went from two questions to three."

You bet I was skeptical. If customers have something important to say, they’ll put it in the open-text verbatim answer to Question 2, I would argue. Question creep is all too easy. First you bump to three, then four, and before you know it, your survey is a chore to fill out. You’ve introduced complexity, the dark force that absorbs power and sucks up energy. E.B. White would be mortified.

So Jenny showed me her evidence. When answering Question 2, her best customers typically responded with a verbatim like this: "We love shopping at your Fairfax store because Angela at the checkout always makes us feel welcome. She does a fantastic job." That’s important feedback. It gives the store manager the opportunity to praise Angela at the next storewide huddle, publicly recognizing a job well done and illustrating the value of strong customer service. 

What that feedback doesn’t give Jenny is insight into what her team could be doing better. And that’s where the third question—Is there anything we could have done to make your experience more exceptional?—comes in.

She directs Question 3 to two sets of customers. First, those who answer Question 1 with a 9 or 10. These are your "promoters," your loyal, enthusiastic fans, the greatest source of referral, and the group most likely to remain customers and increase their purchases over time. And, second, those who give a 7 or 8, whom we call "passives" because they’re satisfied for now, but if a competitor catches their eye, they may defect. 

In response, one promoter noted that he couldn’t find his favorite craft beer on recent visits. This opened the opportunity for the store manager to call that customer and thank him for taking the time to fill out the survey. She shared that because of his feedback, Angela got a shout out at the weekly huddle and was very appreciative. Then the manager addressed that third answer. She let him know she had stashed some of that special craft beer he loved behind the service desk, and promised it would be there the next time he visited. This is something we refer to in our NPS work as "closing the loop," and Jenny’s question had turned it into a chance to truly delight this valuable customer. 

Often, the answers to that extra question are relevant to many customers. Hearing from multiple promoters that the parking lot needs better lighting should push that investment toward the top of the priority list, for example.

The third question, which I now call the "Jenny Question," has proven an important addition in many situations. It helps companies learn from the customers who know them best, who comprise their best opportunity for growth, and who want them to succeed. Promoters know the business, and listening to their ideas for how you might do better is quite smart. 

Maybe it’s an overstatement to say that Jenny made me do it. It was the evidence she provided that won me over. But trust me when I say that it’s hard for me to imagine any evidence sufficiently powerful to persuade me to add a fourth. I’m too much of believer in simplicity for that. And I know that E.B. White would turn over in his grave (with style, of course).

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


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