“How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”
You’ve probably encountered this question dozens of times after using a product or service—and there’s a reason why so many companies are eager to know the answer.
In 2003, New York Times bestselling author and business strategist Frederick F. Reichheld suggested that a single question could effectively predict business growth. From then on, brands began to measure the likelihood of customers advocating on their behalf. That metric became known as the Net Promoter Score, or NPS.
In a world where word of mouth can make or break a brand, improving your Net Promoter Score can set you up for success—and customer support teams play a critical role in making that happen.
This article will cover everything customer support teams need to know about NPS, including why it matters, how to measure it, and how to improve it.
First, let’s start with the basics.
Net Promoter Score is a customer experience (CX) metric used to quantify customer loyalty. Specifically, NPS gauges the likelihood of a customer recommending a company’s product or service to a friend, family member, or colleague.
NPS is measured via a single-question survey, although it can include an optional comment section (don’t worry, we’ll explain NPS calculation in-depth later on).
If you’re wondering how valuable NPS can be, consider that two-thirds of Fortune 1000 companies track it. That’s because it helps brands distinguish how many of their customers are willing to generate free publicity and how many are just, well, customers. Accordingly, brands will go to great lengths to improve it.
“It’s more than a metric,” says Michelle Peluso, chief customer officer, CVS Health. “One could use the word ‘religion.’”
NPS alone can’t indicate the success of a customer support team, much less an entire organization, but it can offer some useful hints.
For example, if a specific support agent consistently generates high NPS with their customers, CX managers can analyze those conversations to see what’s driving those scores. Maybe they’re good at getting to the root cause of problems or have a high first call resolution (FCR) rate.
Conversely, CX managers can monitor agents whose customers have a low NPS. This can open discussions about areas for improvement and help CX managers refine their coaching techniques to plug knowledge gaps.
NPS is just one piece of the customer experience puzzle. The more data you collect alongside NPS, the easier it is to understand what’s impacting your customer experience.
Despite the simplicity of a single question, calculating NPS requires a fair bit of number crunching.
After a customer uses your product or service, ask them via email: “How likely are you to recommend [company] to a friend/family/colleague?” The response is given on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “not at all likely to recommend” and 10 being “extremely likely to recommend.”
Promoters: customers who respond with 9 or 10
Passives: customers who respond with 7 or 8
Detractors: customers who respond with 6 and under
Grab your calculator for this step.
Start by calculating the percentage of respondents in each category. Next, subtract the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters. That number is your Net Promoter Score. (Note: you don’t include passives in the equation, and NPS is always listed as a whole number, not a percentage.)
Here’s a quick example. After gathering all the survey data, you find out that 60% of your respondents are promoters, 20% are passives, and 30% are detractors. Your calculation would look like this:
[60% passives] - [30% detractors] = +30 NPS
It’s important to maximize the sample size of respondents when you calculate your NPS. The more responses you have, the more accurate your score will be. Otherwise, you could make yourself vulnerable to outliers.
According to SurveyMonkey’s global benchmark data, which aggregates the NPS of more than 150,000 organizations, the average score is +32, and the median is +44. Companies that rank in the top 25% in the world for NPS have a score of +72 or higher.
Average NPS varies by industry, so it’s best to see how you stack up against your industry average rather than comparing your NPS to an arbitrary standard.
Here are a few averages:
You can check out the full list of NPS benchmarks by industry here.
As Frederick Reichheld pointed out in Harvard Business Review, NPS substitutes “a single question for the complex black box” of standard customer satisfaction surveys. NPS has undoubtedly given organizations an efficient method to monitor customer loyalty. However, with that convenience comes drawbacks.
A 2008 study from the Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management concluded that “Net Promoter cannot reasonably be categorised as the ‘single most reliable indicator of a company’s ability to grow.’”
Here are several reasons why that is:
NPS creates what we call an experience blindspot because it can’t tell CX managers how or where to start if they want to optimize their agent performance (and the customer experience) because they’re limited to a single number.
There’s a workaround for this problem: many companies will place an open text box below their NPS surveys asking why a customer gave the response they did. However, you can’t guarantee that all respondents will fill them out, and even if they do, the responses might not be as thoughtful or as comprehensive as you want.
In other words, measuring NPS is like taking your temperature: the thermometer can tell you if you have a fever, but you need to go to a doctor to figure out why and how to get better (we’ll do a deeper dive into improving NPS in the next section).
Evaluating agents based solely on the average NPS they produce usually isn’t fair since certain specialists deal with customers who are expected to be more difficult than others.
For example, a customer support agent working with someone trying to cancel their account will likely produce a lower NPS than an agent who onboards new customers. Also, NPS outliers (both high and low) can skew your perception of how loyal your customers are.
Since NPS is vulnerable to extreme fluctuations, it shouldn’t be seen as a single source of truth.
NPS can hint toward the potential of word-of-mouth (WOM) success, but it can’t guarantee it will happen. Let’s say you enjoy using a certain productivity software. You might suggest it if a friend asks for a recommendation, but otherwise, you don’t have a real reason to advocate.
Companies might benefit more from referral incentives, such as discount codes when new users sign up via a current user’s referral link.
Improving NPS isn’t a matter of fixating on that specific metric. Instead, it’s about maximizing the potential of your agents, so they can deliver experiences that drive word-of-mouth marketing.
A quality assurance score indicates how well customer support agents adhere to your business’ standards for quality service. A QA scorecard could include questions, such as:
Analyzing QA scores gives CX managers the granular data they need to give actionable feedback, resulting in better customer experiences (driving NPS). For example, if you have an all-star agent who delivers high NPS, you can see how they handle difficult situations, then coach lower-performing agents to do the same.
You can check out our comprehensive guide to QA scores here.
First call resolution (FCR) is the rate at which support tickets are resolved on the first call or contact (chat, email, social). When agents resolve an issue in one go, it reduces friction and sets the stage to turn customers into advocates.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: would you be more likely to refer a brand that thoroughly handled your problem the first time you reached out or a brand you had to call four times to get a resolution?
Remember, customers don’t need sympathy; they need results—and results can help boost NPS.
When you speed through customer support tickets, you not only risk making the customer uncomfortable, but you also risk leaving issues unresolved (both of which can detract from a customer’s NPS response).
Shifting your team’s focus from speed to quality means authentically treating customers like friends, so you put the odds of a referral in your favor.
Some CX teams aim to constantly lower their average handle time (AHT)—the time it takes to close a ticket. You certainly don’t want to drag out interactions longer than necessary, but don’t rush interactions to the point where they could damage your NPS.
The customer effort score (CES) indicates how easy or difficult an experience was with a company. CES and NPS go hand-in-hand because products and services that are easy to use are, generally, more likely to be referred.
Case in point: Netflix made it easier than ever to stream content from anywhere—their NPS is +68, well above their streaming competitors.
Some aspects of CES are product-focused and therefore out of the realm of CX managers. However, support teams can proactively reduce CES by reaching out to new customers to see if they’re having any difficulties rather than waiting for them to reach out.
Support teams can also send post-purchase surveys, asking questions along the lines of “What are the easiest/most difficult parts about our product?” This feedback can inform future coaching sessions, so agents know which issues to address when onboarding new customers.
If a customer responds to your NPS survey with a score between 1-6, an agent should quickly reach out to resolve their issue and salvage the relationship. Don’t think of detractors as a lost cause. You might find that their low score was the result of a misunderstanding that can benefit from a quick fix. Then, you can send a follow-up survey, which will improve your NPS.
NPS can be an efficient and useful indicator of customer loyalty. But if you want to deliver truly remarkable customer experiences, your CX teams have to dig deeper than NPS. You need to know more than if customers are willing to become advocates—you need to know why (or why not).
That’s where QA data comes in to give CX managers 360-degree insights into what’s driving the customer experience, and more importantly, how to improve it. The more quality data you have, the easier it is to turn passive customers into raving fans.
Want to see how your CX team can apply QA data to boost customer advocacy? Request a MaestroQA demo today.