Is NPS approaching its sell-by date?

Do you know the feeling? You work very hard on something for a long time, building it piece by piece in line with your very well-thought-out plan, only to reach the end and realise that, after all, it does not look as good and useful as you envisaged? 

I have been there a few times. When I was a teenager, I was always trying to save money and therefore endeavored to knit my own jumpers. Stitch by stitch, I spent endless nights in front of the television, working away with my needles, following patterns that I had designed myself… because I wanted my masterpieces to be the proud expression of my own creativity, but also because I did not want to waste money on buying the knitting guides. Yes, you guessed, some of them turned out to be either too big or not really the uniquely stylish pret-a-porter fashion items I was aiming for.

An even more annoying situation is when you actually achieve exactly the result that you planned, but realise that it lacks in style or functionality. Like my first kitchen project 20 years ago, which was the perfect realisation of a professionally designed plan, but lacked the practical elements of space, flow, light and accessibility – with too many dark cabinets crammed in a way that hindered an effective use of both surfaces and storage areas.

Why the analogy? Because, as a CX leader and professional, I have spent a number of years introducing into various organisations a CX measurement framework based on the Net Promoter Score, only to come to the realisation that NPS is not the best metric to reflect the customer experience. 

Yes, NPS is a good metric to focus the organisation on the customer experience, as long as the measurement framework is clear also on its performance drivers. Yes, I always supported the top-line NPS metric with the more functional and actionable Net Easy or Customer Effort Score. And yes, it does not matter what the actual metric is, as long as it achieves the ultimate result of aligning the organisation behind the delivery of a good customer experience, focusing efforts on how to continuously improve it and make decisions based on it. So NPS was effective in its intent.

However, why use a flawed metric in the first instance?

I have spent quite a bit of time over the last year digging deeper into CX theories, as well as discussing the specific CX circumstances of various organisations across different sectors. The consistent element which is always loud and clear is that the customer’s perception of the experience delivered by an organisations is primarily dependent on deeper emotional and motivational factors. Customer emotions are the key element which determines a customer’s experience.

But does NPS reflect customers’ emotions?

Or even, does it reflect the customer’s experience at all? Indeed, it is a metric about the organisation, more than it is about the customer. We are not asking the customer how they felt during their interaction with us, how their experience was, but we are asking them whether they would recommend us – we put ourselves at the centre of their thinking and hope to turn them into our promoters, our sales reps. NPS is based on the belief that good experience = recommendation. Not only it takes the customers’ emotions out of the equation, but also it replaces the customer’s experiential factors with a willingness to talk about the brand (mind you, not the experience with the brand) to others. 

Therefore, should we stop using NPS at all in our CX performance measurement? And how do we replace it with a metric which is a true indication of how the customer felt during their interaction with us?

How do we measure emotions? 

No, the answer is not even customer sentiment. In fact, I do not believe that the sentiment analysis capabilities of current Voice of the Customer platforms are perfected enough to be an accurate representation of the customer’s emotional state. Counting the positive and negative words in their verbatims is not enough, because some of those elements will have higher importance and actually determine how the customer was left to feel at the end of the interaction or journey. How can happy with agent + unhappy with process = neutral sentiment? For this customer, either the agent was so good that it turned things round and compensated for a poor process, therefore leaving the customer satisfied with the outcome, or the process was such that independently on how good and empathetic the agent was, the customer walked away disgruntled and unsatisfied. Either way, this is not an ‘orange neutral face’ situation. And no, you cannot use the ‘green happy face’ related to the agent to inform analysis and correlations, in isolation of the ‘red unhappy face’ for the process.

So sentiment is not the answer. In a way, using the simple emoji is a better alternative - giving the customer the opportunity to tell us how they felt.

I have been investigating the elusive space of emotions measurement for a while, and indeed I have already blogged about the importance of emotions and understanding the customer’s emotional state. Over the last few months, I have had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time discussing this area with Morris Pentel.  He seems to me a bit like the ‘crazy professor’ from the movie Back to the Future, putting his science and knowledge to work to achieve the impossible and turn back time, or in his case, ‘turn emotions into maths’. While his ‘emotions machine’ to take us to the future may not be fully built yet, I do believe that his theories and pragmatic approach are extremely thought provoking and ground breaking – and I do share his views about the flaws of NPS and other current CX metrics.

His challenges in terms of NPS as a metric are simple. Just ask yourself: How many things in your life are a perfect 10? What is the difference between a 9 and an 8? What is the opposite of ‘recommend’?

Even only based on these, the case for NPS as a metric starts to shake. But if you add to it its inability to reflect the customer’s emotional state, then it crumbles altogether.

Morris’s e-score methodology addresses these concerns and provides an alternative way to measure CX using a balanced OK-centric scale and different layers of emotional engagement and importance. I’m excited to be working with him to build on these theories and create a scalable business methodology, so watch this space for further developments - or get in touch today to discuss and see how it can help you change the way you look at your customer experience. 

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