NPS Alone is a Vanity Metric. Go Further.

Net Promoter Score is an important political number, but it’s a method of measuring customer sentiment that falls on a flat scale. Over 150 S&P companies cited NPS in 2018 earnings calls. Bonuses are based on it. Millions of dollars are spent managing it. Every industry captures it. But we see NPS alone as a vanity metric that does not give you the “why” behind customer emotion—the thing you must act on in order to affect change.

NPS is, more often than not, measured in an untimely manner using strategies that worked well in the past, but not in today’s mobile world. For example, many brands prompt NPS long after an experience has concluded, via email, SMS text, or web survey rather than in their app. This lag does not provide a cohesive in-app experience, resulting in out-of-context communication when brands try to close the loop with detractors to understand the emotion behind their sentiment.

But aside from how we at Apptentive feel about NPS, we know it’s still important to our customers. NPS may not be going away any time soon, but there are steps to take to make NPS data more actionable. This post outlines common NPS mistakes and ways to adjust your current strategy to provide a better customer experience.

Common NPS Mistakes

Mistake #1: A higher NPS score is better

It’s better to look at customer emotion holistically than in a vacuum, even if it produces a lower NPS. Rather than gaming the system and inflating your NPS by targeting fans over risks, it’s better to target the whole and learn from feedback. You cannot act on emotion you haven’t collected, and NPS doesn’t tell us a thing about the “why” behind customer emotion.

In surveying close to a million consumers for our 2020 mobile engagement benchmark report, the average NPS for Apptentive customers in 2019 was +25. For iOS apps, the score was +28. For Android apps, the score was +21.

The 2019 results are likely lower than you might expect as a “good” score typically falls between +40-50, depending on your industry. But we aren’t surprised. At Apptentive, we advocate for our customers to run non-biased surveys over NPS in order to truly dig into customer emotion driving sentiment. The +25 score is lower than average because it’s realistic; our customers don’t just target their fans in order to get a high result.

Mistake #2: NPS can help predict business outcomes

NPS value as a linked predictor of business outcomes falls short. In a recent survey of over 500 customer experience professionals conducted by Maritz, 85 percent of respondents indicated that they either currently use or had previously used NPS as their primary metric and/or key CX performance indicator. When it comes to gauging customer attitude, NPS is fine. But NPS is useless in understanding actual customer behavior.

Source: MaritzCX, 2020

Measurements like NPS only tell a small part of the story. Collecting and analyzing emotion allows you to go deeper into specific feelings customers have, which can be as diverse as your customer base.

Mistake #3: Experiences are best gauged by numbers

Think about the evolution of four of the most popular social media platforms today: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Facebook and LinkedIn no longer just offer “likes” — they have “reactions” where people can respond to content with a single Emoji indicating emotion. Twitter threw away its star-shaped like button and introduced a heart-shaped one. Instagram seems to be the one platform that got it right from the start with its heart-shaped button.

All of these changes happened because the major social media companies saw a customer need to go beyond unemotional stars and likes in order to really express how they’re feeling. Now, brands are able to gather much better insight into how people actually feel about their brand and the content they’re sharing. People measure and think about experiences in emotions, not numbers.

When you ask someone if they liked something, their first instinct isn’t to give you a ranking on a scale. No, they will use words that describe feelings and emotions instead. This is how our brains are naturally hardwired, and ultimately, it provides much better insight into the actual experience than some arbitrary number.

How to Improve the Way You Ask for NPS

The future of sentiment is unlocking emotion data, but that doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. Rather than replace your existing Voice of the Customer initiatives, there are ways to augment and enhance your methods.

It all starts with capturing customer emotion. As consumers, we now expect the brands we love to deliver the right message, to the right person, via the right medium, at the right place, and at the right time across all of their digital and onsite experiences. The more personalized an experience can be, the better suited it is for capturing true customer emotion. Look for ways to capture emotion in your existing customer journey by proactively engaging your customers at minimally disruptive times during their experience, like after they complete a purchase or take a series of high-value actions. Apptentive can help get you there through leveraging in-app surveys, notes, messages, and more.

Capturing emotion and analyzing sentiment allows you to then enrich your customer intelligence and profiles with actionable data. What you’re able to do with the data you gather looks different depending on your role and business goals.

By learning which customers are fans and which customers are at risk of churn, you may choose to:

  • Enrich behavioral churn prediction models with shifts in sentiment
  • Benchmark “Love” as an emotional signal with NPS and CSat
  • Prioritize and validate your product roadmaps and experiential investments
  • Utilize emotion for customization and personalization
  • Drive adoption and revenue growth from “repeat fans”
  • Act on the specifics of when and why your customers are at risk

For product managers, understanding and acting on customer emotion and sentiment at the profile level is key to future digital customer experience success. Voice of the Customer technology has changed, and the opportunity to learn from your customers before taking action is bigger than ever — if you have the right technology in place.

Wrapping Up

Aside from acting as a badge of honor (and sometimes a point of shame), NPS alone isn’t a true indicator of customer experience. Rather, NPS is one small part of a complex, multi-layered customer emotion puzzle. But by taking steps to improve how you prompt for NPS and how you interpret the data, it no longer needs to be the single satisfaction metric your company hangs its hat on.

About the Author


Ashley Sefferman is Head of Content at Apptentive. Its customer feedback platform helps you get actionable feedback from 100x more customers—at scale—through sentiment prompts, surveys, two-way messages, custom notes, and more. A digital communication and content strategy enthusiast, She writes about multichannel customer engagement strategies, acting on customer feedback, and making the digital world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter @ashseff.

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