Over the last two weeks there has been a discussion on LinkedIn as to whether NPS (the Net Promoter Score) is the best way of measuring customer satisfaction – specifically in a business-to-business (B2B) context.  The responses came from two camps:-

Those who wanted a simple, easy to understand (as in are we getting better or worse) measure that could form part of a top-level executive dashboard (typically reported on a monthly basis) were all in favour of NPS.

NPS, if you didn’t know, is the theory that in a customer satisfaction survey you only need to ask one question, which is “Would you recommend us [to your friends / business associates, depending on the context]?” In order for NPS to work, it has to be assumed that all customers are more or less equal; that there is a single point of sale or delivery where the hygiene and customer service factors come into play; and if the score drops the situation can be audited easily by visiting the store / website / ward / restaurant / filling station – go check the point of sale out for yourself!

Other contributors pointed out that, in B2B, organisations have far fewer customers; all customers are different; there are many touch-points as opposed to one point of sale; and that, rather than there being a “customer experience” there are “customer relationships”.  NPS doesn’t provide useable data in a B2B setting where there is no point of sale and multi-layered relationships cannot be audited easily. It might be OK for a CEO, who typically won’t be around for long (the average tenure being just over two years).  But for a VP of sales or an operations director?

For a useful and useable B2B customer satisfaction survey, where the feedback allows you to improve your business by increasing profitable sales, you need three elements.

  1.  You need to ask lots of questions – drilling down, so that you understand what the feedback is telling you – across a wide range of issues.
  2.  You need a high response rate. By definition, in B2B you don’t have many customers.  If you use, for example, web-based surveys or telephone surveys, then the response rates (5% to 15% and 20% to 40% respectively) a) don’t cover enough customers and b) just aren’t robust enough for you to justify strategic decisions.
  3.  The third thing you need for a successful B2B customer satisfaction survey is attributable data; you need to know who said what if you are going to champion those 1 to 1 relationships.  (Unfortunately, the majority of market researchers belong to the Market Research Society or ESOMAR – and their code of conduct disallows disclosure).

A quote from an operations VP summed up the discussion.  Pointing at the latest NPS score, which had been pinned on to the works notice board, he said to me “7.2. What the f*** can I do with that?”

So, you can go for the simplistic NPS approach – easy to collect, easy to present, but impossible to interpret and action.  Or you can go with something more useful.

What is B2B?

Net Promoter Score – The Search for the Magic Pill

What did B2C do before NPS?