How likely are you to recommend this article?

From the experiences of one of our own (but really, we all agree):


It’s official. I’ve had it. Enough with NPS already!


If you already know what NPS is, skip the next paragraph. If you’re not sure, take a minute to brush up:

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a customer loyalty metric that has received much attention since its introduction in the 2003 Harvard Business Review article “The One Number You Need to Grow” by Fred Reichheld.  NPS tracks how likely a person is to recommend a brand to his or her friends, associates, etc. Reichheld claims that the ambassadorship of those highly likely to recommend a brand is free marketing that greatly influences business growth: “Loyal, passionate customers stay longer, spend more, contribute suggestions and sing your company’s praises to friends and colleagues… That’s why loyalty correlates so strongly with sustainable, profitable organic growth. On average, an industry’s loyalty leader grows more than twice as fast as its competitors.”[1]


Ok, NPS can be powerful. Can be.

We know how companies feel about NPS these days. They think it’s wonderful. They think it’s the most important metric to track. They think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. But are they right about it?

To get a different take on the power of NPS, let’s think about the customer experience of providing such an evaluation. As a regular ol’ customer myself in my spare time, I can tell you how I feel about the experience: not so wonderful.


It’s impersonal. It’s awkward. And it’s kind of insulting. 

Here’s when I hit my NPS max:

On a recent trip to Chicago, I stopped in the Evanston area to see an old friend. Before meeting up with him, I grabbed lunch at Subway—your standard 6” sub and a drink. Since I had a little time to kill (and because even grown men love a free chocolate chip cookie), I decided to take the online customer survey referenced on my receipt.

For some reason, the first question hit me like a ton of bricks. It was so… awkward.  It read, “Using a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend THIS Subway restaurant?”  Let me repeat that: THIS Subway restaurant. I thought this survey was going to be an easy and fairly mindless task while I munched on my meal, but instead my mind was flooded with question marks.

First of all, I live 800 miles from Evanston. Who would I possibly recommend THIS Subway restaurant to?  So, although I’d had a perfectly pleasant experience, I was NOT AT ALL LIKELY to recommend it—a big, fat “0” on the scale. Now for the more important question marks: Is that response helpful to anyone at Subway, Inc.? Did they even think about this question before wasting my time with it? Does it have anything to do with my experience with their brand or their restaurants? Even worse, is my response actually misleading them about how they’re doing?


Is this even telling them anything meaningful?


So, imagine I did live in the area. Does it make any sense at all to ask me about my likelihood to recommend ANY particular Subway restaurant?  Can you even imagine having a conversation like this…

“Hey! You Know what?! You GOTTA try Subway. I know, they’re everywhere…and they’ve been around forever. But I think you might be overlooking something here. It really gets my highest recommendation. You like sandwiches?  Well, they make sandwiches! Subway is the BOMB. And especially THIS Subway restaurant here on Broome St. just west of West Broadway—it’s a must.  Sure, all Subway’s make sandwiches, but this one just has a special touch. Serious reco here.” 

Ok, I went a little overboard, but you get my point, right? Still a big, fat “0” on the NPS scale. Subway, as rock solid as it is, is not the kind of brand that—at this stage in its evolution—really has people going around RECOMMENDING it. And yet, the approximately 2,800 customers that Subway sells a sandwich to every minute [2] are being asked the NPS question. Sure, they’re spreading more love with the free cookies, but is NPS really something that a brand like Subway should be asking a customer to take the time to consider? Is that really the best use of the precious little time they have with each customer?

The bottom line: If you’re going to ask your customers to stop and think about you, you need to first stop and think about them.


It’s become so easy for brands to survey their customers that sometimes it seems they’ve completely lost sight of what they’re actually trying to learn from people. Many of our clients want to just “throw questions in” because it sounds good or because they always ask it or because someone is going to ask if they captured it. But our research is custom for a reason—to address unique objectives with every new project, not just fill half the survey with standardized metrics. Do you really understand your customers any better when you ask the same question in dozens of different surveys?

Instead of copying and pasting, what if we slowed down and actually thought about the best way to learn from our customers? What if we spent more quality time with them, having more personal conversations to really assess how well we’re serving them? What if we dove deeper into what it would take to recommend a brand in our category—something more concrete we could measure?

What if we truly put people—and not data points—at the center of our research?


Look, I’m all for NPS. I’m all for data. And I’m all for Subway. I just want to make sure we’re all for people, too.


[1] Markey, Rob & Reichheld, Fred, Introducing: the Net Promoter System. Bain & Company. 08 December 2011