“Please fill out my survey, but only if it’s a 9 or 10.”
In the world of Net Promoter surveys, there are many ways you can intentionally or unintentionally game the system to engineer a higher score. However, doing so only serves to offer a false sense of security. Besides, you want an accurate assessment of customer sentiment so your organization can take the necessary steps to improve.
Here’s 10 not-so-obvious mistakes companies make when implementing a Net Promoter program and how it impacts your score. Be honest, how does your company stack up?
Gaming Strategy #1: Begging for High Scores
Whether it’s the department store clerk asking you to rate your experience as “highly satisfied” or your account manager from a prominent vendor declaring their bonus depends on your score, these days it seems as though begging customers for high scores happens all too often.
Encouraging high scores only masks the customer’s true feelings and undermines what should be a primary goal of your Net Promoter program – namely, an accurate assessment of customer sentiment so improvement opportunities can be identified for your company.
Gaming Strategy #2: Leading the Witness
During the survey period, participants will most likely receive several types of communication from your company: an advance notification indicating the survey is forthcoming, the initial survey invitation and one or more survey reminders.
What you communicate in these messages can influence how customers might respond. For example, “you should give us a 9 or 10 if we are delivering good service” may seem like an innocent statement, but it can actually lead respondents to a particular response.
It also places too much emphasis on the score itself. Remember, we’re seeking actionable feedback, not biased information.
Gaming Strategy #3: Strategic Timing
Did you just roll out a new version of your solution? Or recently unveil more competitive pricing?
Unless you’re conducting a touchpoint survey – such as onboarding a new customer or gathering feedback from customer advisory board members – timing your survey subsequent to a positive event can lead to a halo effect and an inflated sense of satisfaction.
Instead, launch your survey in a “steady-state” environment (while doing your best to retain your normal survey cadence).
To ensure you achieve reliable insights, avoid attempts to stack the deck with favorable timing.
Gaming Strategy #4: Picking Favorites
Whether it’s selecting customers who are on the “new” platform, using contacts hand-selected by the sales or customer service team, or excluding customers likely to churn, “cherry-picking” survey participants only results in a partial view of the true customer experience.
That’s why all customer contacts who have the potential to influence the relationship with your company should be included in the contact list.
Detailed instructions may be needed to ensure there is no ambiguity among those involved about which contacts should be invited to participate. Some companies police the contact list aggregation process by having an impartial business leader do a final review before the survey is launched.
Gaming Strategy #5: Visual Cues
Search “Net Promoter Score” in Google images and you will find numerous design examples with different colors and smiley faces depicting the Net Promoter categories.
While these designs may look cool and capture the respondent’s attention, it actually influences response behavior resulting in misleading data.
We recommend you save the graphics for internal reporting and keep the survey simple with neutral colors and easy to read font. After all, the purpose is to gather meaningful insights, not blow them away with attractive survey designs.
Gaming Strategy #6: Eliminating Responses
Have you ever heard something like this from your team? “The customer clearly didn’t understand the question so their response shouldn’t count.”
Unfortunately, this is an imperfection with any survey question and will happen on occasion. It doesn’t matter if you think a contact responds too literally to the question (“I don’t have anyone to refer”), misunderstands the intent, or historically rates you a “7,” removing or adjusting scores is a very slippery slope.
We suggest you include the score and simply make a mental note when reading the comments or conducting the follow-up.
Gaming Strategy #7: Skewing the Data
Calculating your Net Promoter Score is relatively simple: take the percentage of Promoters and minus the percentage of Detractors.
But what respondent scores should be included – Decision Makers or End Users? How do you account for multiple respondents from a single customer account?
Depending on who is invited, who responds, and how you weight respondents, you risk skewing the score.
We suggest you evaluate three common approaches for calculating your NPS: counting all responses, averaging all responses, and the “waterfall” method.
Regardless of the approach you use, just remember your process and methodology needs to remain consistent when you analyze your survey results.
Gaming Strategy #8: Educating
Educating your customers on how Net Promoter works, what the categories are, and what the score means is another example of how companies can inadvertently boost their score.
Why? We want an immediate, top-of-mind, emotional response based on how they feel about your company.
Any educations or instruction can plant a seed in the mind of the respondent and potentially contribute to biased data.
Gaming Strategy #9: Survey Mode
There are typically three ways companies can administer surveys: online, over the phone, or in-person. And the method you use has a lot to do with how customers will respond.
For example, many people feel uncomfortable offering direct criticism when speaking face-to-face to another individual. Naturally, this leads to more positive feedback about your company’s products or services.
Phone surveys are appropriate in many cases and can certainly boost response rates. However, unless conducted by an independent interviewer, some bias can be introduced.
Online surveys are completed behind the safety of a computer screen. This anonymity typically results in the most honest and accurate feedback.
Gaming Strategy #10: Compensating
The debate on financially rewarding employees based on survey responses is nothing new, and it comes with a host of questions. What message does it send to employees? Will it contribute to activities that may hamper authentic feedback from customers?
While we’ve seen successful variable compensation plans implemented, tying employee bonuses to a moving target or paying staff directly for higher scores can send the wrong message. If you plan to compensate employees based on NPS, we recommend you (1) remove control by assigning an impartial client advocate or champion to administer the survey, (2) educate employees on how to influence scores the right way, and (3) establish reliable metrics.
These gaming “strategies” (used together or individually) each have the potential artificially inflate your Net Promoter Score.
Instead of employing these tactics to obtain a higher score, remember the goal of your survey program. Any instruction, persuasion, encouragement, leading, prompting, compensation, or education can result in biased data and may jeopardize the credibility of your program.
Worse still, imagine if your company made important decisions or investments based on an inaccurate portrayal of customer sentiment. Now that’s downright frightening!