Let us start with some basic questions on the Ultimate Question

The Ultimate Question? As in the only question you need to ask and nothing else to effectively understand your customers and run your business?

So say the proponents of a metric known to most as Net Promoter Score or NPS® (yes a registered trademark). You likely are familiar with the question. It is showing up in all places, including WordPress asking its users about it. And the single question?

On a scale of 0 to 10, How likely is it that you would recommend recommend [brand, company] to a friend or colleague?

How are the responses interpreted? Find the percentage of those who gave a 9 and 10 rating, labeled as Promoters. Find the percentage of those who gave 0 to 6 rating, labeled as Detractors. Subtract the second from the first and you have the trademarked Net Promoter Score.

I have been collecting my thoughts on this subject for quite a while, reading several peer reviewed articles, asking some basic questions and also crunching numbers. I figured I will not be able to make all the arguments in one sitting so decided to write a multi-part series. This is the first of the multi-part series in which I do not want to make a case but simply  want you to just some questions suspending any of your preconceived notion.

Ask questions as if someone who is asking questions to understand, as if someone who came into this world and does not know the pedigree of the proponent of the idea or how popular it is.  Nothing more, let us just ask some why, what, how and what-if questions.  Everything else is deferred for later posts.

  1. Why is the scale 0 to 10 – why not 1 to 10, or 1 to 5 or  0 to 100?
  2. What other scales have you tried, measured and compared before arriving at this 0-10, 11-point scale?
  3. If you are going to reduce the wider scale into just three groups, why not simply ask them whether or not they will recommend, doesn’t care or will speak against your brand?
  4. What happened to those who answered 7 or 8? (called Passives) – why are they not relevant?
  5. Why the unbalanced scale – why there are only two levels for Promoters and the Passives while there are 7 levels for Detractors?
  6. Why are we doing this percentage subtraction math – why not simply use the average recommend rating? Is that found to be bad predictor than the percentage math?
  7. If we assumed a Gaussian distribution, which is fair assumption for a general population, wouldn’t most ratings will fall between 2 and 8 with few in the tails?
  8. Why is the percentage math done only over those who respond to the question and not all whom you asked?
  9. If you asked 100 of your customers, say only 70 answered, should the 30 be treated as Passives or as Detractors? After all if they refused to answer this question can you expect them to be bad-mouthing, be quiet or recommending?
  10. Does this Ultimate-ness apply to any business, regardless of the life-cycle and size?

As you notice these are questions any smart person who has not suspended their skepticism and has an appetite to learn would ask when presented with something that is branded as “The Ultimate Question that is predictor of business performance”.  These questions are not about whether or not the metric is valid or asking for proof, but simply probing the fundamentals.

If you are a fan of the metric, have you asked these questions? Do you know the answer or you took comfort in the fact that the metric was published in prestigious Harvard Business Review (which is not a peer reviewed journal) and because it came from someone very popular?

If you just heard about this metric, be a startup or an enterprise, do you stop to ask these questions?

If you are skeptic of this metric, you likely asked the same question, what other basic questions you would ask?

Let us stop here and continue in next post with some answers and other aspects that will debunk the claim about The Ultimate Question.