The bad news: Most people mess up almost every survey they have ever sent to anyone…ever. The biggest mistake you can make as a surveyor is to assume you know what people will respond with. This assumption will lead you to either ask multiple choice questions (with your pre-defined answers) or formulate open-ended questions based on your ideas. The other danger of going on your assumptions is making your survey too long, turning people off from responding in the first place.
The good news: There’s a better and more structured way to run customer surveys that not only results in higher engagement but also in more actionable data and the ability to get people to take action post-survey.
I thought I was going to get fired when I first discovered NPS (short for the Net Promoter Score or System). I was heading product management for a few different product lines and was having trouble figuring out what my customers really wanted out of our product. I had loads of data from customer interviews, customer “panels,” and community engagement. The company I was working for had done countless surveys as well.
But most of those engagement methods and surveys just made things worse. There was too much noise and not enough signal. I felt lost, drowning in data that was often from a vocal minority or not focused enough to identify the actual sentiment or cause of customer behavior.
NPS saved my job (or made me far better at it), and I applied this same system at multiple companies with immense success. I took those skills with me when I decided to start a company (Promoter.io) to help people learn the secrets that have helped me so much over the years.
If you are not familiar with NPS yet, it is a simple way to (1) get very high quality and actionable customer feedback and (2) get a predictive indicator of customer behavior.
In this guide, I will walk you through several key factors that will ensure your success when implementing NPS.
Here’s what I will cover in this 6-part guide:
- WHY are you sending a survey in the first place?
- WHAT questions do you ask and in what order?
- HOW do you analyze the results of the survey?
- WHO are you sending your survey to?
- WHERE can you make passive responders into active promoters?
- WHEN do you send the surveys?
1. WHY are you sending a survey in the first place?
Most people send surveys for the same reason: to gain information.
The problem is: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” ~ Steve Jobs
This way of thinking is a chicken-and-egg problem. You go in with preconceived ideas of what your customers want, and you either give them five choices to rank, or you ask non-actionable open-ended questions that tell you little (if they are answered).
Can you imagine how many of such surveys Nokia sent out over the years? How many of them came back with the idea of the iPhone? None. It was beyond the imagination of most consumers.
So, why send surveys if gaining knowledge is only a secondary or even tertiary benefit?
To measure and build customer loyalty.
A survey doesn’t need to be a passive “read-only” data-collection technique. A survey can spur your customers to talk about your product with their friends or leave a review. The right survey can create one-on-one relationships with customers who would usually ignore other attempts to connect. A survey can even increase sales and conversions or minimize churn.
If your goal, when creating a survey, is to gauge sentiment and build customer loyalty, your surveys are going to look a lot different than most.
2. WHAT questions do you ask and in what order?
The most common mistake people make when building surveys is asking way too many questions. How many questions is too many? Anything more than two.
Let’s explore why. Everybody is busy. The New York Times calls it The Busy Trap: “It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.'”
Of course, you would like to send out 40 pages of detailed questionnaires and have people tell you what your product should do, but nobody has the time to fill out long surveys.
Many people try to get around this by creating bad incentive structures, e.g., giving away iPads or Amazon gift cards.
Offering a bribe to fill out your form (ANY BRIBE, even a 50% discount coupon for your product) is a bad idea. People will not be interested in telling you the truth (remember, everyone is busy). Instead, they will be answering your questions as quickly as possible to get the bribe. This is the wrong type of data on which to base critical business decisions.
You need to make your survey as disarming as possible by asking JUST ONE KEY QUESTION: How likely is it that you would recommend my brand/product/service to a friend or colleague? (Answers are based on a 0-10 scale).
Responding to this question takes just a moment of people’s time and is no burden at all. That’s why NPS has a reputation of being one of the highest converting surveys. It’s so quick and easy to respond to that it gives you the best chance of getting the most responses back. Platforms such as Promoter.io take this already simple concept a step further by embedding this question directly inside the survey email so customers who may never respond to any survey are instantly hooked.
But I said no more than two questions! What’s the second question? It is: What’s the most important reason for giving us that score?
Caveat: you do not ask that question upfront. When running an NPS campaign, you need to make it look like you are asking only one question—the “likelihood to recommend” question. Only people who answer the first question, providing their 0-10 scores, should see the second question.
That way—even if your responders do not answer your second, free-form, question—you still capture their scores and have the ability to close the loop.
One more point: do not be tempted to add any more questions. Remember, data collection is only your tertiary goal.
Also, it’s important that you state the second question in a free form. I will explain why when we talk about how to analyze the results.
3. HOW do you analyze the results of the survey?
To calculate your NPS score, you calculate the percentage of people who gave you a 9 or a 10 (your loyal enthusiasts) and subtract from it the percentage of people who gave you a 0 to 6 (your detractors). If you are wondering about a score of 7 or 8, neither counts for or against you because they are too tepid.
For example, let’s say you got the following scores as responses: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Only two out of 10 were enthusiasts (20%), and six out of 10 were detractors (60%). That makes your NPS score -40%.
Although interesting, your NPS score isn’t actually that important. You should keep track of it and make sure it keeps getting better over time, but don’t fret over the absolute number. Net Promoter is not an exercise in statistics; rather, it’s about emotion and connection to your brand.
After all, your goal with this survey isn’t just gathering intelligence—it is building customer loyalty. The most important part of analyzing your results is how you respond to these surveys. We will get to that in steps 4 and 5, but first, let’s look at one more important thing you need to do with data analysis.
Read through every response to the second question: What’s the biggest reason for giving us that score?, and create trends from the responses. For example, if the feedback is: “I love how easy it is to get started, but I can’t remember to keep using the product,” you might tag that response with two categories: easy setup, forget to use. Using an automated platform like Promoter.io can help you keep track of and analyze these responses automatically instead of messing with complex spreadsheets or other tools not built for the job.
Once you tag every response with some pre-defined trends (price, customer service, quality, ease of use, etc.), you can start spotting trends among similar categories consistently brought up in the answers.
4. WHO are you sending your survey to?
If your goal is to build customer loyalty, that loyalty must be earned. No survey in the world can spur people—who aren’t already excited about your product—into action. But if they are excited, a survey is a great way to encourage word-of-mouth behaviors.
Deep understanding of your customers, or audience, and what they want is of critical importance. Many people get this part wrong.
For example, you might use simple demographics to try to understand who your customers are. Things like gender, age, and location might be somewhat interesting facts, but they are far from the most important and actionable information.
A far more useful way to understand your audience is to find out:
- Their biggest problems
- Their biggest fears
- Their biggest frustrations
- Their highest hopes
- Their wildest dreams
- Their greatest aspirations
It is much easier to sell someone on their dreams and solutions to their problems than it is to sell them on feature sets. So, understanding who you are sending your survey to should always be a priority.
If you don’t have a grasp of this information yet, NPS can be a great way to begin conversations with people and to learn more about how to conduct and analyze your surveys. For example, if someone responds as a detractor (a score of 0-6), you could follow up with that person by sending a personalized note like this one:
“Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my question. I wish more people were as honest and straightforward as you. I am sorry that my product let you down though. I strive to make it better. Can I ask you one more question? What’s your #1 single biggest challenge growing your business right now?”
Notice that not only are you engaging with this unhappy customer in a positive and complimentary way, but you are also gathering valuable intelligence that they might have never shared with you had you asked them about it upfront.
This is how customer loyalty is created—one relationship at a time, with care and thought.
If you preferred to focus on finding product defects instead of customer demographics, you could write a slightly different email:
“I really appreciate your honest response, and I hate that I let you down this time. Can I ask you one more question? What would be the #1 thing I could do to the product that would make it more likely to earn your recommendation in the future?”
This kind of message also works really well for passives (with a score of 7 or 8).
Notice that not only are we getting direct product feedback with this question, but we are also planting the seed in the responder’s mind that maybe when they see this survey next time, they would rate us higher and be more likely to recommend us others.
5. WHERE can you make passive responders into active promoters?
The real magic of NPS happens when someone responds as a self-identified promoter (with a score of 9-10). If they are telling you that they are extremely likely to promote your product or service, they have willingly opened the door. It is up to you to walk through it.
Imagine getting a personalized email like this one after rating a product a 10:
“I am so flattered that you gave me a 10! You made my day. If it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle, there is one thing that you could do that would make the service a lot easier for other people to find. Would you be able to leave a brief review on Amazon? Here’s the URL…”
A lot of people would be happy to leave reviews for your product, but they either forget to or are prompted to do so before they had the chance to use the product. They just need that extra reminder. Using NPS to create that reminder results in a very natural flow for both you and the customer.
Plus, when you send a personalized email response after someone takes your survey, it lets them know that their response was read and was important. It will reinforce their loyalty and keep them active and engaged for other emails or surveys you might send them.
6. WHEN do you send the surveys?
Net Promoter Scores can be tracked over time. If you use an advanced platform like Promoter.io, you can automatically send the surveys on a daily schedule so that your entire list isn’t emailed at the same time. We recommend that you don’t send an NPS survey more than four times a year to the same person.
Once people respond, make sure you keep track of your interactions with them during the important follow-up period. The worst thing you can do with an NPS survey is use canned templates to give the same response over and over again. You never want to keep asking the same person to review your product on Amazon. So, keep close logs if you plan on surveying quarterly.
In addition to your regularly scheduled surveys, you can send NPS surveys shortly after the point-of-purchase or interaction. The Apple Retail Store and AT&T stores both do this. In fact, you might get an NPS survey question emailed to you a few minutes after walking out of an AT&T store.
Sending NPS surveys at the point-of-purchase has the advantage of people having their interaction with you still fresh in their minds. The disadvantage, however, is that they haven’t probably had a lot of time to interact with their purchase yet. That’s why, if you are a transactional business, it’s important for you to think about the nature of your product and to time the survey accordingly.
Finally, if you are running a recurring revenue business (as opposed to a transactional “buy-it-once” model), you might be prone to making a common mistake. It’s a bad idea to aim for quarterly engagements by sending large surveys all at once. You can capture a lot of feedback at one time with this method, but you end up with a “point-in-time” sentiment. That leaves you with long periods in-between surveys, making it impossible to measure customer sentiment and to understand how the changes you implement impact loyalty and behavior. A daily cadence of your surveys to a small set of customers, or even a monthly survey to a larger segment, provides much more value.
I hope this guide convinced you that surveys can be much more than just passive data-collection techniques. We are expanding this guide into an entire book that will be out this year. Please sign up for our mailing list to get early access to it.
Please remember: the trick to customer loyalty is to earn it by understanding your customers and delivering value by listening to them and solving their problems along the way. By rushing into surveys, you can easily lose track of this fact.
I’ve seen companies waste tens of thousands of dollars running surveys by bribing people into giving fake responses and never following up with any of the responders. Ignoring people is the easiest way to tell your customers you don’t care about them. Plus, the data from these types of surveys almost always ends up being useless due to low response rates or customers rushing through to collect an incentive.
On the other hand, you can help drive your organic growth by using carefully planned NPS surveys that strategically leverage your promoters and proactively reduce churn by identifying detractors ahead of time.
One More Thing (well actually, 3 bonus take-aways)
I’ve prepared 3 bonus take-aways that should help you pave the way to constant learning and achieving an efficient surveying workflow:
- NPS Survey Checklist (quick checklist of things to keep in mind while surveying)
- 6 Awesome NPS Resources (selection of insightful resources)
- 7 World Class Surveyors to Follow (my short list of surveyors to follow on Twitter)
NPS Survey Checklist
- Step 1: Ask: How likely is it that you would recommend our brand/product/service to a friend or colleague?
- Step 2: To those who responded to step 1, ask: What’s the most important reason for your score?
- Step 3: Analyze your NPS score
- Step 4: Read, internalize and categorize your free-form into broad trends (ideally with sentiment applied)
- Step 5: Write personalized follow-up emails to everyone who responded to steps 1 or 2.
6 Awesome NPS Resources
Below is a collection of awesome books, articles and other resources that I’ve learned a lot from:
- The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reichheld
- The five disciplines of customer experience leaders by Frédéric Debruyne and Andreas Dullweber
- Net Promoter Score on a Napkin (video) by Satmetrix
- NPS Shorts (Video Series)
- Official Net Promoter System Podcast (hosted by Rob Markey)
- Quick NPS Calculator
7 World Class Surveyors & Customer Engagement Leaders to Follow
Some of the stuff I wrote in this guide will be outdated at some point.
So if you want to stay on top of everything new in surveying, I would suggest you to follow these surveying stars on Twitter:
- Chad Keck from Promoter.io
- David Goldberg from SurveyMonkey
- Hiten Shah from KISSmetrics
- Sean Ellis from Growth Hacks
- Ben Chestnut from MailChimp
- Dharmesh Shah from Hubspot
- Mikkel Svane from ZenDesk
Did this guide help you craft your own customer loyalty strategy? Are you missing something that you think is crucial? You don’t agree with me on a particular detail? Let me know on Twitter, I’m @promoter_io!