Stop NPS Surveying, for Now?

Stop NPS Surveying, for Now?

Is this really the right time to be asking the ultimate question? A tin-eared email offers a clue.

I was struck this morning by an email I received from Southwest Airlines, advising me that it’s my last chance to “Fly my way up to 12,000 points.* The original mail did include the asterisk, although it didn’t reference the most appropriate caveat *assuming it’s a good idea to fly anywhere right now (which it isn’t). Of course, it’s an automatic mail, set in motion last week when the Dow Jones was about 5 times its current level, you could still watch the NBA and there were ample supplies of toilet tissues in London. Oh, the good old days.

Ask the wrong question at the wrong time, of the wrong people, and don’t expect a reply – or worse, get data that’s downright misleading.

Automated marketing communication is a blessing, but only if we are in control of the machine. We want to appear to prospects as if the email is personalized and thoughtful, but the flip side of that is it needs to be, well, personalized and thoughtful. Why should we think surveys are any different?

Surveys are, after all, foremost a method of communication. We are inviting our customers to provide feedback, which is a form of communication, but the invitation is all important. Ask the wrong question at the wrong time, of the wrong people, and don’t expect a reply – or worse, get data that’s downright misleading. Given that, is there a worse time to be asking people “would you recommend us to a friend or colleague”? Worse than March, 2020? I hope not.

I don’t know the context of your business or the interaction with your customer. And it’s certainly tempting, in a time of crisis, to want to understand if you are doing right by your customers. There are many well intention-ed and equally well written letters from CEO’s to customers this week emphasizing commitment, compassion and of course safety. Some feel genuine and enhance their brand. Others, not deliberately I hope, feel like marketing wrapped with compassion. The point is, getting communication right in these circumstances takes thoughtful execution.

If you are like most companies, your survey data is either on auto-pilot – in which case you really have no control of the context in which it is received – or based on a wave model. If it’s the later, there seems little point in inviting responses when customers are preoccupied mentally, and anxious. A crisis of health and economy does puts the late delivery of the pizza in context: what matters to you may no longer matter to your customer. If it’s on auto-pilot, bear in mind the Southwest email. You have even less control, so perhaps now is the time to regain it.

Time will come, soon I hope, when we will want to understand how our customers judged us all, especially how we comported ourselves in a crisis. From what I have seen so far, corporations have risen to that challenge as a reminder that a crisis often brings out the best of us. But for goodness sake, think hard about asking the ultimate question this week.


As CEO, Richard’s singular professional focus: Delivering financial value through CX. He co-founded OCX Cognition to combine technology and programmatic consulting in pursuit of that goal, and now leads the company’s coordinated efforts to deliver the right solutions for its clients.

Richard’s 30-year career has centered on transforming business operations with technology, and he is one of the best-known CX thought leaders. While CEO at Satmetrix, his team led the development of the Net Promoter Score® methodology with Fred Reichheld, creating the world’s most widely used CX measurement approach. With Laura Brooks, he co-authored Answering the Ultimate Question, the best-selling “how to” guide for NPS practitioners.

Richard transformed the supply chain and built what was then the world’s largest e-commerce business at Dell, and has led two software companies, AvantGo and Satmetrix, to successful exits. With an MBA from MIT Sloan Management School, he has served on several boards and committees at public and private companies and is an active venture investor and international business thinker. Richard has lived on three continents; he and his family now divide their time between Arizona and London.


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