The “net promoter score” is the latest way to test if your clients are happy. But it can’t replace genuine interaction

steve child

It’s the end of a project. We think we’ve done a great job, the client and relevant authorities have signed off all the documentation and everybody seems happy. But there’s a niggling doubt. Did the client feel we provided the best service we possibly could? Was there anything they were unhappy with that they’re just not telling us? And, crucially, will they come back to us for their next project?

Repeat work makes up 80% of our workload and we want our clients to return, so we need to find answers to these questions. The evidence is hard to come by and, in our consultancy environment, we need a professional way of evaluating satisfaction which is simple to deliver and which helps us build our relationship with the client. Our approach has always been to talk direct to the client, preferably face to face, asking them what they think of our work. Over the last 15 years we have devised a short questionnaire, in conjunction with the Net Promoter Score question (as developed by Satmatrix), to prompt the discussion.

In 2008 we started to ask the “ultimate” question, “How likely are you to recommend our company/product/service to your friends and colleagues?” This gives us a ‘Net Promoter Score’ (NPS), where those who would recommend us (above a certain score) are described as promoters, those who score us low are detractors, and those with a mid-range score are passive. The NPS has become a simple method of gauging customer loyalty to our brand.

Has it worked? Yes and no. Yes because it has given us a very simple number that is easy to interpret. It’s a number that we can compare year on year (rising trend from 60% to 70%) and which can be reported back to our parent company, Carillion. Yes because it helps us discover good and bad feelings in our customer relationships. And it’s a number that helps employees gain a feeling of how much the company is appreciated by our clients.

There’s no substitute to talking to our clients. The questionnaire is a way of raising issues like delivery and satisfaction, and this approach provides the greatest benefit.

The actual number itself is a calculation of percentages of ‘promoters’, ‘detractors’ and ‘passives’ and it gives us a way of combining all the responses we receive. The theory is that a better NPS score is an indicator of revenue growth.

However, the fact that the UK construction industry faced a major recession over the period we developed the process probably overwhelmed any potential growth that the NPS score may have predicted. Hopefully, though, it has helped to engage and retain the clients we have and put us in a better position for growth as the recession ends.

On the no side, the NPS is only a small part of our relationship with the client. It’s a no because we have a limited number of results to work with – about 70 a year. It’s a no because it has been very difficult to find comparison results among our direct competitors to benchmark our results. And the system gets a final no because a simple number does not show us the range and depth of relationships we hold across a complex client base with multiple services.

So what does work? We think there’s no substitute to talking to our clients. We believe that the questionnaire is a way of raising issues like delivery and satisfaction, and this approach provides the greatest benefit. The conversation really helps to strengthen the relationship and improve customer loyalty. Talking helps us understand our customer’s individual drivers and goals, resulting in a better delivery of our services to match those ultimate requirements. Having some structure to the discussion helps us identify what areas of our service the client appreciates most and what they find important. The structure also enables us to compare results year on year.

We have four questions that relate to key performance indicators (KPIs) set out by the UK’s Constructing Excellence Construction Industry which give us a comparison with our competitors. These are a useful measure of our success. The NPS question provides us with information we can use in a greater company context and the simplicity of the single figure output is an advantage over the complex analysis of multiple data sources.

Another major benefit we have found of talking to our clients using this structured approach has been the direct feedback about people. Great feedback for employees has been very motivating. Asking clients if we can quote them and use them as references during the discussion has helped our marketing and the company reputation. Direct feedback enables senior managers to head off growing issues before they become a major problem.

So would I use the NPS more? Yes – the simplicity of the approach is a major benefit. But only when we can combine it with a range of other questions designed to create a conversation to strengthen our client relationship.

Steve Child is director of construction consultancy TPS, part of Carillion