7 Ways to Turn your NPS Survey into a Growth Hack

By Lincoln Murphy
June 30, 2015
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Posted in Best Practices

Before we get started, if you're an NPS purist, you need to know that I'm going to violate norms you hold near and dear in this article.

I do suggest you have a solid understanding of how to use NPS the standard (right?) way, so you should check out the recording of a webinar Tracy Zundel, Gainsight Sr. Customer Success Manager and Certified Net Promoter Associate did recently called "NPS Best Practices" for Customer Success.

NPS is Incredibly Popular

Okay, so NPS surveys are very popular, their effectiveness is well-established, and their use in Customer Success as a mechanism for understanding your customer's satisfaction - or lack thereof - with your product, service, or company is deeply entrenched.

In fact, it was that almost dogmatic acceptance of NPS - and it's various processes - that led me to question the status quo and start experimenting with using NPS Surveys "the wrong way."

In this article I share why and how I often violate those NPS norms to turn "The Ultimate Question" (what NPS has been called) into a Growth Hack that drives customer loyalty, rapidly creates advocates, and enhances the viral coefficient of even the most 'boring' B2B products and services.

First, I have to say that...

Standard NPS Works Very Well

I find a lot of people rolling their eyes at NPS - Net Promoter System - surveys lately... as if they don't work, aren't valuable, or are something that only work with consumer-oriented products and services; that for some reason it simply doesn't work in B2B.

This is the same reaction you see to other things that people tried half-way - or just implemented incorrectly - and then were unhappy with the results.

Or, more likely... this is the reaction when something is done, but you didn't know what to do with, or how to interpret, the results, so you do nothing, rendering the surveys essentially pointless.

NPS as a customer satisfaction measurement tool is great. It's one very useful (but weighted appropriately for your situation) input into the health of your customers that any type of company can use.

The problem comes with...

Interpreting NPS Results

The NPS rollup metric - your NPS Score - is great as a high-level measurement of customer satisfaction, and that's the topic of the deep dive webinar Tracy Zundel, Gainsight Sr. Customer Success Manager and Certified Net Promoter Associate did recently called "NPS Best Practices" for Customer Success.

In this article I'm talking specifically about turning the result of an individual NPS survey response from one customer (or group of users at one customer) into a Growth Hack.

The Three Use Cases of Surveys

Surveys basically have three functions: learn things we don't know, validate assumptions, or reinforce beliefs of the Person being surveyed.

It's in this third use case - reinforcing beliefs - that you can find growth hacking opportunities around your NPS process.

It's also in this third use case where you run into a lot of risk.

Okay, so let's talk about...

Skewing Your Results for Gain

I often recommend using NPS Surveys "the wrong way" and that is to only send to customers we know will give us a high score (preferably a 10).

Blasphemy!

"But Lincoln," you immediately ask, "won't that skew the results?"

To which I reply "won't sending it to customers we know aren't achieving their Desired Outcome - and are therefore likely to offer a low score - also skew the results?"

All of that to say...

Don't Survey Unhappy Customers

In order to get proactive in helping our customers achieve their Desired Outcome, we have to have some idea of what's going on with our customers.

As part of your Customer Success program, you should be orchestrating the process of helping your customers achieve their desired outcome, monitoring their progress along that trajectory, and overall should know if they're on the right track or not.

I don't care if you have a low touch SaaS model, if you have a high touch enterprise Software model, or if you are professional services organization, that simple formula of understanding what your customers desired outcome is, knowing what it takes to achieve that, and orchestrating the process along the way with known success milestones should be the basis for everything you do.

Having that in place will let you know - even if you don't have "usage data" or something similar - whether or not your customers are successful.

If they're not successful, then don't send them in NPS survey. Simple.

Further, while we aren't trying to solve for customer happiness (as I've talked about before), if you note whether a customer or user is unhappy as part of your customer health score or just the customer record (A qualitative metric you gather through interactions via email, phone calls, support, or from social sentiment, reviews etc.), then don't send a survey to customers that aren't happy. Again, simple.

The reason you don't want to survey unhappy or unsuccessful customers is so you...

Don't Reinforce Negative Beliefs

Remember surveys are used to either learn something we don't know or reinforce the recipient's beliefs.

One of the reasons we use NPS is to help us understand how the customer views us... if we know it's not good right now, sending an NPS Survey is probably just going to reinforce in their mind what we already know to be true.

Best case, it gives them an outlet to vent (there should be other outlets available that let them vent more often - see below), but worst case it just reinforces the way they feel in their mind.

Ultimately, sending an NPS survey to people that are already upset with us just seems like a way to irritate them further.

In fact sending and NPS survey to a customer that's not happy not only asked to reinforce their already negative views but if that's the first time they've heard from you the ad other negative views in those are reinforced through the survey as well.

Don't get me wrong you absolutely should contact unhappy customers; it's just that an NPS survey is probably not the right modality.

Okay, so here are...

7 Ways to Turn NPS Surveys into Growth Hacks

Don't be thrown off by the term "growth hack" ...it has nothing to do with any nefarious "hacking" or cracking or spamming... think of growth hacking as "creative acceleration of growth." How cool is it that we can do that, but with NPS surveys?

Growth Hack #1: Reinforce Positive Beliefs

I suggest you only send an NPS survey to customers you know are achieving their Desired Outcome. If they're not happy but are achieving the desired outcome and NPS survey is just not happy or they're not in their desired outcome reach out with something else.

Ideally you can trigger your NPS survey off of a positive achievement such as reaching a success milestone with your product.

Survey the customer immediately after they did something that either resulted in them achieving value or in them getting closer to achieving that value from your product.

When you trigger the "how likely are you to refer somebody..." while they're in a positive frame of mind, not only will you reinforce their positive feelings toward you, but when they identify as a "promoter," they'll also be reinforcing that self-identification.

Psychology is a wonderful thing.

Growth Hack #2: It's Net PROMOTER Score

The two questions I always get about NPS are 1) when to send the survey and 2) how often to send an NPS survey. As you can imagine... it totally depends.

But here are some ideas for you to consider when thinking about the appropriate answer to those questions for your situation.

First, to get people to take action - to actually complete the survey - I've found you need to make the ask at the right time. However, it's rare - in my experience - for that "time" to be the same for every user/customer.

Your users and customers will reach milestones in your product or with your service on a unique cadence so - even if the variance is a day or two - basing your survey purely on a timed interval is probably going to be less effective than triggering it based on actions taken by the user or customer.

A good rule of thumb is to send after a significant interaction with the customer. An even better rule of thumb is to send after a significant (success) milestone is reached by the customer.

Depending upon where the respondent scores, they'll either be a Promoter, Detractor, or Passive. At Gainsight, our Chief Customer Officer Dan Steinman said it best: it's either Promoter or Detractor... we don't want Passive!

Growth Hack #3: Focus on the Positive

Most people focus on the Detractors. That totally makes sense, right? Just like you focus on unsubscribes from email lists, unfollows on Twitter, etc. it's human nature to focus on the negative. What could we have done better! Argh!

And while that's important and we need to understand what's going on to cause someone to be a Detractor (though a full-blown Customer Success Management product like Gainsight will give you the necessary additional context you need so you won't panic; "oh, they had a serious support issue this week that angered some folks... it was resolved and they're otherwise healthy."), it's super-important to leverage the Promoters.

Growth Hack #4: Mobilize Your Promoters

Promoters are customers that just raised their hand and said "yes, I would be willing to tell someone about your product."

They didn't, however, raise their hand to say that, and then actually go tell anyone.

That's the hard part. It's up to you to take that Promoter and orchestrate their telling others.

Whether that's getting them to write a review for you (or you write it for them based on your knowledge of the success they've had with your product and get them to sign-off on it), or to talk to a prospect, get their logo on your site, etc.

Having a very clear workflow for acting on Promoter results is huge. Generally it's some type of escalated advocacy ask... first it's a quote, then it's a case study, then... etc.

Whatever works in your world with your customers.

Growth Hack #5: Provide Other Feedback Mechanisms

While you want to focus on and mobilize your Promoters, it's also critical to ensure that your detractors are mobilized, too... just in a different way.

I suggest giving your detractors (and passives) a way to immediately detail why they gave you a low score if you don't have that built into the survey itself.

If you don't give them a place - and permission - to share their thoughts and vent frustrations - they might just do it publicly. A caveat, though, is if you don't act on what they share or if you make them feel like they were talking to a gaping void, then they'll eventually make their way out into public... only this time with more steam, so make sure you close the loop with them regardless of how they share their feelings.

The main thing, though, is to not let the NPS survey be the first thing they ever get from you; this happens frequently with end-users which is why the NPS scores and responses in aggregate for a customer may be skewed by some/many end-users who were venting about anything and everything since this was the first time they were given permission to share.

NPS survey is not the place for bug reports or feature requests, but that's what ends up in there too often. In fact, it happens so often that it seems the common belief is that it's actually okay.

But it's not.

I suggest adding a widget for product feedback and enhancement requests in-app or linking to a support forum from the app and letting users know in the early days (and through reminders across their entire lifetime as a customer) that their ideas,

That said...

Growth Hack #6: Stop Asking for Feedback

While it's okay to have a button in-app that says "feedback" so the user can - on their terms - provide feedback to you, when you are actively seeking insights into their satisfaction level, remember that asking for "feedback" is basically asking for a favor.

Instead, ask about their experience... make it about them.

Almost every single NPS email that goes out has a subject line of something like "We need your feedback."

It all starts with the subject line of the email, the headline on the survey widget, SMS message CTA, or if you were to ask the customer over the phone. No matter what, continue that customer-centric non-feedback messaging through the entire NPS workflow.

In fact, you could even ask how likely they are to recommend the experience they had or the value they received instead of recommending your product; again, making it more about them and less about you (or your product).

Okay, this last one is a favorite of mine and almost always completely overlooked..

Growth Hack #7: Drive Internal Advocacy

Leveraging a Promoter for advocacy doesn't have to be external. Pay attention to this next part.

Sometimes it takes forever to get through legal or other approvals - or they're just not there yet (even if they said they were) - so external advocacy (testimonials, logos for your website, calls with prospects, etc.) just isn't going to happen anytime soon.

But if there is internal expansion potential in that company, immediately following a Promoter result would be a great time to ask your customer contact to invest some social capital and introduce you to their peer in another department. Write the email for them so all they have to do is hit send.

Or just give let them do it from in the app; enter the email address and hit send. Done.

That's one simple way you can orchestrate intra-company virality and grow Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) with one customer.

Those are just a handful of ideas for turning your NPS survey into a Growth Hack, but I hope it was enough to get your brain moving in a new direction. Remember, just because there are "best practices" or even explicit methodologies in place... you can actually do whatever you think is best for your customers and your situation.

Like I said, I do suggest you have a solid understanding of how to use NPS the standard (right?) way, so you should check out the recording of a webinar Tracy Zundel, Gainsight Sr. Customer Success Manager and Certified Net Promoter Associate did recently called "NPS Best Practices" for Customer Success.


By Lincoln Murphy
Lincoln Murphy is Chief Customer Evangelist at Gainsight

3 Comments

  1. Twix
    July 1, 2015 at 7:16 am ·

    Thanks for the insight and look forward to the upcoming webinar

  2. […] we send a survey – NPS or otherwise – asking about someone’s experience when they had a bad experience, it might seem […]

  3. […] I’ve previously written about my take on NPS (Net Promoter System) as a growth hack and we had an amazing webinar recently on the right ways to use NPS in your organization (check […]

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