Helping UXRs appreciate NPS, execs’ favorite metric

Helping UXRs

A discussion during WEVO’s most recent Research Forum about getting executive involvement in user research led to a fascinating, full-throated tangent into Net Promoter Scores (NPS) and its value (or lack thereof) to user researchers. It was clear that researchers were not fans, based on Zoomable eye rolls alone.

Digging deeper, their narrative went as follows: Executives are too obsessed with NPS. NPS is a simplistic metric that fails to provide actual concrete guidance on what to improve and how—which is where UX research excels, because that provides the “why” of an experience’s effectiveness (or lack thereof). Their position is understandable.

As is why it’s understandable why executives find NPS appealing: it’s simple, and it’s an easy key performance indicator (KPI). It provides a quick snapshot of customer sentiment, and can track changes in it over time.

Uncovering the problem

NPS asks customers one simple question: “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our product/service to a friend or colleague?” Based on their responses, customers self-sort into three groups: Promoters (score 9-10), Passives (score 7-8), and Detractors (score 0-6). But it can’t reveal the factors influencing customers’ perceptions and behaviors.

Yet, both sides have defensible worldviews. Executives run a business, and need to understand how that business is doing at the top level, and relative to their competition and/or best-in-class companies. UXRs, on the other hand, serve a critical need: to find out how to improve those metrics the execs need to nurture. That’s done by providing the insight and “why” so that the executives can implement the right improvements and substantively impact customer experiences.

Both approaches can — must — work together. Let’s use a medical analogy since I’m married to a doctor. A blood pressure or temperature reading can indicate there’s a potential problem. But only a trained medical professional can diagnose the root causes and monitor the situation over time. While that by and large used to be the exclusive purview of a doctor, more and more physician’s assistants are providing a similar level of skill. (And when you consider the increased conversations around the democratization of insights gathering, the analogy is pretty spot on.)

Finding the why

User research is the discipline of understanding users, their needs, motivations and behaviors in relation to a product or experience. User researchers and their colleagues in marketing, product and design want to get into the heads of their target customers to ensure that what they create is impactful and effective.

While NPS captures the end result, user research seeks to unearth the underlying drivers behind customers’ sentiments. Understanding the “why” is crucial for organizations to make informed decisions, improve their offerings, and create exceptional experiences that resonate with their customers.

Being better together

To mediate between executives favoring NPS and user research teams seeking deeper insights, collaboration and communication are key. Both can, and should, live harmoniously together when:

1.Everyone communicates and listens.

User research teams can educate executives about the value and significance of diving deeper into customer insights. By highlighting what lies beyond the limitations of NPS, they can emphasize the need for complementary research methods to gain a comprehensive understanding of customer sentiment.

2. Everyone works together.

Executives and user research teams should collaboratively integrate NPS data with other relevant metrics, such as customer satisfaction scores, new product experience and usability scores, and qualitative feedback. This combination of quantitative and qualitative data provides a more comprehensive view of the customer experience, instead of a single question that can be answered in less than ten seconds.

3. Everyone expands their lens.

Businesses have a whole lot of ways to collect qualitative customer insights. Think: post-purchase surveys, usability tests and customer interviews. By encouraging customers to provide detailed feedback in several ways, organizations can better understand the reasons behind their NPS ratings.

4. Executives support both equally.

Executives can promote a culture of continuous improvement based on user research findings. That means actively seeking insights from those who uncover them, and incorporating them into decision-making processes. Execs are happy, researchers are happy, and the business fosters customer-centricity and improves overall customer satisfaction.

Understanding the “why” behind customer ratings requires collaboration between executives and user research teams to tell the full, dimensional picture. It’s critical to overall company success that user researchers and executives work together to create an insights-led organization that both measures top line metrics and creates an organization where “why” is always the next question. Everyone at the dinner table needs to keep talking.

Janet Muto is the co-founder and Head of Research of WEVO, the human-augmented AI user research company. She’s passionate about the continuous joys of discovering keen customer insights, finding new podcasts, hiking new trails and baking.

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