NPS: vacuous, ambiguous, useless

Jared Spool, UIE

UIE, or User Interface Engineering, has been one of the pioneers in usability for a very long time. It’s founder, Jared Spool, is one of the industry’s leading commentators, innovators and educators. His conference appearances and keynote addresses can literally change how any number of UX and product professionals go about their job.  

The label ‘thought leadership’ gets bandied about all too often to the point of losing its cache. But Spool is the exception. And his article that follows (first published late 2017) goes to the heart of an intractable issue in many corporate environments: the dreaded NPS.

In 2003, a marketing consultant named Fred Reichheld lit the business world on fire with the Harvard Business Review article The One Number You Need To Grow. He asserted that by asking a single question—a question aimed at determining the organization’s customer’s loyalty—management could take the pulse of their customers’ feelings towards their business. He ended the article with:

This number is the one number you need to grow. It’s that simple and that profound.

It turns out, it’s neither simple nor profound. It doesn’t help businesses grow. It doesn’t even tell the management how loyal the customer is. Yet, Net Promoter Score (also known as NPS) meets all the common requirements of a “useful” business metric:

  • It’s easy to measure.
  • It produces a number you can track.
  • It feels legitimate.

Even though NPS has been solidly debunked in many smart research papers, it’s still solidly embedded into many businesses. We hear about companies rolling out new NPS measurement programs every day.

Industry leaders continue to sing NPS’s praises. For example, Stephen Bennett when he was CEO of Intuit: 

Every business line now addresses [NPS] as part of their strategic plan; it’s a component of every operating budget; it’s part of every executive’s bonus. We talk about progress on Net Promoter at every monthly operating review.

Companies like Intuit base their critical decisions on this metric, but the metric isn’t measuring what they think it is. In fact, NPS measures nothing in particular.

Jared Spool invites you to unpack how it works and see just how vacuous NPS truly is.