What is a good NPS score?

Karl Treacher is hearing this question more and more these days. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as the NPS question itself.

The answer is ‘it depends’. Foremost, it depends on your category. If you’re a bank or health insurance brand the good bad/news is that some studies show the majority of negative positions are still better than the category average! The same Australian study found that by category, the average NPS (net promoter score) was negative.

Negative. Sounds depressing doesn’t it. Given that the majority of C-suite executives are appointed based on their ability and potential to win, you can understand why their attention quickly morphs into a laser-like focus when they see a negative NPS score. The issue is in the framing. Instead of viewing NPS as a scale with a goal medal awarded to those brands that reach +100, the best results come from brands that recognise that NPS is more like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s there as a metaphor or motivation, not as something you’re actually supposed to reach. That said, negative is still negative… which means many, many things in customer experience, culture and brand could be much, much better.

Expectations are on the rise

If you’re like me and someone has just told you that you can’t take first place, you’ll require a high standard of proof (and then won’t believe it anyway). So as an example, let’s use the brand that people love to love: Apple. The world’s most valuable company and the world’s most valuable brand. It’s the definition of organisational aspiration, with an army of fans external and internal and an embedded NPS culture. Last year it scored +66 in the US.

What scored higher? Costco at +79. Next up was USAA (United Services Automobile Association) leading across auto insurance, banking and home insurance. What does this tell us? Category is no impediment. Broadly, customers bring different sets of expectations to different categories. It’s the brands that surprise and delight that are judged – and recommended – within their category context. While it may be heartening to know that your brand isn’t necessarily competing with Apple, what is important to recognise, is that there is an ever present element of the zero-sum game to NPS.

Brand (organisational) performance depends on customer experience

As a veteran in building brands and branding experiences, I’m glad to see the rise and rise of NPS. For too many years and with many CMOs and CEOs I’ve shared the arresting stats and emphasised the huge potential that exists for brands that get it right:

  • 70% of customers have stopped buying goods or services from a company after experiencing poor customer service,
  • 64% have, after experiencing poor customer service, gone straight to a competing brand to make a purchase, and
  • 81% are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

But the beautiful simplicity of the ‘the ultimate question’ belies the complexity of the organisational change required to lift NPS and realise this potential.

Receiving your brand’s NPS score is akin to stepping off the scales during your first fitness assessment at the gym after a few years of long lunches and lingering lattes. You know there’s work to be done and it’s time to put a program together. But where to start? Brand, culture, product design, experience design?

The answer is: start with the end in mind – ‘brand touch points’, any interaction that customers have with an organisation (its brand).

“According to behavioural scientists, when people recall an experience, they don’t remember every single moment of it (unless the experience was short and traumatic). Instead, they recall a few significant moments vividly and gloss over the others – they remember snapshots, not movies. And they carry away an overall assessment of the experience that’s based on three factors: “The trend in the sequence of pain or pleasure, the high and low points, and the ending,” write Richard Chase and Sriram Dasu in Harvard Business Review.

At those pleasure points, does your brand make it really easy for your promoters to… well, promote? Have you asked them what it is they love about your brand? Start here. These promoters will help detail the program you’re putting together, you’ll learn which of your touch points are creating the surprise and delight moments that turn customers from neutrals to advocates. This may begin the journey of mapping your touch points that many brands have already undertaken.

Hygiene NPS

First, the brand will need to meet hygiene requirements. This is where category context becomes less relevant. Customers of all kinds associate queueing with queueing, rather than specifically queueing at a bank for instance. Queuing at a bank is now, generally, quite fast, versus queueing at a car rental company – which is generally horrendous.

Another of many hygiene related NPS factors is ‘localising’ the experience. This is where local culture and employee personality should make their mark. When it works, it gives customers comfort in the environment, humanises the brand and will drive NPS and employee engagement. When it doesn’t, it can dilute brands and confuse customers. Brand experience guidelines, coaching and all cultural support elements are critical if you are even thinking about branding an employee-customer experience.

Look under the hood before you drive

Too often I see a list of NPS uplift ‘initiatives’ – disparate programs of work that are supposed to drive NPS scores. It’s important here to stop. Take the necessary time to undertake the analysis to uncover which of the many facets of customer experience will return the greatest NPS yield. Which touch points mean the most to customers, why, and how can you evolve these to leave a positive impression.

Sometimes it can even be the designated ‘on-brand’ experiences that are hurting your brand the most. Using Apple as the example again, Apple’s in-store ‘signature experience’ is far from ideal (teenagers in blue T-shirts asking you to wait by a table until someone comes and finds you… with no regard given to ‘how long the wait time’.

This is no doubt where many of its remaining 44 NPS points lie, along with the complete absence of any telephone tech support.

Pies and cakes and NPS

Although we’d all like to step off those gym scales and into a fitter, healthier body, we first have to do to the work, the right work. We need to keep our focus on, and measure performance by, our progress, and with our goal in mind. NPS is no different: focus on improvement, and the score will follow. If we stop eating pies and cakes, take a walk every day and plank while waiting for the bus, we can expect to improve our physical health. If your brand analyses show how your customers interact with your brand, identify the high yield touch points and build meaningful and convenience experiences, you can expect your NPS score to improve.

OK, OK, if that all sounds like I’m not answering the question, then here’s the short answer: it’s +50. A great NPS score is anything over +50. This is where you find iconic brands that customers love… to recommend.


Karl Treacher
BY Karl Treacher ON 30 November 2015
Chief executive of The Brand Institute of Australia, a behavioural analyst
with more than 15 years of brand consultancy experience and a pioneer of organisational branding and culture alignment. Tweet at him using @treacher.
  • Eb

    One of the problems is there’s no consistency with what people report on, some report on Transactional NPS others Relationship NPS, some do double blind studies others take statistically representative samples. There’s so much variation in how people do this stuff.

    Just a thought but wouldn’t it be interesting if all companies could report their NPS based on the responses of their top (insert number eg. 200/250) customers by revenue.

    In the past i’ve spoken about the score as being like a trip to the doctors a health check…..The point is you’ve got to do something about it to improve.

    0 and below trouble is here or near (You’re ripe for disruption in your industry if everyone is playing here, you’re leaking customers, costs are high or you’re giving discounts to keep Customers)

    0-20 you’re in the game with all the others in business (Mediocre and similar to above)

    +20 Market/industry leading (Improving operationally, possibly seeing operational savings or less churn, seeing improved return customers, footfall, steady income growth)

    50+ Up there with the best. (Seeing growth in profits,revenue, customer numbers, EBIT’s, price premiums etc….)