Improving Your NPS

Here are the main ways to create promoters and minimize detractors.

Yesterday I wrote about the net promoter score (NPS), and why this KPI is even more important to boutique consulting businesses than to large corporations. The next natural question here is: How can we improve it?

First, let's review the basics. NPS is measured by posing your clients a simple question:

“On a scale from zero to 10, how likely would you be to recommend our company to a friend / someone like yourself?”

Bain & Company classifies the answers into three categories:

  • Promoters: Respond with a 9 or 10, and are typically loyal and enthusiastic clients who spread the word about your consultancy.
  • Passives: Respond with a 7 or 8, and are satisfied but not delighted enough to actively promote you and your business.
  • Detractors: Respond with a score of 0 to 6. They are unlikely to hire you again, and might even discourage peers and acquaintances from contacting you.

The theoretical path to maximize your NPS, according to this classification, is simple. You want to increase the number of promoters and/or decrease the number of detractors. Putting this into practice, however, is when things get trickier.

Any basic research will identify hundreds of tactics designed to improve client satisfaction. My clients usually find it helpful to zoom out first, and only then get more granular on specific actions. To do that, we can classify tactics in four different areas:

  1. Improving the offering: If your services or products deliver excellent results, clients will be happy. It sounds too obvious, but consultants spend very little time experimenting and looking to improve their offerings. If you can deliver more value - in the form of specialization, speed, simplification, or risk mitigation - any client satisfaction score will naturally reflect that.
  2. Improving the delivery: The best offering in the world, if poorly delivered, will produce a grumpy client. Remember the 50/50 rule - you should devote half of your attention to results, and the other half to your client's experience. This can be done by improving the quality and frequency of communication, standing on the front line for clients, avoid making things harder for them.
  3. Aligning expectations: At the very fundamental level, clients won't be happy if you fail to fulfill their expectations. This means delivering what you promised, within the timeframe and budget that you promised - on your marketing and sales, work agreement, and onboarding process. The solution to avoid overpromising is to review those components or frequently report on the status of their work. When you let the distance between the past and the present get too big, client expectations won't be aligned with reality.
  4. Narrowing target segment: The last obvious way dissatisfaction is created is when you sell an offering to the wrong client - or the wrong offering to a client. This can be a problem of vague targeting, or you may be specialized in a narrow target market that is not homogeneous. Most biotech startups with up to 2o employees will face similar compliance challenges, for example. But you might find out most of your detractors are bootstrapped startups, who demand faster results. In this case, your core offering is a better fit for VC-funded startups, and adding this targeting criteria to your sales qualification is a quick way to improve client satisfaction.

As you can see, there's not a single way to increase your NPS. Improving client satisfaction requires quite a bit of creativity, as well as careful implementation. This is why I believe an operations person (or external advisor) should be among the first three hires of your consultancy.

What can you do to improve client satisfaction in the next quarter? Take some time to list ideas and revisit them in your planning process.

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