Ultimate Question…

A colleague and friend once told me that my biggest strength was that I had a high level of natural inquisitiveness. Or was it weakness? Maybe he was just saying that I asked a lot of questions. Or too many? I may be biased, but I will go with ‘strength’ and ‘right amount’. And it is not just asking questions. For me it is a desire to understand and to learn. Especially anything new, or different, or just interesting.

I like hearing people speak. I enjoy hearing descriptions of challenges overcome, of innovations introduced, of opportunities seized. I love to hear about related (or not) industries. It is always about listening and learning. Looking for insights and opportunities to transfer and apply.

I first came across Net Promoter Score some years ago at a Continuous Improvement conference in New   York. It was an unusual but amazing day. We had presentations from Banking, Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals and Military. I was bemused as I arrived, transfixed as I attended and inspired as I left.

Net Promoter Score (or NPS as I soon came to realise it is affectionately known) was described by an attendee from a company manufacturing healthcare technology. NPS was one third of a ‘balanced scorecard’ used to assess their business performance. The other two being growth in business and achievement of budget (top line sales and operating margin respectively in her case). I didn’t focus on these two – both of which I had heard of before…although I very much liked that concept of balance in her scorecard.

NPS was something new. And it was simple. Customers are asked if they would recommend the (service delivery) company to a colleague or a friend. Responses are captured on a 0 -10 scale where respondents are classified as ‘Detractors’ (0 – 6), ‘Passives’ (7 – 8) or ‘Promoters’ (9 – 10). Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting percentage of detractors from percentage of promoters.

NPS is all about us as customers and our experience with a service provider. It is truly quality in the eye of the customer…and yet it is independent of a successful outcome. It is absolutely possible to improve and yet it is very hard to manipulate. It is all about clients, their perception and their experience. Success is achieved by focussing on customers and their experience. It is as amazing as it is challenging – every customer is different. And that is both the simplicity and the beauty.

In the absence of anything else, I assumed NPS could be successfully applied within an organisation (assessed by internal customers), as much as it can be applied by a business with external customers. And this is how we started.

Once I knew the Ultimate Question, I realised I saw it everywhere. On airplanes and in restaurants. On internet shopping sites and in hospitals. Sometimes it was surrounded by other questions, but the ultimate NPS question is always there.

I always respond. I like it most when there is a follow up of some sort – even a thank you email makes me feel listened to and – above all – valued. When we applied NPS within an organisation we followed up with internal responders – whatever their score – to learn and understand…and to improve. And the same keys to success apply for external customers…customers who are really no different from internal customers (other than that we pay with real money).

We all like to be treated individually. We all appreciate advice and support and timely information. We all need to know that whoever is looking after us cares about us, cares what we think, and cares what we want.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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3 Responses to Ultimate Question…

  1. Briggs says:

    Hi Steve
    Good post. As you note, the key with the NPS is to understand why — and what you would need to do to convert your customer to a clear and unequivocal promoter (9 or 10). Too often people track this like they track a KPI, with mean scores and quarterly progress reports. It is not a KPI — it is an on-the-spot opportunity for feedback that we should act on immediately. And if you aren’t willing to act on it immediately, you probably shouldn’t ask the question — that is a sure way to generate detractors..

    • Steve Street says:


      Great to hear from you and I could not posisbly agree more…



      • Steve Street says:


        Hi there. Excellent to hear from you on this one – I did think of you as I experienced the ‘silent failure’. I remembered well how much it used to frustrate you.

        I trust you and the family are well, and that work (and Life) is Good.



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