In my previous post, I discussed the principles behind Fred Reichheld’s Net Promoter Score, a system of measuring client loyalty by asking a customer, on a scale of 0-10, how likely they’d be to recommend your company to a friend or colleague, and what the main reason is for their answer.
My company, Ascentium, began using the Net Promoter Score in 2006, and as soon as we had gathered a few hundred responses, a good sample size, I began to see interesting patterns emerging from the answers our clients were giving us. I began to learn things a traditional survey would not have told me—partly because I simply wouldn’t have thought to ask the right questions.
In this post, I’d like to concentrate on what Net Promoter Score taught me about people—my company’s own staff and teams—and their relationship with our clients. Ascentium has always considered our staff to be our most valuable asset, and for as long as we’ve been in business, our employees have always earned the highest praise from clients. But our Net Promoter Score feedback, over more than five years, has taught me some unexpected lessons about the impact our staff has on client loyalty.
I’ll give two standout examples.
First, when we began examining large amounts of NPS data, we learned that the number one reason a client ranked as a detractor—gave us a score of 6 or lower—was that we had swapped out staff during a project, e.g. changed the project manager, lead developer, creative director, etc. Our clients liked working with our teams, didn’t like us making unilateral changes in the teams, and cared deeply about it. Our reasons for making changes were of little importance to the client. I might have swapped out Project Manager B in favor of Project Manager A, thinking it was an upgrade that would improve the project. But the client feedback would inevitably be negative, e.g. “I just got this person trained and you gave me someone else.” As a rule, clients deplored unsolicited change in the make-up of a team.
It was a counterintuitive lesson for me. I tended to think that work quality was paramount; it was the most common reason we’d swap out staff. But client feedback overwhelmingly told us that the staff-to-client relationship was just as important—often more important. Data drove home the message that it really is all about the people, and to forget this can have critical consequences for business.
The second lesson I learned from clients who gave us low NPS grades is something like the converse of the first. Feedback told us, beyond question, that if a client is not working well with a project team member, and has made it known, that team member should be taken off the project immediately. My own natural tendency, when I heard such complaints, had been to try to repair the employee/client relationship. Bad idea. Years of client feedback told us it just doesn’t work. If the client complains about a team member, swapping the employee does far more to build client loyalty than any attempts to repair the relationship.
Doing so doesn’t reflect badly on the employee or the client. It’s about a relationship that isn’t working and simply needs to be changed. There are extremes. Obviously, if every client dislikes Employee A, you’ve got the wrong employee. And likewise, if a client dislikes all your employees, you’ve got the wrong client. But in most cases, a quick swap in response to a client complaint is the best remedy.
Asking The Ultimate Question gave us a new and vital understanding that it’s at least as much about the people as it is about the work. In my next post, I’ll talk about other important lessons in client loyalty that Ascentium has learned from Net Promoter Score data.
Steven Salta is co-founder and CEO of Ascentium, a digital media and interactive marketing agency. Steven has overall responsibility for the agency’s revenue, profitability, customer loyalty, and corporate culture.