As to my background and credentials as editor of this publication: I began my career as a sports journalist, where I worked closely with Sports Illustrated, and later as a reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer and as Weekend Night Sports Editor for the Cincinnati Post. I moved on to work as a copywriter in the marketing department at Union Central Life, then one of the top 50 insurance companies in the US. My next stint was as a Marketing Manager for KDI Corporation, a high-tech A&D conglomerate. From there I served for a couple of years as a writer and account executive at a promotion agency, working for Champion Spark Plugs, Owens-Corning and Jeep. I did a stint as editor of an international trade magazine and then made the jump to marketing management at a chemical company, and later at NuTone, a manufacturer of home building products. That’s when I made the big jump, opening a sales promotion agency with partners Richard Blumberg and Barron Krody. Over the next two decades we built the agency up to one of the 50 largest in the US, serving Procter & Gamble, Toshiba, Florida Power & Light, 3M, Imation, Quaker State, Pillsbury, St. Paul Insurance, among others. I sold the agency to join Cincom Systems — the oldest software company still in existence — where I worked with a phenomenal group of marketers as Marketing Director for Manufacturing Customer Strategies and to manage marketing programs with Microsoft Dynamics, our primary business partner . I retired from Cincom at the end of 2015 to put renewed focus on this online magazine.

The Net Promoter Development Insight

By Dale Wolf

The Net Promoter Score, of course, is based on a single question: "would you recommend us to your friends and colleagues?"

I love the simplicity of this Net Promoter Score method. In the end, of course, it is only one of many questions we need to ask to understand our customers … but it is at least one question that should always be asked. And the answer to this question is a tell-tale sign as to whether or not we are creating customer advocates.

Buzz Canuck has inspired me to include another question when talking with customers.

This question is not so much to score advocacy but to actually help create advocacy.

Buzz’s blog listed a bunch of ways in which various companies pleasantly surprised their customers. Such pleasant surprises would of course create indelible impressions on us as customers.

A few examples of surprises from his blog:

  • Tiffany has the nicely wrapped blue box
  • Doubletree Hotels has a freshly baked cookie
  • Starbucks parades free samples of their new products on a regular basis
  • The Soup Peddler delivers his product on a bike to your door step
  • Charmin has created a portable theme park dedicated to toilet paper

Surprises are emotional and emotions stick in the memory longer. Such recall is a good thing and is likely to stir positive word-of-mouth.

So this leads me to my new single question to guide the design of a great, memorable customer experience.

It might be called the Net Promoter Development Insight:

What can we do to pleasantly surprise you?

That should generate some innovative ideas on how to design an intentional, valued, differentiated customer experience. Now instead of the usual questions that dig into needs, wants and expectations we have a question that can lead us a new way of delivering the perfect customer experience.

If all we do is meet expectations, we are kind of ho-hum.

But if we surprise our customers with something totally unexpected, we are in a different world. An emotional world. A world where customers will say good things about us to friends and colleagues.

If we can deliver such pleasant surprises consistently, then it is a safe bet that our Net Promoter Score will go up.

So, kind readers, what can this blog do for you that would totally and pleasantly surprise you? Tell us and put us to the test. You can challenge us by posting your answer in the comments or by sending me an email to "dwolf at wolf-creative dot com."

The Richter Scale Debate on Net Promoter Scoring Rages On

My posting earlier this week regarding Net Promoter Scoring is not going down without challenge!

I cited a comment by Timothy Keiningham, senior vice president and head of consulting at IPSOS Loyalty, that has provided contradictory findings. Tim wrote back a firey fact-filled and passionate response that I felt should be presented as an article of its own … with that said, here is the other side of the debate:

Dear Dale —

I would like to respond to your comments regarding to the research I conducted with Professors Bruce Cooil (Vanderbilt University), Tor Wallin Andreassen (Norwegian School of Management), and Lerzan Aksoy (Koç University) that appears in the current issue of the Journal of Marketing ["A Longitudinal Examination of Net Promoter and Firm Revenue Growth,"]

FIRST, Managing Service Quality has just released another paper we co-authored that investigates other aspects of the Net Promoter research conducted by Reichheld and Satmetrix. The research examines different customer satisfaction and loyalty metrics and tests their relationship to customer loyalty behaviors. The goal was to test the robustness of the customer-level analysis conducted by Reichheld and Satmetrix, which served as the foundation of the Net Promoter research. Contrary to Reichheld’s assertions, the results indicate that recommend intention alone will not suffice as a single predictor of customers’ future loyalty behaviors. Use of multiple indicators instead of a single predictor model performs better in predicting customer recommendations and retention. The fact is, customer loyalty behaviors (i.e., word of mouth, retention, and share of wallet) are distinct and best predicted using different measures.

Because of the importance of the work, Managing Service Quality is making the paper available for free for download: ["The Value of Different Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty Metrics in Predicting Customer Retention, Recommendation, and Share-of-Wallet,"]

These findings, taken in conjunction with the findings of our research reported in the Journal of Marketing regarding the relationship between Net Promoter and growth, call into question the robustness of the entire analysis conducted by Reichheld.

SECOND, with regard to our Journal of Marketing paper [], there are two key findings from the research:

1) We did not find Net Promoter to be a good predictor of growth at all.

2) We found very strong evidence of research bias in the research reported by Reichheld in support of Net Promoter.

In the Harvard Business Review article that introduced Net Promoter, in the book, The Ultimate Question, and in presentations regarding Net Promoter, the American Customer Satisfaction Index has been specifically mentioned as not linking to firm growth by Reichheld. The book, The Ultimate Question, argues that the ACSI does not yield much insight into loyalty or growth, noting that “investors rarely waste money on standard satisfaction surveys” as a result (The Ultimate Question, p. 86).

Similarly, an article in the Harvard Business Review states (p. 49): “Our research indicates that satisfaction lacks a consistently demonstrable connection to actual customer behavior and growth. This finding is borne out by the short shrift that investors give to such reports as the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The ACSI, published quarterly in the Wall Street Journal, reflects customer satisfaction ratings of some 200 U.S. companies. In general, it is difficult to discern a strong correlation between high customer satisfaction scores and outstanding sales growth.”

Furthermore, in a web-based presentation, Mr. Reichheld states that a “Bain team looked at the correlation between growth and customer satisfaction, and found there is none.” A scatter diagram was shown with the X-axis labeled “American consumer satisfaction index annual growth” and the Y-axis labeled “Sales annual growth.” The R-square reported was 0.00, indicating no correlation whatsoever.

Given that our findings show that Net Promoter was not superior to the ACSI when using Reichheld’s best-case scenarios, it is virtually impossible to imagine a scenario other than research bias as the cause. This is a VERY SERIOUS problem. We expect research published in our most prestigious journals to be free of bias in management science, just as we do in all other fields of study. We would not consider this kind of problem acceptable had the research been conducted in medical, psychological, or physics research; the same standards apply in management science.

Managers have adopted Net Promoter based upon the belief that solid science underpinned the claims attributed to the metric. In fact, there would have been no Harvard Business Review paper introducing Net Promoter without the research. This also has serious implications regarding the credibility of Reichheld’s book, The Ultimate Question. Additionally, biased “research” that is published in a prestigious management journal contaminates not only management practice, but also management science, as it will be used by scientists as a basis for future research.

It is vital that we not be apologists or revisionists when it comes to issues of research bias. Our credibility must never be in question regarding the research we publish in prestigious journals; the truth matters. Therefore, discussions about Net Promoter by researchers (practitioner and academic) must first adequately address this issue. If not, then why do any research at all, as we can simply present the answers we want to believe as supporting evidence and be done with it? Given the evidence we uncovered, however, we seriously doubt that there will be an acceptable answer to the issue of bias in Reichheld’s reported research. [Ironically, in The Ultimate Question, Reichheld emphasizes the importance of eliminating bias from research (pp. 106-111).]

While we can all agree for the need to have measures that are easily understood and used by managers, that is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Regardless of whether or not one chooses to believe in Net Promoter, we all must insist that the evidence used to support the metric be unbiased. This issue is so overridingly important to very core of what we as researchers (academic and practitioner) do and stand for that it must be addressed. Our credibility in science and in practice is based upon honest and fair evaluations of data…if this is contaminated and unchallenged, then there is no reason to believe anything we say.


Tim Keiningham

Net Promoter Score. To be or not to be? That is the ultimate customer experience question

By Dale Wolf

For now, I say the answer is "yes."  Net Promoter Score will improve an organization’s transformation into one that sees customer experience as its main purpose. Advocates and growth will follow.

Net Promoter Score, a measurement methodology espoused by Satmetrix and Fred Reichheld, remains the Ultimate Question when evaluating customer advocacy. In 2003, a Harvard Business Review article –The one number you need to grow’ – introduced the world to Net Promoter. Based around the idea that customer referral is the key metric, rather than the likes of customer satisfaction or customer retention, Net Promoter claimed to provide a score that would accurately predict a company’s ability to impress customers, turn customers into advocates, and — in turn — become an indicator of potential business growth.

The reason this is a question at all is that there are detractors to this methodology.

Here’s an example found on

Timothy Keiningham, senior vice president and head of consulting at IPSOS Loyalty, recently set out to re-examine Reichheld’s research and findings on NPS. Using industries cited as exemplars of the NPS metric, and longitudinal data from 21 companies and 15,500 interviews, it was assumed that the findings would replicate those of Reichheld in 2003 and Satmetrix in 2004. But there was a shock in store. Not only did they not replicate the findings, but when comparing the results to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), Keiningham and his team also found that Net Promoter had no clear superiority to other measures. Full Report: Download keiningham_nps_analysis.pdf

So, you might ask, in the light of a survey of 15,000 interviews saying NPS is not the "end all-be all" why, Dale, do you cling to this "overly-simplistic" measurement?

"Good question!" I say.

Because I see too many examples of corporate leaders who have made a commitment to NPS who are betting their own compensation on this. When you put your own money behind something, you catch my attention. For example:

“NPS is the most powerful tool we have ever deployed at GE.” This evaluation comes from Dan Henson, a 20-year GE veteran who is now the company’s chief marketing officer. His comments, based on several years of experience implementing NPS across a wide range of businesses, stand in stark contrast to a recent article in an academic market-research journal. That article, written by two professors, not only concluded that there is no connection between NPS and business growth or profits, but also cautioned that using NPS “is misguided and potentially harmful.” Meanwhile, NPS has become a centerpiece of GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s growth agenda, and his company is rolling it out to every one of its businesses around the world."

The alternative is to develop and deploy a more complex tool. "Fine," I say, "Get all the data you can get."

But, I’m a simple guy. CEOs need something simple that will help them guide their businesses.

The important thing about NPS is that it becomes a tool that drags (or catapults) a company to focus on the customer. This shift in thinking is what is important. It is hard to rally around a 50-question customer loyalty survey. But a simple measure … would you refer us to your friends or colleagues … can change a culture. If such a measure is adopted across a company and if compensation is driven by it, the entire organization will magically transform itself into a customer-centric animal seeking reward.

So the debate can roar on. And while the pundits are roaring their opinions, facts and conclusions about NPS, those companies who adopt it are transforming — like a caterpillar into a Monarch butterfly — into organizations focused on making customers happy.

Happy customers beget more happy customers.

And growth will follow.