Net Promoter Score (NPS) has long been a darling metric among investors and retailers, but not without attracting its fair share of criticism. While NPS is generally discussed as a measure of customer loyalty, it is more correctly a measure customer advocacy. Pedantic? Perhaps, but a recent Pragma project illustrates why this distinction can be crucial.

The project in question involved evaluating casual dining chains across the UK – a crowded space with a relative lack of differentiation. A competitor of particular interest was a rapidly expanding younger entrant boasting excellent customer satisfaction ratings and class beating NPS. But, of course, NPS doesn’t tell the full story. Our quantitative research explored a crucial question: does this actually mean the brand’s customers come through the door more often? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, was no. In this instance, despite being more likely to recommend the brand, customers weren’t more likely to choose it over its competitors.

Additionally, some competitors experienced greater ‘loyalty’ (in terms of visit frequency) despite lower NPS. Our qualitative work helped us gain important insight as to why: many focus group participants who identified themselves as being fans of well established brands reacted tepidly at the suggestion of recommending those brands to others. When asked to score their likeliness to recommend, they suggested 7 or 8 out of 10 and would therefore be termed ‘passive’ according to the rules of NPS. However, this doesn’t match the participants’ own perceptions of that score, which they regarded ‘good’ for the market in question. Furthermore, customers were disinclined to advocate brands which were already well-known.

This complements another corollary of Pragma’s investigation: for some brands in this space, a fundamental attraction for consumers is a ‘safe choice’. Customer expectations of reliable, ‘bread-and-butter’ provision are paramount in certain scenarios, and factors which might drive NPS, such as novelty and excitement, can be at odds with this. Ultimately, metrics like NPS can only tell you so much, and there really is no substitute for in-depth qualitative and quantitative analysis when it comes to understanding consumer behaviour.

AJ Chandrasena