Need someone to lead product management at your software company? I create software for people that create software and I'm looking for my next opportunity. Check out my resume and get in touch.

Don't use NPS to measure user happiness for enterprise software

Freshness Warning
This blog post is over 3 years old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current and the links no longer work.

Net Promoter survey from SurveyMonkeyNet Promoter Score (NPS) has become the standard metric for gauging customer satisfaction and loyalty. Ask people to rate from 0 to 10 the question, “how likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or colleague?” There are a ton of valid criticisms of the metric and methodology, but for enterprise software, there’s an extra problem.

The NPS question is not relevant to the end users of the software.

Does it matter to the future of your expense management software if an entry-level outside sales rep at your customer would recommend your software?

The end user isn’t choosing the software, some IT buyer at their company is. For most business software, the end user does not influence the buying decisions, so a recommendation from them to another end user is meaningless.

Users instinctively understand this. I once worked with a product that had very high Promoter scores. Except for a cohort of German customers. German customers almost all answered 1 or 2 where most other customers were in the 8 to 10 range on the zero-to-ten scale.

When we asked the German customers what was wrong with the product, they said they loved it. Then why the low NPS? None of their friends were in the same industry, and all their colleagues already used the software. A recommendation would be useless and they saw no reason they would make such a recommendation.

When we did some cohort analysis of our NPS we found that our Promoter scores were much higher among administrators and buyers than we’d realized.

Likewise, you could have all the end users enjoy using your software and give you a high score, but the handful of people responsible for purchasing and operating the software give you a low score because it’s expensive and difficult to operate. You’d have a high NPS but lose the customer.

NPS might be a useful metric for the buyers of the software. For those that actually would recommend buying it at a future company or to their colleagues at other businesses.

Yet, to truly understand if the product is meeting the needs of the end user I like to ask a different question.

“How disappointed would you be if you could no longer use this product?”

You’re asking them to imagine a future state where this product doesn’t exist. Where they have to go back to the old way of doing their work.

Asking this way is different than asking, “how satisfied are you” because you’re giving them something to compare it to. Satisfaction is relative to the situation, so you get a better answer by anchoring the situation.

You can use whatever scale you want for the answers. Using the same scale and method you use for NPS might make sense if you’re trying to create a blended metric.

The scale I like to use is a simple one: extremely disappointed, a little disappointed, and don’t care.

Unless they make up most of your survey responses, you can ignore those who don’t care about your software. They’re not your ideal user, they may not use the product that much, or they’re using it in ways that you’re not focused on. If this category represents most of your responses, you’d better dig into why. You’re not going to survive very long with an entire customer base that doesn’t use your product much, doesn’t find it valuable, and wouldn’t care if it went away. If you see this pattern at a single customer, you’re not getting a renewal from that customer.

People that would be extremely disappointed to lose your product are your raving fans. Turn them into evangelists. Use them in your adoption campaign at their company. Get them in front of your buyers at the customer. Quote them in case studies.

End users that would be somewhat disappointed to live without your product are an opportunity. They like the product but could live without it. If you want to make your product better, work to convert them into raving fans.

Net Promoter measures decision makers. In enterprise software, the decision makers are far removed from the people using the product. Measuring the satisfaction and enjoyment of those end users is a key to unlocking product-led growth.

Recently Written

Too Big To Fail (Apr 9)
When a company piles resources on a new product idea, it doesn't have room to fail. That keeps it from succeeding.
Go small (Apr 4)
The strengths of a large organization are the opposite of what makes innovation work. Starting something new requires that you start with a small team.
Start with a Belief (Apr 1)
You can't use data to build products unless you start with a hypothesis.
Mastery doesn’t come from perfect planning (Dec 21)
In a ceramics class, one group focused on a single perfect dish, while another made many with no quality focus. The result? A lesson in the value of practice over perfection.
The Dark Side of Input Metrics (Nov 27)
Using input metrics in the wrong way can cause unexpected behaviors, stifled creativity, and micromanagement.
Reframe How You Think About Users of your Internal Platform (Nov 13)
Changing from "Customers" to "Partners" will give you a better perspective on internal product development.
Measuring Feature success (Oct 17)
You're building features to solve problems. If you don't know what success looks like, how did you decide on that feature at all?
How I use OKRs (Oct 13)
A description of how I use OKRs to guide a team, written so I can send to future teams.


What I'm Reading


Adam Kalsey

+1 916 600 2497


Public Key

© 1999-2024 Adam Kalsey.