Rate and improve tech comm with the Net Promoter Score

You can use the Net Promoter Score to rate and improve technical communication – but it works best on the scale of corporate content for which the score was designed. Here’s why and how.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS)

The Net Promoter Score measures customer loyalty and satisfaction with a company or offering.  It boils down difficult issues with perceived quality to a simple question:

How likely are you to recommend our company/product/service to your friends and colleagues?

Usually, the answers are ranked on a scale from 1 (highly unlikely) to 10 (very likely). You distinguish the percentage of respondents in three groups:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Detractors

Passives

 Promoters

  • Detractors are people who replied with 6 or lower.
  • Passives are people who rated your offer as 7 or 8.
  • Promoters are people who answered 9 or 10.

The NPS is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors: If 20% of your customers are promoters who really like your offering (and answered 9 or 10) and 30% don’t think too highly of it (and answered 6 or lower), then your NPS is 20-30 = -10. Generally, an NPS  above zero, indicating more promoters than detractors, is considered a good thing…

NPS for tech comm?

So how can we apply that score to tech comm? Are customers loyal to a help system? Are they likely to recommend it to friends or colleagues? Probably not in isolation of the described product.

There don’t seem to be a lot of ideas “out there” that connect NPS to documentation, but one article by JoAnn Hackos does: Influencing the Bottom Line: Using Information Architecture to Effect Business Success.

The key to turning the NPS into a useful tool for documentation is to take the scope from the NPS, not from the documentation! Hackos shows how we can relate the NPS to corporate and product content as a whole. This includes tech comm, but also marketing and sales content. This is what drives the customer experience which the NPS reflects. And it takes improvements in the corporate-wide content and its information architecture to increase the NPS.

Hackos describes a company which found that content contributed to the low NPS:

… senior management became advocates for significantly improving content quality. That meant changing the relationship between the technical authors and the product developers, requiring that information architects establish close relationships with customer support and training, and redefining the type of content that would be delivered to customers in the future.

- Sometimes, tech comm can adopt management tools to their purpose and scope, but with the NPS it seems most feasible to plug in to the corporate use of the tool.

Does this make sense? Can tech comm benefit from NPS and improvement initiatives? Or is that a hare-brained idea, and we should really stick to key performance indicators suitable for tech comm?

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3 Responses

  1. No, it’s not hare-brained at all. The Tech Comm team should always be looking for ways to improve tools and processes, and the NPS can be a great tool for justifying those improvements. I like it best when the impetus comes from the bottom up (from the Tech Comm team) than from the top down (from senior management). But it’s a good thing either way..

  2. I have doubts about NPS used on an international audience. I think people responds differently in different cultures. I never give a 10, almost never a 9. A good product meeting all my expectations gets a 6. A 10 is like the best product in the history of humankind, maybe ‘the wheel’ (and its descendants, the cogwheel etc.) would get a 10.

    • Thanks for your comment, Rickard.

      Yes, the NPS is certainly vulnerable to different attitudes towards its grading scale. I’ve seen cases where initial NPS values were lower than expected and intended for the reason you mention.

      However, that seems to be true for most grading scales, whether you use school grades or something else.

      The best solution is probably to explain both the grading scale and the calculation of the score to allow respondents to grade appropriately.

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