Why there needs to be a European variant of the Net Promoter Score

The popularity of Net Promoter ScoreSM is staggering. We see it used constantly in both B2C and B2B surveys. Its utter simplicity is extremely attractive to managers sick of the overly complex reports they are used to getting from the market research industry. What I want to talk about is the impact of culture on NPS®. I started thinking about it when a long-time client of ours in the Netherlands was acquired by an American company. The American company placed great importance on NPS even basing bonuses on it. The American company was surprised at what a low NPS score the Dutch Company was getting. The score wasn’t low, it was just above 0 which in NPS terms is actually neutral.

Scoring bias engrained in cultural differences between Europe and US

What was going on here? Well, it had nothing to do with the quality of the service of our Dutch client. It had to do with ‘scoring’ nature of the Dutch respondents versus American respondents. When Americans are asked to rate something on a scale of 0 to 10 they give more extreme responses as compared to their European counterparts. This scoring bias is deeply engrained in the cultural differences between Europe and the US. American children are expected to get all A’s, even in high school. In Europe where tests are graded on a scale of 0 to 10, students can almost never get a ten. A teacher of my daughter once said that an 8 is great, a 9 is for geniuses and 10, well only God can get a 10.

When European respondents, growing up in such a school system, are confronted with a classic NPS scale of 0 to 10, they will – if extremely satisfied – give an 8 (a compliment in their mind). I see plenty of surveys conducted in Europe based on some American template where these respondents are then asked “What can we do to get a 9 or 10?” They inevitably respond with “Nothing, I love your company!” or “Nothing, it was the best service I ever had.”

In classic NPS scoring, the 8 from these respondents has no weight! They are ignored. That is why so many European companies have neutral NPS scores. What I propose is a European Net Promoter Score variant where an 8 also counts as a promoter and 6 as passive.

If I apply this NPS-EU scoring to various client EU companies of ours, I get scores much closer to their respective American industry benchmarks! Using the NPS-EU, would allow American companies to realistically compare their NPS scores with those across the pond. It would also give European managers a more accurate and usable instrument.

A Net Promoter Score variant for each country?

In the future, it could be fine-tuned even further. Once there is enough data from different European countries, a weight or factor could be applied to scores based on the cultural response bias in each country.

What do we do in the meanwhile? Well, our advice to our clients is not to worry about industry NPS benchmarks. Start measuring NPS now yourself and use your score as your own benchmark and base. Then start tracking it through time. Use key-driver analysis to find out which factors affect your score. Take action and repeat. Don’t ask everyone at once. Spread it out and ask a small panel once a month. That way you shorten the cycle between measurement and action and back to measurement again.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Net Promoter and NPS are registered service marks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks, of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc. and Fred Reichheld.


Join the conversation
  • Alain Thys - June, 2016 reply

    Dear Alexander,

    Thank you for this article.

    I’m afraid that your US client has been misinformed about the ways Net Promoter works across cultural environments. I’ve now had the opportunity of having been involved in NPS programmes in over 40 different countries for brands you know. Believe me when I say that “every country on the planet scores differently”. To make things even more complex, the scoring behaviour can even be very different by culture and by survey method (phone vs. email vs. F2F).

    This is why one of the very firm rules which Reichheld himself advocates is that “you shall not compare NPS scores across countries/cultures”. Being ultra-pure about it, this even goes for the US itself (e.g. scoring can differ from urban to rural, California vs Midwest, by religious group, …)

    Having said that – properly executed – NPS benchmarks are a treasure trove of competitive, commercial and operational information, which can help prioritise business issues, create financial gains and give competitors a serious headache. So I’m afraid I cannot really agree with your recommendation of not worrying about them. Yes, there is a lot of value in getting things done better through small panels, and that is indeed a first step. But “real NPS” is about gaining a competitive advantage and out-growing the competition. About following up with EVERY customer (not just a small panel) This means benchmarking, cultural change programmes, broad approaches and not being too quick about putting bonuses on scores (like your US client).

    So I would propose that we don’t muddy the water with new “European” approaches and cultural weighting (which I agree should be possible with sufficient data, but it would create more validity questions than it would answer).

    Instead, let’s all focus our attention on making a contribution to the movement for getting NPS implemented correctly. Once we all get to that point, we can start working on improvements.

    Marjorie - June, 2019 reply

    I agree we shouldn’t compare pears and apples. However, how would you proceed to create an overall NPS for a company which has clients all over the world?

    Considering that one month the proportion of Dutch respondents in your sample over indexes and the following month under indexes resulting in an increasing overall NPS?
    Would you create an NPS for each geographical zone and then combine them? This would remove the nationality issue but not accurately reflect the view of the customers.

  • Scott Wilson - August, 2014 reply

    I agree with the sentiments of your article. In addition to your point about cultural differences, I think the type of product or service being offered could also skew things. Our company provides professional services. We have tended to score well but I think 10s may be difficult to get when it comes to certain types of services that do not create the same personal excitement factor as do some consumer products. I think the true value is the client engagement and feedback we get as part of the process as opposed to our raw scoring.

  • Joeshar - May, 2014 reply

    Well, NPS is not a satisfaction survey. It does not ask how much you like the company, product or service, how much you’re satisfied. The question wants to learn whether you recommend the company, product or service to someone. That is more than satisfaction. You’re ok but can you recommend your friend to buy the same product? Are you a brand advocate? Companies want new customers and most of them may satisfy. The level of satisfaction changes according to the expectations. But what about the ones that are recommended? The ones that create “wow” experience. They will survive.
    You go to a movie and think that it’s ok: 8 out of 10. Do you recommend to your friend to buy the ticket, or say “neeh. it’s ok but you may wait for the DVD/BluRay.”

  • Alexander Dobronte - September, 2012 reply

    @Peter The point of the article was that the NPS scoring is geared towards American respondents. Since I wrote this article, our approach to NPS in Europe has been to focus on moving detractors up the scale. Fewer detractors goes straight to the bottom line.

  • Peter Stevens - September, 2012 reply

    I believe the question is not “what can we do to get a 9 or a 10?” but “what can we do to improve by a full point.”

    It is easy to find examples of people tweaking numbers to make themselves look good, or modifying a framework to make it more like what they are used to. (Scrum, Lean, and NPS come to mind).

    What’s important is to focus on the goal of good profits and enthusiastic customers. And even in Europe, there are enthusiastic customers and even companies who appreciate the importance of good profits.

  • Jurgen Wouters - May, 2012 reply

    Also its not about the score, its what you do with the feedback. The numbers are there to measure improvement and understand why the number is what it is.
    Passives are not calculated but their feedback can be valuable.
    They still provide feedback in a constructive way.
    Is it about the SCORE ==> NO ITS ABOUT EVOLUTION

  • Jurgen Wouters - May, 2012 reply

    So i agree stick to the rules there is logic behind them. 7,8 s are the same as I LIKE, but they never return never buy and you hardly benefit from them I FOLLOW is different same thing.

  • Jurgen Wouters - May, 2012 reply

    I understand the reason of the discussion, I have the discussion on a daily basis
    The moment people are convinced of the 7,8 being passive they understand NPS

    Jurgen Wouters - May, 2012 reply

    You want promoters i guess thats clear. You also want active promoters customers who will spontaneously tell your story. 9 and 10 will exactly do that.
    Below 6 the question is would they promote you when its asked, i doubt.

  • Dee Trachter - April, 2012 reply

    Your logic is flawed, and really misses the point of NPS.
    First on the subject of scales. The whole world uses different scales, even the US. A – E, 0 – 5, Happy to Sad. People can cope with that. Second, it’s all about consistency – you establish a baseline, and just keep doing the surveys, then look for improvement (in that case the scale or scoring is irrelevant). Third, if you think that customer service in NL, FR, BE is close to that of the US you are mistaken.

    Finally, this just gives the US folk an excuse to laugh at us Europeans as somehow as basket case that needs special rules.

    If you are serious as an NPS player, stick to the rules.

    Readers should be advised to read this comprehensive analysis of the so-called “Dutch Effect”: http://customergauge.com/2011/03/net-promoter-is-there-a-dutch-effect/

  • Abdellah - March, 2012 reply

    Regrettably in France, the note 8 is still considered as one passive note, it’s hard to obten a 9 or a 10 :(

  • Alison Davidge - February, 2012 reply

    To be honest, I think that creating continent focused NPS approaches is a waste of your valuable time. You lose out on benchmarking, industry comparisons, global standards etc.

    It is better to accept the standard approach and understand and educate others that scores can vary by culture. This means that some scores will always be lower than others.

    Passives do carry weight – and any organisation that ignores them should change their approach and focus on them as well as their Detractors and Promoters. Just because the percentage of Passives is not used in the score calculation, does not mean that they are not important.

    My last point – and another reason why creating a European NPS score would be irrelevant is due to the fact that you are still grouping too many cultural differences together. People from Southern Europe are far more likely to give much higher scores than people in Northern Europe – particularly Netherlands, Belgium, Finland etc. And the younger/emerging markets in Europe – such as Turkey, Russia, Georgia etc – give extremely high scores. A European NPS would not provide an answer to this.

  • Gianni Brisson - February, 2012 reply

    I think there is some truth in this blog. We have the same kind of experience with our customers all over Europe. An 8 is often considered excellent by customers. When asking them why they score only an 8, people are often offended and reply that nobody is perfect and that 10 is an impossible score because it equals perfection, and nobody’s perfect as we all know. ;-)

    However, I think benchmarking is more important than lowering the promoter and passive score. As explained in the book, scores can often vary in certain regions. There is a danger in comparing regions, because cultural differences are often a huge influencer. Part of the solution is benchmarking locally and comparing local scores. Try to get your score up in your country or region and strive to become the top NPS company in your area.

  • Roman - February, 2012 reply

    I think managers are often too much concentrating in getting more promotors than eleminating detractors. If you decrease the detractors the NPS is going to grow – even if the customers give an passive feedback (7 or 8).

    My opinion is: Focussing on the detractors to get them up (perfectly to promotors, but good if they become passive too) is a good alternative strategy.

    Alexander Dobronte - February, 2012 reply

    Good point! I agree that eliminating detractors is vital. As we all know, someone with a bad customer experience is much more likely to share it. Since it now so easy to share with your closest 500.000 friends, detractors can seriously affect your public perception.

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