The Pitfalls of Using Shortcuts (like Net Promoter Score)

net promoter score and engagement

Customers and employees are like the chicken and egg thing. Which takes precedence or comes first in an organization’s priorities can be long debated without resolve.

Customers pay the bills, right? But those products and services customers purchase are produced by employees.

The bigger question is how to optimally measure, attain and retain customer satisfaction and improve employee engagement.

A sure-fire way to fail is to equate satisfaction with engagement. Like customers and employees, the two are vastly different.

Take the Net Promoter Score (NPS) pulse survey for instance, an index widely used to measure the willingness of customers – and increasingly, employees – to recommend an organization to others.

The thought is if one has a good enough experience to endorse an organization, that vote of confidence denotes satisfaction (and by extension employee engagement).


TalentMap’s experience shows this assumption is so far from accurate, it’s alarming to think some organizations even entertain the idea of using NPS exclusively to gauge employee engagement.

The Net Promoter Score is a measure of rational factors and research shows rational factors are what have the most impact on satisfaction. Engagement is an entirely different matter.

Satisfied customers will recommend an organization based on a series of rational considerations such as product quality, service, reliability and price.

But the Net Promoter Score misses the mark when it comes to measuring employee engagement.

Engaged employees, on the other hand, are influenced by both rational and emotional factors, with emotional components weighing in more heavily.

While compensation, work enablement, and career prospects are important, it’s emotional factors like feeling listened to and supported by leadership, and contributing to the organization’s vision through teamwork and collaboration that sets engaged employees apart from simply satisfied coworkers.

True, NPS is a quick and easy measure.

And yes, alongside one or two open-ended questions it’s an expedient way to check the “pulse” of an organization’s customers and employees. However, a myriad of complex factors behind employee engagement dictate a more comprehensive survey approach.

And as a side note, though organizations might figure a brief survey like NPS will increase participation rates, sorry to disappoint, but that’s just not the case. The length of a survey doesn’t affect participation unless it exceeds 20 minutes. Respondent rates are driven by:

  • Confidence that individual survey responses are confidential
  • Confidence that survey results will lead to positive change

Information Gaps Impair Management Actions

Unfortunately, while NPS is a useful measure for customer satisfaction, in the context of a wider measure of employee engagement, used alone it:

  • Creates more questions than answers and leaves frustration in its wake; management doesn’t gain enough insight from the exercise and must go back to employees in the form of focus groups or other consultative methods to get clarity around issues
  • Results in a partial measure of employee satisfaction (not engagement)
  • Leads to misguided actions that address issues of dissatisfaction rather than root causes
    • Not infrequently, management have knee-jerk responses to isolated comments which tend to resonate because they confirm their own experiences
    • And rarely are these issues drivers of wider engagement and behavioral change

In other words, employee satisfaction = satisfactory work. NPS scrapes the surface of employee satisfaction.

Employee engagement = emotionally invested high-level behavior that goes above and beyond. NPS goes nowhere near measuring, much less showing what inspires this kind of performance change.

What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander.

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