NPS Surveys: How To Use Negative Feedback More Positively

Philip Cleave
October 6, 2023
Getting feedback from customers both good and bad

As one of the most instantly recognizable and popular customer success metrics, the Net Promoter Score (NPS), is a measurement that people are always looking to get more mileage from.

However, what’s interesting for all of you who know what NPS is about, is that in most articles written around the subject, there’s usually far more emphasis on the NPS promoter and passive groups, than the detractors. Yet, your detractors shouldn’t be completely ignored, as you can learn a lot from their feedback. And of course, if you don’t try to reach out to them to see why they’re unhappy, you’ll risk them leaving your company and bad mouthing you to many other people.

Remember, every time a customer complains you have the opportunity to turn the situation around, by solving their issue and changing their views about you into something far more positive.  Negative feedback also gives you invaluable insight into how you can improve your product, keeping your team hungry for improvement and keeping you innovating and moving forward.

Here are three key reasons how negative feedback can improve you:

Building loyalty through solving problems

What you need to remember about customers is that when they’re asked to recall the best interactions, they’ve experienced with their favorite companies, they almost never tell you about the times when everything went smoothly. Instead, they’ll typically recall the ones where nearly everything went wrong, until they complained, and that company turned it around for them.

Interestingly, many businesses have known for years that you’ll get more loyalty when you quickly solve a customer issue, than if there had been no issues to begin with.

Subsequently, the same logic needs to apply when you distribute an NPS survey and then collect and analyze your feedback. In this scenario negative feedback doesn’t confirm that your product is awful and that your customers should look elsewhere, you’ll only confirm that if you don’t address their feedback.

Instead, by going above and beyond to solve their issues, you’ll totally flip the script and show these customers that you are capable and truly care about their experience.

How to close the loop

Closing the loop is a tried-and-tested customer success method that aims to give customers the solution they need whenever they have an issue and works as follows.

  • If someone responds to your survey with a solvable complaint, follow up with them directly
  • Get them to expand on the problem, so that you can understand the higher-level reasons of what’s going wrong. You need to identify what issue is preventing your customer from having success with your product
  • You can then solve the problem and follow up to make sure they’re getting their desired result

At this point, it’s likely that rather than wanting to leave, your customer will remember how responsive you were and feel good about their decision to work with you. Yet it all starts with their negative feedback!

Improvement often stems from negative feedback

It’s often the case that much of the improvement a company experience’s is often sparked by negative feedback.

Consider the example of one of the world’s most popular pizza chains Domino’s.

It was only a few years ago that the brand was going through a bad patch with many customers saying how terrible they thought its pizzas were. Yet rather than shy away the company embraced this criticism, revamped its menu, and created an entire marketing campaign around it’s ‘pizza turnaround’ - which has since witnessed a huge surge in sales.

Dominos could have ignored the feedback and stuck with what they were already doing well—delivering pizza quickly. However, with so many people complaining loudly about the taste of their pizza, the chain knew that solving that problem would have a far bigger impact.

So, when it comes to analyzing your NPS results, focusing on your negative feedback can often lead you to a better product.

Sure, positive feedback feels great and tells you which bits of your product are working well and need to be retained and further improved. However, if that’s all you have to go on, you’ll never know how to take your product to the next level. By contrast, negative feedback shows you where your customer experience is falling short, which is the first step to helping you fix it.

How to prioritize NPS responses

Negative feedback isn’t just true for pizza, but other products and services too, but this feedback can often be turned around into a positive.

Think about the example of an NPS survey, and how you can use its feedback to improve your product or service.

As we’ve already stated earlier, you can often learn more from negative rather than positive feedback. So, with this in mind you might like to try removing all the positive comments, so you’re just left with analyzing the negative feedback.

At this point, you can start putting together a simple framework that allows you to analyze the remaining comments, so you identify the most important issues to focus on first.

Let’s say you’re a software provider, and you were using an NPS survey to get feedback about your latest product. You could start by tagging negative comments from your customers about particular aspects of that product that your customer claimed to be lacking.

For example, consider the script of customer feedback in the table above.

First of all, you’ll notice that we haven’t tagged the first comment for ‘functionality’, because in this instance the customer said it was a strength. However, we’ve tagged all the additional comment areas, which the customer in this example said they were having difficulty with.

After tagging each comment, you could then create another table showing each of those areas that your customers cited as a weakness. This would include the total number of customers who complained about that particular aspect of the product, and the average NPS score of the customers who referenced that area, as you will see in the table below.

Then, you would need to prioritize the categories that attract complaints, not just from the highest number of customers, but those who are the most unhappy based on the NPS score they’ve provided.

In the example of our table above, that would be the “Tables” category, as not only did 60 customers say that they had difficulties with tables, but they were rated with the worst NPS score of all the categories at just –30. Therefore, improving ‘tables' would have the biggest overall impact on improving the experience of these customers.

Negative feedback keeps your teams hungry to improve

When it comes to delivering a great customer service and experience, the company Apple, is known for delivering some of the best levels around.

Interestingly, one of the ways they stay sharp with this is to start each day by reviewing NPS feedback from the previous day.

Typically, the store manager reads two comments to their team. The first is a glowing endorsement from a promoter, which the manager credits to the team member involved in that transaction. The second is a negative comment from a detractor. However, the manager never names the specific staff member involved, instead leaving the mistake as a failure that the entire team needs to work together to prevent happening again.

While it’s great for teams to hear how great they are, they can be complacent if you focus too much on the successes. Therefore, building a reference for negative customer feedback into your culture prevents success from blinding your team and keeps them continually focused to improve.

How to motivate staff with negative customer feedback

As well as using your NPS scores to identify your most common and serious customer complaints, you can also use NPS responses to motivate your teams. Look for ways to highlight negative comments from customers, such as:

  • Emailing a compilation of your most negative NPS comments to your teams at the start of each week
  • Reading customer criticisms at your weekly all-hands meeting
  • Printing out negative comments and delivering them to relevant team members. For example, if you had many complaints about long lag times on help desk tickets, you could deliver these comments to your customer success team

These techniques are particularly valuable if your company is starting to get traction and grow. That’s because this is the stage when you and your team are often at most risk, through over confidence in thinking that you can do no wrong. Highlighting negative feedback also helps to keep your teams grounded and focused on getting better.

Learn to value your detractors and see your business improve

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog and it’s given you a new perspective on how to use the feedback from your NPS surveys.

It certainly throws up an interesting view. While we all know how valuable promoters can be in terms of recommending your business to others, providing testimonials and in some cases joining user groups to share their experiences about your products or services, the value of detractors is far less explored.

Yet, we hope you can see from this piece that you can learn more from a customer that makes constant support requests, complains about your product’s limitations and asks for new features, than another that just keeps paying every month and says nothing. So, for those reasons alone placing greater value on your detractors and learning to turn their negative feedback into a positive, has got to be worth exploring for every business at some point.

Maximize the performance of your NPS survey activities

Whether they’re promoters, passives or detractors, those responding to your NPS survey have all got something useful to say. So, if you’re to get the most out of your survey activities you need to have the right survey tools supporting you.

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