The Marketing Strategist:

Ask ITSMA: Do cultural differences matter in NPS?

September 24, 2015

  • Ask ITSMA

Each month, ITSMA receives a number of queries through Ask ITSMA, a resource designed to give members a quick and easy way to get insight on important services and solutions marketing questions they face. In this column, we will publish some of our favorite questions, along with excerpts from our replies.

Q: A recent post on Net Promoter Community says that cultural differences in net promoter scores (NPS) don’t exist!

The main point of the post, by Maurice FitzGerald of HP, is that the real issue isn’t cultural differences in responding to NPS surveys, but in the way that companies, specifically American companies, serve their customers in other countries. He cites data from HP as well as the views of Rob Markey and Jason Lee of Bain. As with FitzGerald’s results comparing HP to its competitors, Markey and Lee have seen that other American companies tend to have much higher NPS scores in the US than they do elsewhere in the world. This contrasts with results for companies headquartered in other countries.

FitzGerald discusses an example from Markey, “He said that at least one unnamed American company had made the necessary breakthrough. Their NPS results by country looked somewhat like these graphs, with Japan at the bottom. The breakthrough was when they asked ‘What if the Japanese are not actually reluctant to give a 9 or 10? What if we have just totally failed to adjust to the way Japanese people want to be served? What if it is radically different to the way American customers want to be served?’ Cutting a long story short, they changed their methods in Japan, and now the Japanese stores are consistently in the top 3 worldwide NPS scores.”

What is ITSMA’s take on this?

A: I wholeheartedly agree with the main point here: that if you don’t serve your customers, wherever they are in the world, in a way that appeals to them and that they value, you will never compare favorably to a competitor who does. You’re also probably doing your business a massive disservice and limiting your growth potential as a result.

Does that mean that there are no cultural differences in NPS from region to region? No, it certainly does not. I’ve seen it firsthand, both at a consumer level in my personal life and in a professional context. (Granted, I’m talking about attitudes toward numerical ratings in general, not NPS specifically.) Interestingly, I also found a few references in my reading to cultural variations across regions within the US as well. They most definitely do exist.

That does not, however, mean that cultural differences account completely—or even mostly—for a particular company faring worse in NPS scores from one country to another. As the article quite clearly demonstrates, other factors, such as the way you engage with customers in a particular market, have a much bigger influence. Cultural variation, though it exists, is much less of a factor than many make it out to be, especially companies that have fared poorly among their competitors.

This certainly squares with the advice we published several months ago in The Marketing Strategist: don’t try to compare across countries or regions; evaluate results within them. That includes comparing your own performance over time and, per the Net Promoter Community article, your performance against that of competitors. If, as a multinational, you’re consistently getting trumped by local competitors, there’s a pretty strong suggestion that you’re missing a trick.

Oh, and good luck blaming any failings on cultural differences alone.


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