Insights — The NPS is Alive and Well

The NPS is Alive and Well

Resources , Thought leadership / May 31, 2018

Some say the Net Promoter Score (NPS) is not appropriate for higher education. I respectfully disagree. And I’m befuddled as to why the NPS is so polarizing. As I wrote previously, the NPS is not the only metric you should use to monitor brand health, but it is very useful as one component of an overall brand tracking strategy.

Just last week I was reading an anti-NPS article in which the dissenter called out three reasons he felt the NPS wasn’t right for higher ed. The first: We do not recommend colleges the same way we recommend other products or services. While this may be true to an extent, it doesn’t negate the value of the NPS in any way. It’s still one (of many) valuable measures of brand strength. It’s true that if I am in a position to recommend my alma mater, I will consider the characteristics and needs of the person to whom I am making the recommendation. Do they want to go to school in that area? Can they get in? Can they afford it? Does the school offer their major? But this is the case with any recommendation. For example, If I’m in a position to recommend a movie, then I would consider similar factors. What types of movies does this person usually like? Can they relate to the subject matter? Will they like the actors? Recommendations are rarely indiscriminate, and they almost always depend on the person you are making the recommendation to. 

The second point of dissent: We personalize college choices more than we personalize other goods or services. Rubbish. Lots of brands of goods and services are highly personal. Consider Apple or Wegmans or Lululemon, which all have fanatical brand followers. Harley Davidson lovers often tattoo the brand on their bodies. How many times have you seen someone with a tattoo of their undergraduate institution? To say they are less passionate about Harley than most are about their alma mater just isn’t true. To be honest, I am fanatical about my hair salon. I’m intensely loyal to the business and literally seek out opportunities to recommend it to my friends. Recommendations are always personal; that’s what makes the NPS a powerful metric in every industry, higher ed included.

And finally, there was this: NPS responses are rarely segmented, even though college experiences vary. This is also not true. We segment NPS all the time. And it reveals incredibly useful insights. We often find, for example, that NPS varies dramatically among current students and alumni depending on their major. We recently calculated the NPS for one large public institution’s alumni and found the NPS was twice as high for Millennial-age alums than it was for those in their 40s and 50s. For an elite private college, we recently found the NPS among faculty was much higher than we normally see for similar schools, and it was highest among faculty teaching in certain disciplines and faculty of a particular political persuasion. All super-useful insights that reveal opportunities upon which the institution can develop plans to capitalize. Segmentation of the NPS is often where the most valuable insights lie.

Here I stand, defender of the NPS. It has great value in the higher education context. And it becomes especially useful when you’ve calculated it for over 200 colleges and universities, as we have at SimpsonScarborough. When we report NPS among current students, for example, we are also able to report a high, low, mean, and median for like institutions, making the metric that much more revealing.

So, please, don’t throw out your NPS! It’s a valuable metric to have in your brand-health toolbox.


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