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The NPS® Guide to turn Detractors to Promoters

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Detractors to Promoters

Detractors are viewed as a forbidden topic to talk about in the business world. However, Detractors are the customers that are vital for the development of a business. According to Scott Cook, your brand is not what you tell your customers, it is what your customers tell others about it. Unhappy customers may decide to never use the services of your company ever again, and in the worst case scenario, they might express their disdain for your company with their friends and family. This means bad word-of-mouth marketing. 

This is why it is important to work on Detractors, in fact, you should work on these customers more than the happy ones. Even though the critical feedback, which is mostly negative in nature, from unhappy customers seems painful to consider, this is an opportunity for you to work on your services. You have a chance to capitalise on their feedback and work on customer experience.

In order to do this, the first step is to learn how to approach Detractors. Let’s understand their psychology and learn how to adapt our businesses to improve their experiences. 

What Is a Detractor?

Detractors to Promoters 1

Detractors are customers that are unhappy with your brand. They are unsatisfied with the services or products you are offering; you can think of them as critics. 

In business, this term is used when referring to a customer segment in the Net Promoter Score® framework. Detractors are the survey respondents that score you from 0 to 6 on the NPS® scale. They are unsatisfied customers who are less likely to recommend your company.

But as a more standard definition, you can just think of them as dissatisfied customers.

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How to Identify Detractors?

Customer Satisfaction Surveys (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) surveys are metrics that can be used to identify customer satisfaction. These surveys can be used to measure how well a brand is meeting the customer’s expectation. 

CSAT is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and is used in measuring the satisfaction levels of customers through a percentage scale for a product/service/transaction. It is also a Service Metric. It allows a company to access different points along the journey of the customer in order to understand the satisfaction felt by the customer for the services provided. 

CSAT helps in showing the company what is working with the customers and what is not. If you find out that some of your business practices are working well, as a general rule of thumb, you know you can continue doing the same if not implementing a better strategy. You also know you have to change some of your practices if your customers are unhappy with your services. Under CSAT, customers range from the extremely unhappy to the extremely happy spectrum. Finding customers in the neutral category is really rare but they do matter if your goal is to increase your CSAT score. 

In technical terms, NPS® refers to the customer’s perception about your company. It ranges from -100 (all your customers are Detractors) to 100 (all your customers are Promoters). NPS® is generally used to predict the loyalty of customers. The question that is generally asked in an NPS® survey is, “Taking into consideration your experience with the company, how likely are you to recommend our services to a friend or a colleague?” and the scale ranges from 0 (not at all likely) to 10 (extremely likely). 

NPS® is a great tool to find out how comfortable your customers are with recommending your services, which also indicates the chances and the likelihood of organic word-of-mouth marketing of your business. NPS® helps you predict this growth of your business with quantitative, meaningful data.

Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) was introduced in 2003 to assess customer loyalty as well as brand shareability.

The difference between Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score®(NPS®) is that CSAT assesses customer loyalty on a short term basis, while NPS® helps companies to evaluate the same on a long-term basis. NPS® is also considered to be more accurate as compared to CSAT. This is due to the fact that NPS® results are directly related to a company’s progress and profits.

While both of these measures are equally important to assess and study,NPS® is usually recommended to use because it gives a general picture of how satisfied your customers are. CSAT helps in discovering specific areas where you could use improvements. NPS® also measures your business/brand as a whole. It is limited to a single question which aims to get you maximum information in little time. You need to take immediate action on the negative feedback you receive on both the metrics, but for an NPS® Detractor, you need to put in extra work for improvement to prevent negative perceptions of your brand. 

NPS® data also helps you assess the growth rate of your company and provides you with an opportunity to use open-ended feedback to fasten the process. NPS® helps you discover the weaknesses that you had no idea even existed, for instance, it is focused on the overall customer experience. It is not limited to just one interaction.

This, in no way means that CSAT surveys are “inferior” to Net Promoter Score® surveys. Feedback from CSAT surveys can provide you with information that can lead to root cause analysis of your services and helps in improving customer experience. You can, hence, use both CSAT and NPS® for broad and specific analysis, covering both long-term and short-term problems in your business.

How Detractors Can Ruin Your Business?

Often businesses don’t pay attention to Detractors when they don’t have a huge percentage of them. Of course, they have a whole customer base to profit off from. However, it is not as easy as we think it is. If you do this, your business may be at serious risks as Detractors can seriously damage its reputation.

Here’s how Detractors can harm your brand in the long term:

  • Detractors Affect Your Sales and Profits

According to research, poor services cause businesses to lose 41 billion dollars each year in the US alone. So, it is not difficult to understand that unhappy customers will not have any reason to want to keep using your services or products. 

Research has shown that when customers face poor experience, around 58% of them will never use the products or services of that company again. Nearly half of them will tell their family and friends about the same. In the digital world complaints cannot be kept quiet or hidden, 34% of customers admit that they leave negative reviews online complaining about the company through social media. What is even more startling is that among the age groups of 25 to 34 year-olds, around 60% of them agree that they have left bad reviews on social media. 

51% of customers of B2B will not interact with your brand if they experience poor customer services for up to two years.

If you don’t address the problem and try to retain the Detractors, you will have to attract new customers to take the place of customers you have lost. It has been found that acquiring new customers is 5 times more expensive than working on retaining the existing ones.

This is not just due to money that you lose on advertisements and lead generation but also because of the time and manpower that goes into the process of acquiring new customers. This could be used to improve the experiences of the existing ones. Research has also shown that there is only about 5 to 20% success rate when you’re selling your products to a newer audience as compared to the success selling rates for existing customers (60 to 70%). It is also important to note that only one in 26 unsatisfied customers complain about their experiences. The others simply stop engaging with your brand. Hence, by the time you realise you have a problem, it may be too late.

  • Detractors Harm Your Brand’s Image

Ignoring Detractors can have damaging consequences especially when we are living in times where negative word of mouth can be catastrophic. Social media has made it easy for people to gather information about the experiences of others with your brand, and if you receive any negative reviews, it can drive away your potential customers too. Also, social media is the place where a huge number of unsatisfied customers go to complain when they have a bad experience with your brand.

70% of consumers believe that social media has given them the power to have a more transparent relationship with brands. Around 65% of customers specifically call out brands to amplify the issues of unfair treatment or poor services.

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This practice of customers will not do any good for your brand’s reputation. Potential clients and customers will be afraid to associate with your brand and won’t be able to trust you with business. After all, nobody wants to be associated with the name of a company that triggers faces of angry customers in memory and angry social media posts by unsatisfied customers.

If this was not bad enough, an unhappy customer will share their bad experiences they had with your brand with around 9 to 15 people. In fact, some of them (13%) will even go the extra mile to make 20 people aware of this.

Around 5% of customers even reach out to mainstream national media outlets about their experiences. This is a risk that you cannot  afford to take. Thus, working on Detractors should be your number one priority. Even if you have a few Detractors, you don’t want them to go unnoticed and be at a disadvantageous position later on.

  • Detractors Help Your Competition

Your customers will not appreciate you giving them bad services, but your competitors surely will. The first thing that a Detractor is going to do after abandoning your brand is finding a new, alternative brand. This is where your competitors come into the picture — they are waiting for bad reviews on your services and Detractors so that they can expand their business using those unsatisfied customers. 

About 80% of customers will not mind switching to a competitor brand if they receive poor services.

What can trigger this reaction? Just about anything. 74% of customers will consider switching to another business even if it was just the checkout process that was difficult for them to navigate. 40% of customers also switch services if they feel under appreciated. 

Hence, while you’re ignoring Detractors, the rival businesses are making the most of it. This is why it’s important to identify Detractors and start working on them asap. 

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How Much Time Do You Have to Stop a Detractor from Churning?

The amount of time you have to stop your Detractor from opting to rival businesses depends upon your responsiveness, the way you connect with them, your ability to resolve their issues and in turn improve their experience. 

There is no standardized time that you get to use before a Detractor terminates services from you for another brand. Detractors tend to be from the following categories: 

    • They have made the decision to cancel and just want to let you know why. 
    • They are agitated with your devices and are actively looking out for alternatives but haven’t made the switch just yet. 
    • They are only disappointed with a select few aspects of your product or service, but still think you have the potential to improve. They also want to help you improve. 
    • They are using your product due to a necessity and are not looking for other alternatives, but they still want to voice their concerns and criticism.

It is important to note that not all Detractors will fit into one of the above mentioned categories but these guidelines can help you differentiate between them. Mostly Detractors from the first category will leave your brand the soonest. Retaining this category of customers can be a demanding task, one that is not taken up by most companies. If a customer has decided to switch to another brand, there is no stopping them. 

However, there is still hope to retain Detractors from the other three categories. 

How to turn Detractors into Promoters? 

It can be difficult to retain customers who have already thought about turning to another brand. However, we have highlighted some actionable techniques that have proven to work very well with retaining customers: 

  1.  Make it Simple for Customers to get in Touch: 

In reality, you will have very few customers that are fully satisfied with your services. Just because you don’t hear their complaints, does not mean that everything is working out perfectly. Moreover, if you don’t see your blindspots, the more difficult it will become for you to work on unsatisfied customers. Many customers stop doing business with you or switch to a rival brand just because they felt ignored. They will do so without even giving you an opportunity to improve your services.

Keeping this in mind, you should focus on making it easier for customers to get in touch with you. If they cannot voice their issues to you, they will get angrier and will drop out even quicker. 

You should not just keep the customer surveys as the only means in which they can reach you. Provide them with assistance on any channel that they prefer using, including your website, app, or even social media. Make it easier for them to provide you feedback without having them fill a number of forms. You should also provide your contact information immediately after doing business with them, most customers want to know that they can contact you in case they need assistance or want to drop a feedback. 

2.  Encourage Feedback

Another tip is to not wait for customers to approach you. You should focus on being proactive and reach out for feedback in the first place. Ask customers for feedback after every interaction. They will give you meaningful pointers to work on and an opportunity to fix even the smallest of all problems before they escalate to bigger ones. 

Another important thing to keep in mind is to make the customers feel as though you want their feedback. Don’t make it look like a chore. Customers are taking out time from their busy days to give you suggestions to work on. If you make them feel as if you’re only taking their feedback for the sake of it, they will not be willing to collaborate. Especially Detractors. 

According to 73% of customers, the greatest service that companies can give them is valuing their time. We have already covered how unhappy customers will be swift to switch to a competing brand if they don’t feel like they are being valued in your company.

Moreover, train your staff to be cooperative with customers even if the customers give negative feedback. Train them to communicate with empathy even if the customer is very angry with the services. If they talk back to customers or try to blame the customers in return, it will only make the situation more catastrophic than better.

What customers need is a team or a brand in any situation to listen to them  actively, ask appropriate questions, and be polite about the whole situation. When you have a trained staff that is receiving the feedback with empathy, it calms down Detractors. They feel valued that you are taking their feedback seriously and are concerned about it.

3.  Show that you care by responding quickly: 

If a Detractor is unsatisfied to a great extent, you need to respond as quickly as possible. Make these customers your number one priority. One unresolved issue will escalate to many company-damaging comments on social media or your website in due time. 40% of Detractors get even more frustrated with businesses due to slow response time from the company.

Replying to the customer in an hour or so rather than in a day or two will create a huge difference in the perception of your company. It shows Detractors that you genuinely care about their experiences and you put their interests before everything else. Timely responses also improve your reputation as a brand. When talking about customer services, research shows that most of the customers want immediate responses. In fact, more than half of them want responses from companies in ten minutes or less.

Sending out automated responses work efficiently in helping you make most of the time you have at hand. Even though companies feel like automated responses can feel impersonal, if implemented properly, they go a long way. 

However, you cannot just send out automated replies, you also need to have a personalised touch to them. If Detractors receive a generic reply from your end, they will ignore it and assume that you don’t even want to listen to their issues. Personalisation is one of the key techniques in helping Detractors feel as though they are a part of your brand. 

You can personalise emails by including the names of the Detractors, acknowledge their feelings, and add a few questions for them to voice their concerns. This especially works for Detractors who don’t provide a specific reason for their negative ratings. Luckily, many automation tools in today’s day and age give you the ability to personalise your response in a plethora of ways that will help you take care of your customers more effectively.

4.  Delight Detractors by showing empathy and making them special:

Customers desire human-driven services. They don’t like the idea of interacting with bots on websites or self-service options. They understand that when you use these techniques, you are simply following a script. They feel as though you are just another chore on the list, and you don’t actually care about them.

In these situations, having an emotional connection with your customers can go a long way. You can help them feel as though they are engaging in a conversation with you by speaking to them in a polite and friendly tone. You should also appear to be involved in their concerns, and eager to work on them. Customers want customer service representatives to act like humans, not bots.

Customers are only reaching out to you because they want to be heard. You can simply make that connection with the use of simple phrases such as, “I can see why you’re upset, I would be too,” can go a long way. All in all, focus on using an empathetic tone when communicating with the customer, make them feel as though you are with them in this challenge.

Listening is another quality that can help in showing customers that you care. Maintain eye contact and an engaging tone. Focus on the verbal and non verbal cues of the customers to understand if they are hurt, stressed, or angry. Having this information can help you choose the appropriate way of responding to them.

Even while dealing with Detractors, you should focus on providing solutions. Every customer will give you unique feedback and hence your solutions should be unique to their needs too. 

You can also show your customers that you care about them and you’re sorry for the ill services by providing them discounts, free shipping, or even some products free of charge. However this is tricky as it may not be enough to satisfy some Detractors. So, in this case, go out of your way to make it up to them.

So something that will help them remember you. You can send personalised apology notes or emails, or even gift cards. This elicits positive feelings in them about your brand as it makes them feel that they are your top priority. 

5.  Don’t oversell your promises: 

Implementing the suggestions of customers can take time, so you need to inform them that you have taken their feedback into consideration and are working on it. If you cannot fix the issue, be honest with them and explain the reasoning behind it. When businesses are honest, it motivates their customers.

It is very important that you don’t make promises you cannot fulfil. It is always better to admit your limitations rather than overcommitting and under delivering. If you do the latter, you will lose your customer for good, and they will not trust your brand again. Moreover, they will give you bad reviews which will reflect badly on the brand.

However, don’t directly tell Detractors you “cannot do anything” about the problem at hand. But, instead, tell them all of what you can do. Even if that means giving them the product for free, or issuing a refund. Ensure that the conversation you have with your customer will be a good memory for them.

6.  Close the Feedback Loop:

Responding to Detractors quickly in an empathetic manner while acknowledging and prioritising their problems is very important. However, it won’t be enough to convert the Detrator into a Promoter.

In order to do the latter, you need to give them a solution on the feedback you have received. You can do this by sharing their feedback to the concerned departments and discussing the most common problems with everyone at stake. 

When you have an understanding of their issues clearly and how they should be approached, share the insights with your team. Finally, follow up with Detractors and let them know that you have taken action on their feedback. Also inform them about the results of the same. This is the only way you can close the feedback loop with the customer. Closing the feedback loop is also very essential in offering a dignified customer experience.

7.  Learn From Your Mistakes

Lastly, learn from your mistakes. Unhappy customers are a great gateway to learning. If you want your NPS® score to always be high, you are on the wrong path. Net Promoter Score® Surveys are not about getting high scores, they are about improving your business practices and helping customers by building trust with those improvements. You should view every feedback you receive as an opportunity to grow and improve the experiences for your customers. Take it as an opportunity to stand out from your competitors.

Detractors who were met with unpleasant services but were delighted by the way you worked through their complaints are more likely to become passionate Promoters of your brand. By listening to your Detractors actively you have an opportunity to turn the negative feedback into an opportunity to grow your business.

Successful companies are known to have effective customer service strategies, which they capitalise on to keep winning over Detractors. And, most of these practices go beyond the level at which most companies aspire to be. You don’t have to provide this level of service for every Detractor as it does not come cheap. But, start with few customers and make a decision for other customers based on the reactions of the select few.

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How Do You Help Detractors That Give No Feedback?

Let’s consider this scenario: You receive a low score from a Detractor on the NPS® Survey. However, they leave you no feedback through text or even respond to you when you reach out to know what led them to give negative ratings. 

This can raise quite a red flag from a retention-focused strategy. If they don’t give you what to work on, how will you improve your services for them? You can’t help feeling helpless because you know they’re not satisfied and are likely to switch to another brand soon but you have no clue about what is causing their dissatisfaction. What’s worse is that you don’t even know what you need to work on to improve your services. 

One way in which you can try to understand the root cause of the customer’s negative ratings is by analysing the data you already have on the customer. Dig into their engagements and purchasing behaviour and find out the reasons for their low ratings: 

  • Were they confused with the way your app functions?
  • Did they start using your services just to leave it midway?
  • Did they leave your company at a particular time, let’s say, during the setup or the configuration process?
  • Did they stop using your app or software after finding out that the feature they needed is a paid feature? Or is it because they found the prices to be expensive?

This way, it will take you less time to understand what caused the customers’ unhappiness with your company. When you use this approach, it gives you an opportunity to change the way you follow-up with them through emails and increase your chances of receiving a response. 

Now you have the power to turn the “What’s wrong?” question to “We know what upset you, and we’re here to make up!”

The best part about this practice is that solutions to make Detractors happy can be systematically organised. Over time, you will start noticing that some of the situations that may have affected a few Detractors are actually really common amongst a huge number of your customers. 

  • If customers are confused about how to use your app or software can be tackled by a “how-to” video or even personal assistance through zoom, live chats or emails. 
  • If the customers have concerns about the pricing of the features, it can be solved by approaching them with a discount or a special offer. 
  • Any misunderstandings about your software not being the one they are looking for can be tackled by a personal phone call or zoom meeting.

It’s easier for you to organise your solutions and assist unhappy customers once you have recognised the most common concerns they have about your business. This will make an anxious task of dealing with Detractors into an opportunity to capitalise on. Thus, next time a Detractor does not leave you text feedback on what bothered them, instead of blowing up their phone and spamming them (which will only make it worse for you), dive deep into the data and explore it. Here, you will be able to close the feedback loop while also learning more about how to better your services.

Can You Convert Every Detractor into a Promoter?

You cannot realistically turn all Detractors into Promoters. You can retain them as Passives or at least leave a good impression of your business while parting with them. 

Sometimes, however, you will be faced with the question of whether a Detractor is even worth retaining at all. Some customers do not adapt well to your business model. No matter how difficult it is to accept this, in these situations it’s not yours or the customers fault. You just cannot do anything about it. 

For instance, if the customer is rude and aggressive or maybe they have unrealistic expectations and demands from you, you may consider letting them go for once and for all. 

Sometimes you may come across a customer with unique complaints or demands that are not shared by others at all. In this case, you would not prefer to implement their feedback because it could upset other loyal customers. However this is not a common incident and more of a “worst case scenario”.

But, God forbid you end up having to deal with a challenging customer, it might be important to consider whether all your time, effort and money will be worth it. 

However, if you do plan to terminate your relationship with a customer, you need to do this with courtesy. Don’t be rude or hostile, just let them know politely that it is not working out with the two of you. You can also recommend alternatives for your service or product. This will work in your favour because Detractors will soon or less stop working with you. You can use this opportunity to create a good reputation for your business by not giving a chance to complain that you did not even bother providing them with a solution. This will also be a surprise to them because they may be expecting you to be rude or unprofessional in return, but you caught them off guard. It will also save you that extra negative review.


In this article we learned that by acting swiftly and focusing on solutions, you can retain almost any Detractor. You will be able to reduce the lost profits and avoid high drop out levels that can affect SaaS and other businesses that are subscription based by large numbers. 

Even if you cannot retain every Detractor, acting quickly and showing your interest in assisting them will help you avoid other negative effects of dissatisfied customers such as; bad reviews on your products, negative word of mouth feedback as well as negative and rude comments on your social media posts.

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Net Promoter®, NPS®, NPS Prism®, and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld. Net Promoter Score℠ and Net Promoter System℠ are service marks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

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