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Why your B2B Customers won’t respond to your NPS survey, why it matters, and what to do about it

Posted on April 14, 2017 , by Steve Bernstein
Why your B2B Customers won’t respond to your NPS survey, why it matters, and what to do about it

Is your Net Promoter survey looking for truth so your company can improve?
Or are you merely fishing for compliments?
Your customers know the difference.  Do you?

The literature is filled with explanations of the importance of response rates, and most focus on the notion that with more data come the ability to conduct more sophisticated and more accurate analytical capabilities (i.e. “statistical significance” and accuracy of improvement models).  But there’s something far more sinister than “statistically insignificanct” lurking behind the low-response rates in B2B environments.
Running a Net Promoter / Voice-of-Customer (VoC) / Customer Feedback program should mean that you care about your business:  you want to make sure your customer contacts are getting what they need and that they think highly of your firm, because you know that having more Promoters in your business is far better than having more Detractors.  The sad reality is that most companies focus on the scores themselves – the ratings that respondents provide – and not the fact that customers are actually telling you something.
If we do want to focus on what customers are telling us then we need to measure a few different things.  Let’s first define what is meant by “low response rates.”  You may be under the impression that a 20%-30% overall response rate is quite strong.  This idea comes from comparing results from Marketing campaigns which often perform in the single-digits or from looking at other “customer satisfaction” surveys which often provide ~10% response.  But if your program objective is to help accelerate profitable growth (i.e. not just measure, but to actually do something of value with the feedback), consider:

  1. Do you think it’s a problem if your customers are NOT giving you feedback? A 30% response rate means that 70% are NOT responding.Remember that B2B is different from consumer-focused companies:  While B2C businesses tend to be transactional, B2B companies are characterized by longer-term relationships.  If I am unhappy with a particular retailer or hotel I can generally take my business elsewhere.But B2B firms have investments, relationships, and switching costs.  If everything is going “just fine” with a particular vendor then perhaps there is no need to provide feedback.  But on the other hand, Waypoint’s experience finds that if everything is going “just fine” then your customers will want to tell you that, since many of us are shy to provide what might feel like bad news.  Either way, it’s important to know for certain if everything is “just fine” or not, isn’t it?
  2. Which accounts are responding? If your company is like many, where ~80% of the revenue comes from ~20% of the accounts, then look deeper into the response metrics to understand if how well the response rates represent the business.  If I were in charge, I’d certainly want my more “strategic” accounts to have a louder voice… wouldn’t you?
  3. Which contact roles are responding? Are you getting feedback from end-users, in pursuit of improving their experience with your products and services?  Or, like the objectives of many NPS programs, are you acquiring feedback from the members of the Buying Committees – those people that are responsible for ROI and company success?  These are totally different objectives and contacts in the accounts, so you better know who you are inviting to provide feedback and who is actually responding.
  4. Know which response rate you are talking about. #2 above discussed account-level response, and #1 discussed contact-level  Provide both.  If I were in charge, I’d ideally want to hear from 100% of my revenue to understand the health of my business overall.  But if I can’t get 100%, is 30% really “good enough?”  Probably not, especially if your company is hampered by high churn and low expansion (low “negative churn”) rates.

Going back to the point that a 30% response rate means 70% non-respondents:  Why won’t your “customers” (nay, please use “accounts and contacts” so we know what you’re talking about!) give you feedback?

  1. You are asking at the wrong time: Maybe your company is in the middle of a deep negotiation with that account such that they feel that providing feedback would reduce their negotiating power?  Or maybe the account has been on an internal “hot list” and your company is already having deep discussions with one another to resolve an issue?
  2. You are asking the wrong people: Do (or should) the contacts have a relationship with your company?  Do they know who your company is and are actively involved in some aspect of working with your company?
  3. You provide no “What’s In it for Me” (WIIFM): Have you clearly articulated why you are asking for their feedback, and how they could benefit from responding?
    Are you asking for feedback because you want to improve? Or are you just fishing for compliments?

    Are you asking for feedback because you want to improve? Or are you just fishing for compliments?

  4. They don’t have time. Actually, this means that that they can’t make  They don’t care enough to spend 2-3 minutes because there’s no reason for them to do so.

What to do about all this?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Are you asking for feedback, or are you merely asking for a response to your survey? The latter certainly doesn’t sound very interesting.  Think like a good marketing person:  how will their participation help them – what problem are you trying to help your customers solve?
  2. Are you providing proof-points and a clear value proposition? How do customers know that their feedback won’t go into a black hole?  What can you show them that provides evidence of true listening?
  3. Are you explaining the level of effort? If the process is only 2 minutes, and they are guaranteed to get something back, then wouldn’t that provide a higher level of participation?
  4. When are you asking your accounts for feedback? I hope you’re not asking everyone all at once, because you’d definitely be including accounts at different lifecycle stages and different renewal stages… and if you don’t disaggregate the results and look at the results account-by-account for individualized action plans, then your data largely meaningless.

And finally, you might consider the jargon:  the phrase “Response Rates” just doesn’t feel right… Participation Rates feels more appropriate to me.  Don’t you want your customers to collaborate with you to ensure mutual success?  Assuming you do, then merely responding probably isn’t enough… you probably want to ask your customer-contacts to participate in the improvement process.
I think the first step is to use the right words: There is no customer, and there is no response.  These are people that should rightfully expect some give-and-take.  What do you think?