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Cultural differences in responding to customer surveys? (They don't exist!)


I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Markey, co-author of The Ultimate Question 2.0  and Jason Lee, also of Bain, last Wednesday. The other co-author is Fred Reichheld, the inventor of the Net Promoter System. The discussion was wide-ranging. In this first note, I want to discuss the most controversial topic, one that many of my colleagues asked me to raise in the meeting. It is the question of cultural differences in the way people respond to surveys and how they affect NPS scores.


Here is why the discussion was rich, not to say heated: according to Rob Markey and Bain’s research, there are no cultural differences in the way people respond to surveys!


Breathe deeply before reading on.


Benchmark survey data I presented for the enterprise hardware and software industries

The two graphs below cover the results of the competitive loyalty benchmark survey for HP and all of our main competitors for the last three years. There are no major differences between HP’s results and those of our competitors.


 Enterprise HW NPS.pngEnterprise SW NPS.png



Rob confirmed that other American companies have shown him similar data. However, guess what? These profiles look very different for Australian companies, French companies, Japanese companies, and so on. Rob mentioned another company's experience on this very topic. Their NPS profile by country for feedback in 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.


Our benchmark studies compare American companies to other American companies. What if we are all totally failing to understand how the people a the right end of the graphs expect to be served? What if, for example, our belief that “All Dutch people speak great English, so we don’t have to only speak Dutch to them?” is simply wrong. Why do Dutch NPS scores for their own companies like Philips look like “Normal” NPS scores? I will always remember being beside the HP EMEA Managing Director of the time (Francesco Serafini) when the CEO of Philips phoned him, surprised that their destop support outsourcing agreement eliminated Dutch as a support language. Neither we nor their own people had told him. Only their CFO and procurement manager were truly happy with the arrangement, as they were measured on cost savings.


I think you get the picture… The problem with the results at the right end of the table is not the “grumpy customers”. It is us!


Maurice FitzGerald - Customer Experience and Strategy consultant
About the Author


Maurice FitzGerald ecently retired from his position as VP of Customer Experience for HPE Software after a career in hardware, software and services at DEC, Compaq and HP.


Thank you, Maurice, for sharing your insights from your conversation.  Rob makes a great point regarding whether (my paraphrase) companies are delivering the right services based on cultural expectations, but would you say he is questioning the validity of cultural response bias altogether, or more just that we can't fall back on it as a "crutch" to allow for lower scores in certain geos?


In our industry - admittedly much different the HP's - we have seen internal (non-competitive) NPS distribution by country in a way that is very similar to yours, and while I'm hesitant to write it off to purely cultural response bias, I am equally hesitant to disregard its influence.  


One worry I have, particularly moreso in service-based industries with heavy day-to-day customer interaction, is that disregarding the potential for cultural bias may result in a "vacuum mentality" when comparing scores across countries.  Example: if scores in the US are 40 pts higher than Netherlands, is it realistic to think our services are that much better?  And my how morale may get deflated if Japan makes great strides and grows NPS, yet doesn't come within 20 points of Mexico.  


But again, this I think misses the larger point of NPS as a true discipline: it's about way more than a metric on some cross-geo report.  If we approach it as more about continuous customer dialogue, as a framework for delight customers with ever improving products, services and experiences, it makes little difference where the score starts; it's all about trajectory.

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