What’s wrong with an 8?!  Some people just don’t give 9’s and 10’s.”

I’ve heard this question a lot from companies who measure customer loyalty using a 1-10 rating scale.  It’s a common hot-button issue worth exploring.

And the survey says… meh

A number of popular customer loyalty measurement systems sort customers into loyalty buckets based on their answers to a 1-10 rating question, and an 8 often falls into a middle-of-the-road “meh” bucket.

For example, the most well-known system is the Net Promoter System (NPS)*.  It asks how likely a customer would be to refer a company to someone else, with 10 meaning very likely and 1 meaning very unlikely.  It puts 7’s and 8’s into a category called passive.  The top category is promoter and the bottom one is detractor.

For employees whose performance scorecard or compensation depends to some degree on NPS scores or loyalty buckets, there is a strong incentive to improve on customer ratings of 8 or below.

But my customer is happy!

To find specific opportunities for improvement, team members follow up with customers, thank them for their feedback, and ask what’s going well and what could be better.

Here’s the catch.  While customers who provided a 7 or below usually offer at least some clue about the company can raise its game, customers who gave an 8 often say things like “I’m happy”, “you did nothing wrong”, and the clincher, “I just don’t give out 9’s or 10’s, there’s always room for improvement”.

This puts the team member in a bind.  The company’s loyalty system penalizes him for the 8, but the customer says everything’s great.

The system must be wrong

If the customer is happy and 8 is the best score they’re going to give, why would the measurement system put them in a meh loyalty bucket?  Surely 8 belongs with 9 and 10 in the promoter bucket.

The system must be the problem.  Not me or my team.  Not the customer.

Not quite: 9’s and 10’s really are different

Well, not quite.  While there’s usually nothing wrong with an 8, Bain & Company, the developers of NPS, report that over 80% of referrals come from customers who score 9 or 10.  We’ve found this metric to hold true in our own experience conducting voice-of-customer surveys in B2B industrial markets.

When it comes to generating valuable word-of-mouth referrals, you do need 9’s and 10’s to move the dial.  Your 8 customers are pretty happy, but your 9’s and 10’s are fans.

It’s possible to turn 8’s into 9’s and 10’s, even if the customer tells you otherwise

We’ve found passive customers, including those who say all is well and that they simply prefer not to give 9’s or 10’s often become promoters if their subsequent customer experiences are excellent.

Not just good.  Excellent.

This means, among other things:

  • making things easy for the customer
  • communicating clearly and proactively
  • delivering a great product
  • doing the job correctly first time
  • doing what you say you’re going to do, and
  • doing it in a way that lets the customer know you truly appreciate them and their business.

A game plan for tackling 8’s

First, if a customer gives you an 8, take some comfort in the fact that you’re likely delivering a good customer experience and you’re not far off from a 9 or 10.  An 8 is a good place to build from.

Next, know that even if such a customer tells you they don’t know what you might do to improve, know that it’s possible to do so.

And even if they tell you they simply don’t rate higher than an 8, know that customers change their mind on that front after excellent experiences.

Finally, forget about the score.  Instead, completely focus your next interaction with that customer on the behaviors necessary to deliver an outstanding experience.

Delivering extraordinary customer experiences isn’t easy or common, but doing so can differentiate you from your competitors and build higher levels of customer loyalty.

So the next time a customer says “I just don’t give 9’s and 10’s”, try translating it to “I just don’t give 9’s and 10’s for anything less than excellent”, then work on delivering excellence and improving customer loyalty.


*Net Promoter® and NPS® are registered trademarks and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are trademarks of Bain & Company, Satmetrix Systems and Fred Reichheld.

Latest from our blog:

Trusted by B2B businesses

We work with manufacturers, service companies and value-added resellers to understand the customer's view at every part of the chain.