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The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth Hardcover – 31 Mar 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (1 Mar. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591397839
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591397830
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 263,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


CEOs regularly announce ambitious growth targets, then fail to achieve them. The reason? Their growing addiction to bad profits. These corporate steroids boost short-term earnings but alienate customers. They undermine growth by creating legions of detractors - customers who complain loudly about the company and switch to competitors at the earliest opportunity. Based on extensive research, "The Ultimate Question" shows how companies can rigorously measure Net Promoter statistics, help managers improve them, and create communities of passionate advocates that stimulate innovation. Vivid stories from leading-edge organizations illustrate the ideas in practice. Practical and compelling, this is the one book - and the one tool - no growth-minded leader can afford to miss.

From the Author

What is NPS?

NPS stands for Net Promoter Score. Just as net worth represents the difference between financial assets and liabilities, Net Promoter quantifies the difference between customer assets and liabilities. With one question, we can sort customers into three categories: Promoters who are loyal and enthusiastic; Passives who are satisfied but unenthusiastic; and Detractors who are unhappy but trapped in a bad relationship. Quite simply, you calculate the NPS score by applying the formula P - D = NPS, where P and D are the percentage of promoters and detractors.

Is there a correlation between NPS and growth in a company?

Yes! In a 2003 study based on more than 150,000 customers, we found a very strong correlation between net promoter scores and a company's growth relative to its competitors. From the airline industry, to retail banks, to delivery services, to personal computers, firms with the best NPS demonstrated superior growth. Companies that have achieved sustainable growth over a ten year period have double the NPS of others.

What companies are already utilizing NPS?

NPS has begun to spread like wildfire. Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, has announced that NPS will be deployed across all 500+ GE business lines--and will drive executive bonuses. Other firms who have adopted NPS include Intuit, American Express, MSN, Schwab, Thermo-Electron, and many others spanning both the consumer and business-to-business sectors.

Can high NPS scores translate to greater economic success? What are some examples?

While NPS scores in and of themselves do not guarantee profitable growth, high scores are a strong predictor of economic success. HomeBanc, a mortgage company in Atlanta, has a whopping NPS score of 84 percent. As might be expected from this score, HomeBanc's productivity levels average 60 percent higher than industry standards. The firm's growth exceeded 25% each year for the past decade - more than doubling the industry rate.

Why does NPS work?

Promoters and detractors behave differently and generate fundamentally different economic consequences for the firm. While today's accounting systems camouflage this fact, the best way to profitably grow is to get more promoters and fewer detractors. The benefits of promoters include higher retention rates, higher cross-sell rates, constructive feedback, cost efficiencies, and most important of all, they are the source of highly crucial word-of-mouth that drives corporate reputations and customer referrals.

You talk about good and bad profits. How can any profit be considered bad?

Consider those resentful overage and usage fees from your cell phone supplier, or those plans that manipulate you into buying more minutes than you need. These practices generate bad profits. Whenever a customer feels deceived, coerced, or disrespected, then earnings from that customer are bad--they come at the customer's expense. Bad profits convert customers into detractors who blacken a firm's reputation and choke off a company's best opportunity for true growth, the kind of growth that is both profitable and sustainable. The pursuit of bad profits alienates customers and demoralizes employees. Good profits come from satisfied customers who not only provide repeat business but bring new customers to the company.

What is probably the most crucial factor in a company's economic success? Why?

Word-of-mouth has much more power in today's economy than one might think. Word-of-mouth works both ways: detractors spread negative word-of-mouth and cause people to turn away, while conversely, promoters spread positive word-of-mouth and bring new people in the door. Promoters account for more than 80% of positive referrals--and only promoters can build great brands and corporate reputations.

What are some of the ways bad profits undermine growth?

Bad profits create customers who feel disgruntled by their experience with a company. Often, these customers find ways to get even in ways that hurt a company's growth. For instance, detractors drive up service costs by reporting numerous problems, demoralize employees with complaints and demands, and gripe to friends, acquaintances, colleagues and relatives. All of these will have a negative effect on a company's economic success, illustrating why bad profits are so destructive. The average firm today has turned 33% of its customers into detractors--some firms exceed 50% detractors! The average NPS is less than 10%. The quest for profitable growth becomes a near-hopeless struggle when firms have almost as many detractors as promoters.

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