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Why faith-based and independent schools should care about Net Promoter Score

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

You've undoubtedly encountered the question in an e-mail or text. Or perhaps it's flashed across your web browser when you're signed in to check your bank account balance or to book a cycling class at your gym.

"On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?"

It's called the Net Promoter Score question and it's become the "go-to" measurement for businesses, organizations and even non-profits over the past two decades.

If your school isn’t already utilizing this metric, you’re missing out on a simple measure that could lead to a significant impact on retention and marketing.

Faith-based and private, independent schools – like businesses (and perhaps even MORE than businesses) – depend on referrals and word-of-mouth. Your reputation may be earned in the classroom, but it's won on the streets.

Your reputation may be earned in the classroom, but it's won on the streets.

When your parents are in the community, they talk. They chatter with their colleagues at work. They huddle at community sporting events. They gossip with their friends over lunch or coffee. And, even when they're not out in the community, they're posting on Instagram or Facebook. And, if you're a parent, you know that most conversations (and social media posts) inevitably pivot to your kids... and it's not long until the subject of school comes up.

Do you know what your parents are saying about your school?

The Net Promoter Score was developed by Bain & Company in 2003, when their research showed that, time and time again, an individual's willingness to refer was by far and away the most powerful way to predict behavior.

The studies revealed that "promoters" (those who answer the 0-10 ranking question with a score of "9" and "10") are dramatically more likely to be repeat customers.

Those who answer the question with a "7" or "8" are considered "passives" – they aren't necessarily displeased, but they're not fanatics.

Respondents who answer with a "0" through "6" are "detractors" – individuals who are more likely than not to have caution before recommending the organization, or worse yet, actively seek to repel people from an organization.

The Net Promoter Score (also referred to as NPS) is computed simply by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters.

What's a good NPS score?

It's important to understand that the range for Net Promoter Score is from -100 to 100, not from 0 to 100. So, for example, if all of your respondents were detractors, you'd have a score of -100. If all of them were passives, you'd be at 0; and if every single one was a promoter (one can hope, right?), you'd be at a perfect 100.

There are varying views on what quantifies a "good" Net Promoter Score. Some say that anything above 0 is good, because it signals that you have more promoters than detractors. That might be true in industries know more for dissatisfied customers than happy ones (think Internet providers). But for industries that are driven by interaction with "members" who have multiple touch points on a regular basis, most consider a score of 50 or higher as excellent and 70 or higher as world class.

By the way, just as important as the Net Promoter Score itself is the follow-up question that should always accompany the rating question. It's just as simple: Why did you choose that rating?

While some respondents skip the question, others will provide pure gold – either in the way of comments that can literally be copied and pasted on to the testimonials page on your web site, or by sharing frustrations or concerns that lead to game-changing conversations.

For schools that consistently measure their Net Promoter Score, the benefits are many and substantial:

1. Because it's so widely used, Net Promoter Score can be benchmarked (both within an industry – and against other industries).

Many schools ask Likert-style or ratings questions on their survey… but when the results come back, they have no context. With Net Promoter Score, that changes. There are benchmarks for just about every industry (for schools on the ParentPulse platform, for example, they have immediate access to an NPS benchmarks for private and independent schools, so they can contextualize their own score.)

2. It eliminates the need for a handful of other "parent satisfaction" questions.

Most schools try to construct questions that measure attitude and sentiment. The beauty of the Net Promoter Score is that it seeks to measure behavior. By better understanding if a parent would act on their feelings about your school (by referring a friend or colleague), you can get a much truer indication of their level of overall satisfaction.

People might haphazardly tell you they're satisfied, but asking if they'd take the next step and actually put their own reputation on the line by referring your school leads to deeper reflection and more truthful responses.

3. You might be surprised to learn who your "promoters" are.

Being able to attach names to the individuals that are passionate about your school can generate a new world of marketing opportunity. You can specifically leverage and empower those promoters to be advocates for your school.

Have your promoters accompany prospective families on school tours – or ask them to place follow-up phone calls to those same families. Ask for testimonials you can use on your web site or other marketing materials. Or even sit promoter parents down for an on-camera interview and create video case studies about how the school has impacted their family!

Prospective parents might be tentative to buy into the "ra ra" enthusiasm they hear from a school's marketing director or administrator, but it's hard to contest praise from a parent.

Prospective parents might be tentative to buy into the "ra ra" enthusiasm they hear from a school's marketing director or administrator, but it's hard to contest praise from a parent.

4. Just as the Net Promoter Scores sheds light on your most passionate advocates, it also drags your detractors out of the shadows.

Nearly every private school experiences a few unpleasant surprises each year during the re-enrollment window – some of these surprises can be avoided by simple awareness. Knowing a parent is a detractor can lead to conversation, conversation can lead to action, and action can lead to higher retention rates.

How to start?

Many schools simply add the Net Promoter Score to an annual survey, and while that's a step in the right direction, it doesn't generally paint the full picture. Annual surveys tend to introduce timing bias – scores can be skewed by situational factors. For instance, one administrator told us he stopped administering annual surveys during finals week, because the feedback tended to slant significantly negative (parents aren't as likely to give rave reviews when they see their kids stressed out!).

Additionally, asking the Net Promoter Score only once per year is kind of the equivalent of watching a movie, pressing "pause" at some random point, and trying to make sense of two hours of action from that single frozen image. If I'm guessing at the outcome of the Griswolds' trip to Wally World based on the single snapshot below, I'm likely guessing they never arrived or that the trip was an unmitigated disaster. I can't possibly get the full story from a singular moment in the movie.

At a school, things can (and generally do) change frequently and dramatically over the course of a year; without capturing Net Promoter Score at various points throughout the year, you're left with inconclusive or misleading data. You can't see trajectories or trends, and you're left to make potentially faulty assumptions.

Others will post a link to their NPS survey question on their web site or in an e-mail, but that tends to invite only those who are anxious to share – either good or bad – so you're getting the ends of the rainbow, but not all of the "color" in between.

Consider using a tool or method that allows you to capture the NPS consistently throughout the year. At my previous business, we used Delighted with much success. It provides a drip-style campaign to help you constantly assess your Net Promoter Score. ParentPulse provides a similar year-round automated approach, but is built just for private and independent schools and also allows you to include additional survey questions, and compare your results with other similar schools.

Like it or not, parents at your school are "customers." Yes, they can be a "second family" in many cases as well. But, at the end of the day, they're still paying for a service – and your ability to understand how well you're meeting their needs is critical to retention. The Net Promoter Score provides you with a systematic and simple way to predict their behavior and better track overall satisfaction.


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