It happened again this week. It’s happening more and more. I call customer service or I buy something and I get the email asking me to fill out a quick survey.


Sometimes there are a number of questions with this one at the bottom. Sometimes it’s just the one question:


How likely are you to recommend our company to your friends and colleagues?


I know why the question is there. There was a Harvard Business Review article One Number You Need to Know and various books published about it.  Wikipedia does a good job of outlining the history of the approach.


It sounds so appealing. That one number predicts future growth. Focusing on this number will keep employees focused on the customer. Change the world with one number. Deep down, people have to know that one number is too simplistic. But companies are hungering for answers in our rapidly changing economy. Intangibles like customer relationships are growing in importance every day. And few have the background or tools to deal with this.


This criticism may sound funny coming from me. The last chapter of our book is “Reputation is the New Bottom Line.” I absolutely see the value of the ideas underlying the net promoter score. But after a decade of work in the intangibles world, I also know that the important thinking isn’t the end metric. The important thinking is in what’s driving the metric.


In fairness, the methodology is trying to use the one number to drive a change in thinking. But in these short surveys I'm getting, that isn't happening. What’s missing in these is a desire to understand what drives customer satisfaction and overall success of the organization. And in today’s intangible capital-based businesses (80% of the value of the average business today is intangible), that model has to include a holistic view of how intangibles drive value for your customers. A few of the surveys I’ve received do try to go deeper. They ask a whole array of questions about my experience that start to get to these intangibles.


What are the intangibles that drive value for your customers? Your people. The processes and data you use to deliver your product or service. Your designs. Your partnerships. Your culture. Your business model. Your stakeholders judge you based on all these things. Ask your stakeholders how they rate the full range of your intangibles. It will empower you to drive growth, not just sit and look at a simple number that tells you what people think today but tells you very little about how to change tomorrow.


Check out our tools (many of them open source) for identifying, modeling and measuring the intangible capital driving 80% of business value today. Don’t rely on a single metric, develop a holistic view of what’s driving your future success.

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