Friday, May 18, 2007

The Ultimate Question and One More...

I just came across this article in OCLC's NextSpace No. 5 (from Dec. 2006 - Yikes! Where was I!?) Are You Asking the Ultimate Question? which talks about a book by Fred Reichheld, The Ultimate Question.

This article talks about how the most important question to ask of your customers/patrons is "Would you recommend us to a friend?" In fact, the argument is made that this need be the ONLY question if you survey. Yes, a one-word survey!

I actually heard this recently when I toured a hospital in Paterson - they have this question stated explicitly as a goal - "Would you (in this case the employee) recommend this hospital to your friends or family members?" A pretty good question to keep in mind! I think it is a good thing just to ask ourselves to make sure we are providing a level of service that we would be proud to offer to our own circle.

Which reminds of something I heard recently about the bathrooms in some public libraries - the staff wouldn't stand for having to use them and have their own bathrooms which are in much better shape, but they expect their patrons to use them all the time!? This is like a "home" and the patrons are a guest in your home - is that the bathroom condition you would present to your guests at home?

Anyway . . .

Fred Reichheld is saying that the answer to this one question could determine the future of your business or library.

With something that is this "old" (the book came out in January 2006) I always worry that someone else has already addressed this, but it is totally new to me and I think very important for libraries.

Nonbusiness organizations also have customers; they need to delight the people
they serve, and they too can benefit greatly from the use of one simple metric.
- Fred Reichheld in NextSpace No. 5.

Wow! DELIGHT the people they serve! What a novel idea! So how does this one question work?

You ask a question such as, "On a scale of 1-10 how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?"

Promoters score 9 or 10 - are loyally enthusiastic, keep coming and urging others to do so

Passives score 7 or 8 - are satisfied but easily wooed away

Detractors are the rest - UNHAPPY CUSTOMERS, feel ignored/mistreated, plot to get even!

Sometimes a follow-up question is asked to gain more insight. "If you would not recommend us, why not?" (Those answers might be hard to face!)

Ironically, customer loyalty provides companies with a powerful advantage - a
battalion of credible sales and marketing and PR troops who require no salary or
commissions. Yet the importance of these customer promoters is overlooked. -
Fred Reichheld, NextSpace No. 5.

We already know the power of negative experiences in stores or libraries and the studies that show that if a customer has a bad experience they are likely to tell (something like) 12 people! If they have a good experience they don't tell nearly as many. It takes way more positive experiences to overcome one negative experience. We need to create as many positive experiences, and positive, PROMOTER-users as possible!

I recommend you read the article if you're not familiar with this - it also contains information on the OCLC report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. Steve Hiller also provides a lot of information in this article.

I plan to check this out some more and do some reading on the blogs related to this idea. I think it would be fascinating to do this type of one- or two-word survey and see what we get!

One other question I want to bring up here is "What business are we in?" I used this today when a volunteer came to me with yet another ripped magazine cover, very distressed. I told her that we aren't in the business of preserving magazines perfectly forever. We are in the business of providing magazines to be read. True, if one person destroys a magazine they are obstructing others from having access to it, but some ripped and torn covers is not really the priority of our business.

So I say, ask yourself, "What business are you in?" and then ask yourself and your customers, "Would you recommend us to a friend or family member?"

Okay sorry I'm having trouble in the comments but the link for the new forum on Net Promoter is:

Sorry I couldn't edit or delete those messed up comments b/c I didn't install greasemonkey yet per Peter! :-)

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At May 19, 2007 8:41 AM, Blogger Amy J. Kearns, MLIS said...

I just wanted to add that I received an e-mail from Amy Madsen, Net Promoter Project Manager, who tells me that she has received some interest from librarians regarding Net Promoter. As a result, she has created a discussion forum string for librarians at

It does require a brief registration.

You can also see other industries discussing this topic there.


At May 19, 2007 8:44 AM, Blogger Amy J. Kearns, MLIS said...

At May 22, 2007 8:11 AM, Blogger Marie L. Radford said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At May 22, 2007 8:16 AM, Blogger Marie L. Radford said...

Your post reminds me of another critical dimension "willingness to return" used in the work of Joan Durrance, Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Patricia Dewdney, and Kirsti Nilson (Kirsti's 2004 publication on MLIS student's comparison of face-to-face vs. virtual reference can be found at

The Nilsen's question focuses on willingness to return to an individual: "Given the nature of this interaction, if you had the option, would you return to this staff member again with another question?"

This could be adapted to ask: "If you had the option, would you return to our library (or virtual reference service) with another question?"

Like the ultimate question "Would you recommend us to a friend?" the "willingness to return" question is also an elegant way to quickly determine our level of service. I wonder if people are willing to recommend a service to others that they would not choose to return to themselves?


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