in User Research

One-Question Survey

The One Number You Need to Grow by Frederick F. Reichheld is a great, short article on using one-question surveys that measure loyalty correlated with customer behavior. Highlights:



‘Every month, Enterprise polled its customers using just two simple questions, one about the quality of their rental experience and the other about the likelihood that they would rent from the company again. Because the process was so simple, it was fast. That allowed the company to publish ranked results for its 5,000 U.S. branches within days. …the company counted only the customers who gave the experience the highest possible rating…By concentrating solely on those most enthusiastic about their rental experience, the company could focus on a key driver of profitable growth: customers who not only return to rent again but also recommend Enterprise to their friends.’

‘In most of the industries that I studied, the percentage of customers who were enthusiastic enough to refer a friend or colleague — perhaps the strongest sign of customer loyalty — correlated directly with differences in growth rates among competitors.’

‘Companies have tended to focus on customer retention rates, but that measurement is merely the best of a mediocre lot…they basically track customer defections’

‘For a while, it seemed as though information technology would provide a means to accurately measure loyalty. Sophisticated customer-relationship-management systems promised to help firms track customer behavior in real time. But the successes thus far have been limited to select industries, such as credit cards or grocery stores, where purchases are so frequent that changes in customer loyalty can be quickly spotted and acted on. ‘ – Behavior is difficult to study and quantify, lots of data might help.

‘My personal bet for the top question (probably reflecting the focus of my research on employee loyalty in recent years) would have been "How strongly do you agree that [company X] deserves your loyalty?" Clearly, though, the abstract concept of loyalty was less compelling to customers than what may be the ultimate act of loyalty, a recommendation to a friend.’ – This question raises the same kind of emotion that occurs during real behavior, and might help explain why it’s a better indicator of behavior.


I like how he used a 10-point scale then clustered the results into three types of customers, avoiding “grade inflation.”

Also see the Loyalty Acid Test.

  1. Both of these questions are relevant, and fall in line with Avinash Kaushik’s piece “The Three Greatest Survey Questions Ever”. But Avinash also captured “The 10 / 90 Rule for Magnificent Web Analytics Success”, which suggests that the data isn’t everything — by a LONG shot.

    While I do believe your question does get at key issues that others may not, AND I believe that this type of data should be continuously gathered, it still only gets at a heartbeat. It can only tell you if something is changing but not why.

    Too often businesses ‘rely’ on these measures as a key indicator. This is a mistake. This is the sort of measure that should be put in place as a stopgap or AFTER other measures are put in place to capture feedback data when problems are occuring.

    The data gathering purported here only collects the artifacts of the symptoms, thus making it inactionable — other than to point to a need to conduct more research.

    It is a pacifier, a panacea. It’s also a mirage.

  2. Often Reichheld’s name is not known, but his method is, as “Net Promoter Score”. This is leveraged by a number of companies as a ‘key’ indicator (including Sun and Dell). But as Christine Spivey Overby from Forrester suggests in her piece “Net Promoter Scores: Good, But Not Enough”. She points out “Net Promoter is built on a simple premise: Promoters are assets and detractors are liabilities.” And then goes on to note the problems with the oversimplifications (which would be the problem with any single question): 1) it doesn’t account for “Which promoters and detractors matter the most” 2) it doesn’t tell you “What action you should take” 3) “it’s difficult to extrapolate [influence] to overall growth and profitability”.

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