A Voice of the Customer (VoC) program is fundamental to optimizing your customer experience (CX) strategy. VoC collects and analyzes customer insights, allowing you to uncover trends in your customer’s needs, desires, and expectations. In short, VoC gives your customers a voice in your organization.

Two pivotal metrics within VoC are Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score® (NPS®). While it’s easy to calculate CSAT and NPS metrics, knowing how to act on these metrics effectively can be, well, less intuitive. 

While these metrics share some similarities, CSAT and NPS are used differently to guide a range of decisions. Understanding these differences is key to making meaningful improvements to your business.

According to the SurveyMonkey State of CX report, 89% of CX professionals say their company’s customer experience is a leading contributor to churn. Yet, 35% of CX pros name a lack of customer data and insights as one of their top challenges. Meanwhile, 36% say they have too much data and don’t know what to do with it.

That’s why it’s important to not only understand how to track the right customer experience metrics, but also understand how to use these metrics effectively. In this article, we’ll explore CSAT vs. NPS, the similarities and differences, and, more importantly, how to harness them effectively to boost revenue through happier customers.

First, let’s look at each metric's meaning, when to use them, and how to calculate them.

CSAT surveys are typically given in response to a specific interaction. This interaction could be a support ticket, an onboarding session, a sales process, or a particular feature of the product.

CSAT scores revolve around the question: “How would you rate your experience with [company/brand/product]?” The customer rates their experience on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being very dissatisfied, and 5 being very satisfied. You can also add an option for the customer to leave a comment and explain their rating. 

CSAT measures the percentage of satisfied (score 4) and very satisfied (score 5) responses. To calculate CSAT, use the following equation:

  • # of satisfied customers / # of survey responses x 100 = CSAT

According to the ACSI, 2022/2023, the overall US Customer Satisfaction Score is 75.53%. So, a CSAT score of 80% is a good indicator of success, although benchmarks can vary significantly by industry.

For example, on the high end, full-service restaurants have an average CSAT of 80%, while on the low end, internet service providers have an average CSAT of just 64%. Check out our ultimate guide to CSAT to learn more.  

NPS asks customers a similar question, although not in response to a specific interaction. An NPS survey asks: “How likely would you recommend [company] to a friend or colleague?”

Customers respond to this question on a scale of either 0-10 or 1-10, rating their broader experience with your organization, product, or services. Customers who select 9 or 10 on the NPS survey are considered promoters; customers who select 7 or 8 are passives; and customers who select 6 or below are detractors.

To calculate the NPS score, simply subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters:

  • Percent promoters - percent detractors = NPS

An NPS rating score above 0 is considered good, an NPS score above 50 is considered excellent, and any score that is 75 and above is considered world-class.

Now, let’s break down this idea of promoters and detractors. As an example, let’s use something we’ve all done—eaten at a new restaurant: 

A promoter will actively tell others about the restaurant. Imagine going into the office after visiting a new restaurant and raving to your coworkers about the excellent service and scrumptious food–all without any prompting. It was just that good, so you feel the need to share your amazing experience with others. 

If you’re a passive, you may have enjoyed the restaurant or even have a few complaints, but you aren’t swayed enough in either direction to actively speak about the experience. If prompted by a friend asking about a place to eat, you may or may not recommend the venue to them.

Finally, you’re a detractor if you actively tell others not to visit a place. You may have had a bad experience, awful food, or rude service. You are unlikely to revisit the restaurant and often tell others not to go.

NPS allows you to understand whether your business’s promoters outweigh its detractors (or vice versa), and by how much. To learn more, check out our interactive dashboard, Net Promoter Score (NPS) across the world, to see which countries tend to have higher NPS scores–and why.

As you can see, while CSAT and NPS both measure customer sentiment, these metrics are far from interchangeable. In fact, CSAT and NPS are complementary to each other and need to be used appropriately for maximum benefit. It’s not a matter of which is better or worse. It’s about the positive impact of using them correctly on your customers’ experience.

According to the State of CX Report, some of the most common touchpoints in the customer journey where CX professionals solicit customer feedback include:

CSAT is used to measure a specific interaction with a customer. It lets you know that the service or action was satisfactory. CSAT surveys should be sent to a potential respondent either directly after the action you are trying to rate, or it can even be a part of the action itself. The respondent is always the specific person(s) involved in the action.

In comparison, you do not want NPS tied to a specific event. NPS surveys should be sent out either on a regular cadence, for example, quarterly, or tied to some seemingly random set of actions that a user may accomplish. For example, after completing one or more milestones within your product.

NPS also targets a wider audience than CSAT. The NPS survey should be presented to all stakeholders within the organization. It is essential to understand not just the users’ opinion of your product and services, but also the decision-makers and the business’ opinions.

This best practice ensures you’re getting a good overview of the entire lifecycle of your customer experience, from the sales process to implementation and usage, through to the business value you are driving.

To accomplish this outcome, you may need a mix of places where the survey is delivered. In-product NPS surveys are popular and made easier with survey tools but only target users. Meanwhile, surveys sent out via email can target other vital stakeholders.

One significant similarity between the CSAT and NPS is that the metrics aren’t always actionable. 

You should always include a follow-up question with your survey to drive positive outcomes. For example: “What was the main reason you selected that rating?” or “What could we have done to improve your rating?” Once you have that information, you can make a meaningful change. Even with that data, however, the expected outcomes from CSAT and NPS should be different.

CSAT responses should be used to alter the specific experience that isn’t satisfactory or expand similar traits to other experiences if it is satisfactory. For example, if you have a lot of positive ratings because of how easy it is to use your knowledge base, you could expand it to include more information from other areas of your business. Alternatively, if the ratings are negative because of long call wait times, you might consider changing your phone support systems or processes.

While CSAT is great for driving specific action, NPS is excellent at discovering themes. For example, you can discover themes and trends by correlating the numeric ratings to keywords within the follow-up question responses. You might notice a trend that detractors are really dissatisfied with the product quality, or that promoters love having active account management. Identify these trends and use them to create smart and actionable goals for your team. 

Making the most of CSAT and NPS takes time and discipline. It’s easy to collect data; it’s hard to put it to use for your company. 

To effectively use CSAT and NPS, you need to have processes that allow you to assign ownership to common feedback themes. If you use a Customer Engagement Tool (CEM), you can often directly link a response to an assignable action. Let’s say a particular account has two or more detractors or has an unsatisfactory experience. You can send an action to the CEM, which will assign it to their account manager to follow up. 

When you integrate SurveyMonkey and Salesforce, for example, you can automatically trigger surveys after a specific event, spot trends and trouble spots, and ensure customer cases are resolved. 

Staying ahead of problems by engaging with the most at-risk customers in real time will show you care about the customer journey. These meaningful and visible actions will also create goodwill and reflect your commitment to your customers.

A common mistake regarding CSAT is assuming that everything is great if your rating is high. It’s really easy to see a 95 CSAT rating and assume you have achieved near perfection. 

The fallacy is that satisfaction is the same as overall happiness. For example, I can be satisfied that my support ticket was handled well, the agent was polite, and my problem was solved, but still absolutely furious that I had to talk to support in the first place. I could easily have questions such as: Why couldn’t I self-help? Why is your product quality so low? Why is the UX poor? CSAT measures a specific thing, such as, in this example, satisfaction with support.

A high rating does not mean you don’t need to take any action or make any changes elsewhere. To present CSAT meaningfully, you need to make sure to explicitly include the question asked so you can avoid confusion with overall sentiment about your organization.

If your business deals with different products, verticals, and customer types, you need the ability to filter your NPS and CSAT to watch for variances between the relevant groups. The calculations for both depend highly on aggregation and can hide variances between different tiers or types of customers. 

Many mail merge and survey tools allow you to correlate responses to customer metadata, making this analysis incredibly easy. Once you understand the concerns, you can start to tailor your offerings based on the customer's needs.

CSAT is an excellent metric for setting goals for a team, individual, or leader. It makes sense for a customer support leader to set a goal around high support CSAT. However, ensure your survey tool allows you to filter out non-related ratings. It isn’t fair to penalize a support team for a rating that refers to a bad product experience or vice versa.

NPS however, should not be used to set goals for a single team, individual, or leader. Because of the nature of NPS’s calculation, large amounts of effort can translate into smaller increments of change in the metric. 

Since NPS is a broad metric regarding the entire company, aligning a goal or variable bonus of a specific person to NPS can penalize them for something over which they have no visibility or control. It is good to strive for high NPS as a company, or at the executive level, but not at the departmental level.

NPS and CSAT must be used as complementary to the overall improvement of your customer experience. There is no “better” metric. Which you use, and when, will depend on your goals. 

If you want to improve a specific area of your offering, CSAT is there to help, and if you want to get a sense of the public sentiment of your organization, NPS will be more useful.

The most vital thing you must do to succeed with NPS and CSAT is to act on the data meaningfully. It’s so easy to ask for information, but making that data work for you is the most important outcome.

Learn how SurveyMonkey can help you exceed customers’ expectations by getting started today.  Plus, see how you can boost customer engagement and drive loyalty with a VoC program. Get the guide!

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

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