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Passives: Understanding the Black sheep of the NPS spectrum

Passives: Understanding the Black sheep of the NPS spectrum

Divya BhatDivya Bhat | May 9, 2016

Often when the concept of Net Promoter ScoreSM is explained to laymen, the focus rests on the two extremes of the scale – Promoters & Detractors. One might even go to the extent of saying something like “You can set aside the passives for now because they are not a part of the NPS® calculation”. While it is true the calculation of the NPS® relies heavily on promoters and detractors, we really cannot afford to miss out on the silent majority which is the ‘Passive‘ group because the percentage of Promoters and Detractors also depends on the percentage of Passives.

The good news is that you don’t have to take drastic measures to reach out to this segment as you would with your detractors. Dealing with detractors calls for a whole different approach because they are the ones who have a negative impression about your brand. Au contraire, ‘passives’ represent customers who simply don’t have a unequivocal opinion about your brand. They neither hate nor endear your service. So understanding this segment of your customer base can prove extremely profitable to you since they are closer to promoters (literally, on the NPS scale, and figuratively given that they don’t actually hate you!).

At the very core of Customer Experience is understanding the customer. Be it a detractor, a promoter or a passive – If a certain customer feels a certain way about your brand, you need to be aware of where that opinion stems from. And if it is something that can be addressed, make it happen instantly. Unless you make feedback actionable, you will never gain the trust of your customers.

If you can’t seem to figure out why your brand’s NPS needle is stuck eternally and never seems to move forward, you might want to ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I doing everything within my means to delight my customers?
2. Does my brand have any differential advantage over the competitors which will woo even the passives?
3. Can my brand boast of having happy, engaged employees who go that extra mile for their customers?
4. Does my business strategy involve nurturing an emotional quotient with my customers?
5. Do I reciprocate enough when it comes to my customers?

If you’ve answered in the negative to even one of these questions, you have the answer to why you don’t have as many brand loyalists as you’d ideally want. But the good news is that you now know what to work on to rectify the status quo.

To put things in perspective, we have juxtaposed few of the main traits of Passives and Promoters so we can analyse the gap that needs to be filled to covert the former into the latter.


This view of the two allows for a more objective analysis of how to interact with passives such that they progress higher on the NPS scale and join the promoters.

1. Characteristically, passives tend not to say anything negative lest they get into a sticky situation involving a conflict. They play safe and they contribute neither positively nor negatively to your efforts to improve customer experience. If you were to turn to psychology, understanding a passive personality would not be as challenging. These are mostly people who would rather avoid having an opinion. The best way to tackle this would be to present them with exact follow up questions like,

I was happy with the service – Yes, No ” or “I found what I was looking for – Yes, No” and such. Leave no scope for neutrality. Try and understand where you failed to delight them based on this follow up and make sure you let them know that the issue has been looked into.

2. Passives only associate with you so long as your brand meets their requirement. Be it the price range or the service or even the proximity – passives are most definitely going to switch to another brand the moment they realize that there is something that suits their needs better. The only way to tackle this is by exceeding their expectations and convincing them that they deserve a superior experience every single time. Put your best foot forward and these customers will keep coming back to you for more.

3. Customer Loyalty and passives will never go hand in hand. You have to make sure they understand that they matter to you. Make sure you get in touch with passives to understand why they were not a 100% satisfied. This does not mean that you pester them with calls incessantly and drive them to becoming detractors. Send a nice email requesting more specific insights into their experience and give them a reason to come back. This way they might just return and be delighted this time around.

It also pays to realise that Passives don’t always mean to leave a futile feedback. They simply cannot bring themselves to give an honest feedback. So here are a few more tips to turn those passives into active, brand enthusiasts.

– Pointing out the benefits of your brand, during a follow-up call, will help them be aware of it and in a way also reorient their perception. This has to be done delicately though. Bring them to talk about their experience and let the conversation organically turn in a direction which allows for a more candid discussion of their experience. Pick up on aspects they mention and ask questions that will inspire thoughtful responses. This could also help them understand exactly how they feel about your brand.

– Cash in on the positives and incentivize when passives show you signs that they might reconsider visiting you again. Take the time to also include tips on how best to use your product or offer a free service or a coupon that could show them that your intentions aren’t just monetary. Don’t be complacent with status quo – always aspire to understand your customers better than they understand themselves. More often than not, passives have just not bothered to assess the pros and cons themselves and that’s why they give a highly safe, neutral rating.

With this post, we aim to break the myth that passives are to be ignored and that they don’t really affect a brand’s success. It is true that the Net Promoter Score does not concern itself with the passives, but your business deserves to entice these customers just as much as the detractors. Turn your eyes to the black sheep because hardly anyone is looking in that direction!

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.