For businesses that aren't strongly seasonal, does seasonality have an effect on Net Promoter Score? I think so, and my view on this is that it's due to macro factors which affect customers - who are in fact human beings, and have other interests than your company.
At HubSpot, where I work, I saw a downturn in NPS around the holidays which prompted this post. Below are a few influencers on NPS that are worth thinking about when you see a seasonal movement in scores.
1. Holiday Halo of Passives
- Are your users more or less active during the holidays?
- Is your company's product / experience more or less of a focus during the holidays?
Especially if, like most B2B businesses, you're less of a focus in November - December timeframe, you may see a drop in NPS for weeks surrounding holidays.
Specifically, I observed a drop of ~10% of the score in the weeks before and after Thanksgiving, and a similar drop before and after the Christmas/New Years timeframe. The numbers are remarkable in how clearly they outline the holiday schedule; you could place the week of a holiday just by looking at a trend in NPS. Although at the time, I had some concern for our execution, the scores bounced right back up following each holiday.
2. Passives from Summer, Vacationing, and Weather
- Are your customers largely located in a specific hemisphere?
- Are they largely in a specific region?
- Does traditionally "nicer" weather fray your users' work focuses?
- When do your users use your product or service, and how does that compare with their vacation schedules?
Again with some specifics: I've observed heavier engagement in Q1 and Q2 with HubSpot's software, with a drop in Q3 in certain "depth of usage" metrics. For NPS, this doesn't affect the score radically at my company, but it certainly could if active or deep engagement is a requirement for creation of promoters.
3. Promoters from Your Major Annual Events
- Do you host a major annual conference or have annual events that affect a large portion of survey respondents?
- Does your company release new products only a few times a year?
- Or do you have a smooth pattern of releases across the year?
At HubSpot, we have our annual Inbound Conference in August/September Although I mentioned that Q3 typically has lower depth of usage and a small increase in passives, we see a massive uptick in promoters following our annual conference. Via the conference we touch a large percentage of our customers and promote new releases, recenter on vision, and find opportunities to work more closely with many of our customers. All of that leads to good-will that persists for 6-10 weeks.
4. Passives and Detractors from Abnormal Cohorts of Recurring Contracts
- Do you sign up more annual contracts in December (many companies do)?
- Are the types of users you acquire different by time of year?
- Or is your aquisition spread out over the calendar month, with fewer peaks and troughs?
Often when companies acquire many customers at once, it can stress the organization in managing those accounts. A big influx can be great for sales, but not-so-great for customer experience and the creation of promoters. Or, a "fire sale" style of acquisition can lead to more customer who are, as a cohort, less engaged than a usual one.
At HubSpot, we don't have tremendous seasonality in our acquisition but we do have a small number of accounts that start with us in December and fail to onboard successfully because their decision to become a customer was more driven by internal budget surplus than actual business timeliness of purchase. This can lead to pockets of passives or detractors who require special attention early on (not after they become non-promoters) to keep them as a promoter.
Thinking of NPS Seasonality As a "Focus Factor" - And What Can Be Done
If you think of the 4 circumstances above - Holidays, Vacations, Major Events, and Contract Cycle - as factors that increase or decrease focus on your product and services, it becomes easier to understand cycles in NPS movement. I've found that as focus increases, NPS increases due to additional promoters and fewer passives.
The primary question that customer experience people need to think about is "What can I do to increase focus the right way during periods that typically have lower focus and more passivity toward my company?" Not only does this thinking help improve the "score" part of NPS, but additionally allows you to go out of your way to create good experiences in times when you're less top-of-mind than the average day.
After identifying what your seasonality in NPS is, ask a few smart questions in response:
- Can you create customer marketing content in the holidays that increases focus on your service in a fun and relevant way?
- If you have a major annual event, can you create smaller events that recur throughout the year?
- With contract management among busier periods, how can you quickly identify abnormal pockets of customers early on so that they don't end up 6 or 12 months in and unengaged?
Use action from questions like that to drive retention of promoters through periods when macro factors add risk to NPS, and watch your score stabilize across the year.