Poor question design means questionable results: A tale of a confusing scale

I saw the oddest question in a survey the other day. The question itself wasn’t that odd, but the options for responses were very strange to me.

  • 1 – Not at all Satisfied
  • 2 – Not at all Satisfied
  • 3 – Not at all Satisfied
  • 4 – Not at all Satisfied
  • 5 – Not at all Satisfied
  • 6 – Not at all Satisfied
  • 7 – Somewhat Satisfied
  • 8 – Somewhat Satisfied
  • 9 – Highly Satisfied
  • 10 – Highly Satisfied

What’s this all about?  As a survey taker I’m confused.  The question has a 10 point scale, but why does every numeric point have text (anchors). What’s the difference between 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 that all have the same anchoring text?   Don’t they care about the difference between 3 and 5?  Oh, I get it, this is really a 3 point scale disguised as a 10 point scale.

With these and other variations on the theme of “what were the survey authors thinking?”  on my mind I talked to a representative from the sponsoring company, AOTMP.  I was told that the question design was well-thought out and appropriate, being modeled on the well-known Net Promoter Score.   Well of course it is  – like an apple is based on an orange (both grow on trees).  But not really:

  • The Net Promoter question is for Recommendation, not Satisfaction.  There were a couple of other similar questions in the short survey, but nothing about Recommendation. Frederick Reichheld’s contention is that recommendation is the important measure and also incorporates satisfaction; you won’t recommend unless you are satisfied.
  • The NPS question uses descriptive text only at the end points (Extremely Unlikely to Recommend and Extremely Likely to Recommend).  It is part of the methodology to avoid text anywhere in the middle in order to give the survey taker the maximum flexibility.  That’s consistent with survey best practices.
  • The original NPS scale is from 0 to 10, not 1 to 10.  Maybe that’s a small point, although the 0 to 10 scale does allow for a midpoint which was part of the the NPS philosophy.

Other than the fact that this survey question isn’t NPS, what’s the big deal?  Well, this pseudo 10 point scale really doesn’t work.  The survey taker is likely to be confused about whether there is any difference between “3, Not at all Satisfied” and “4, Not at all Satisfied”. Perhaps the intention was to make it easier for survey takers, but either they’ll take more time worrying about the meaning, or just give an unthinking answer, and the survey administrator has no way of knowing.  Why not just use the 3 point scale instead?  I suppose you could, but then it would be even less like NPS. Personally, I like the longer scale for NPS.  I don’t use NPS on its own very much, but the ability to combine with other satisfaction measures with longer scales (Overall Satisfaction and Likelihood to Reuse) means that I’ve got the option of doing more powerful analysis as well as the simple NPS.  More importantly, I don’t have to try to persuade a client to stop using NPS as long as I include other questions using the same scale.  Ideally, I’d prefer to use a 7 or 5 point scale instead, but 10 or 11 points works fine – as long as only the end-points are anchored. For more on combining Net Promoter with other questions for more powerful analysis, check out “Profiting from customer satisfaction and loyalty research

There’s no justification for this type of scale in my opinion.  If you disagree, please make a comment or send me a note.   If you want to use a scale with every point textually anchored, use the Likert scale with every point identified (but no numbers). Including both numbers and too many anchors will make the survey takers scratch their heads – not the goal for a good survey.

Perhaps the people who created this survey had read economist J.K. Galbraith’s comment without realizing it was sarcastic.- “It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.”

Idiosyncratically,
Mike Pritchard

Many thanks to Greg Weber of Priorities Research for clarifying the practice and the philosophy of the Net Promoter Score.

Comments

  1. maybe this way they’ll primarily get responses that are 7+ thus when they report their scores on customer satisfaction they’re almost guaranteed a good score and if they don’t report the anchor words no one will know. pretty sneaky, but not a very good way to actually have any real sense of how your customers feel about the service.

  2. nice post. thanks.

  3. I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work :)

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