Trenton’s Plan: The Ultimate Question

I’m currently working with a client to help them rethink their business with an eye towards improving their Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a fairly well known mechanism for measuring the health of a customer relationship. It’s based on asking one question: “Would you recommend the company / product to a friend or colleague?” Answers are given on a 0 to 10 scale and the NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors (scores from 0-6) from the percentage of promoters (scores from 9-10). Depending on the industry, a decent score is 40.

Typically, companies ask detractors to explain their problem and then ask whether someone can follow-up in person. The best companies have managers follow up and take care of the customer immediately but more importantly help find ways for the problem to not happen again.

It turns out that employees in companies with high NPS scores like Apple, Jet Blue, Progressive Insurance and Enterprise Rent-a-Car are also happy with their jobs. Employees like being able to consistently satisfy customers.

The book that best explains NPS is The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey (Markey is a classmate of mine). The web site is

What if Trenton had such a program?

“On a scale of 0-10, would you recommend Trenton as a place to live to your friends and family?” This could be “The Ultimate Question – Trenton Edition.”

What if we religiously asked residents this question? What if we followed up? We could set up an email survey to ask the question or even better use our robocall system to do the asking.

In part one of my Trenton Plan, I recommended measuring four numbers: Ratables, Population, Crime Index and Graduation rate. Those are good things but to be really great we need to ask the ultimate question, “Would you recommend that a friend or relative live here?”

My free consulting advice for our next Mayor is to do exactly this. When you hire your aides, hire them into a small group that does nothing but call back residents about their problems, look for ways to solve them immediately and then craft ideas of how to solve the problems permanently. Additionally, your senior staff and you yourself should make some portion of these calls as part of your daily routine.

Citizen feedback and administration responses could be put onto the web site as a way to maintain transparency and re-enforce the point that we’re trying hard to deal with problems.

The next administration should use Net Promoter Score as a way of evaluating all departments and personnel. Create a bonus pool with city council’s blessing to reward employees based on NPS for the city. As you get more sophisticated, tie all work orders and emergency responses to how they served individual residents and business owners. Be able to link the work of the city back to individual NPS results in order to eventually give each employee an NPS score.

We might not even need to link bonus to NPS. The best companies don’t. A source of pride for Trenton employees (and I’d like to see this extended to schools) would be to achieve high levels of citizen satisfaction. Can you imagine how good it would feel to know that because of your efforts, citizens were giving the city scores of 9 or 10?

In short order we could turn into a city that strives to have citizen’s recommend it. This kind of attention to customer satisfaction could certainly be the silver bullet that revitalizes Trenton. Soon, everything our administration does could be oriented towards citizen priorities. Our budgets and policies would finely be in tune with the public.

This doesn’t solve our budget problem immediately and we won’t magically fix our crime issue. But by aggressively listening to citizens and solving their most important problems we slowly begin to repair our broken image.

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10 Responses to “Trenton’s Plan: The Ultimate Question”

  • Bernard McMullan:

    Nicely presented. The initial results on an NPS would be dismal and might foster and further dip once the score was revealed when more people are confronted with the cognitive dissonance of living in Trenton when they (and their neighbors) wouldn’t recommend it to others. That said, NPS would be a very valuable indicator of transformation or stagnation in resident’s perceptions. One challenge is the all-inclusive nature of being a resident of a community versus a customer of a computer or car rental company. A person might be able to compartmentalize the purchase or rental experience as an discrete interaction, but could they do so for their continual experiences of living in a community? For what would they appropriately hold Trenton ‘accountable for’ over which the city administration and its employees could actually exert much control. For example, I wouldn’t hold Enterprise responsible for badly maintained roads on which I drove their cars. But would I hold Trenton administrators/employees responsible for rudeness by a deli server? or the lack of a movie theater? for poor local coverage by The (Trenton) Times? They are all part of living in Trenton, but where is the line at which Trenton’s government (and schools) are not responsible for their solution?

    I concur with you later conclusion that tying individual rewards to NSP changes is not tenable AND probably will be counterproductive. See some of the conclusions reached by Daniel Pink is his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us” in which he concludes that substantive control and discretion of one work and its conditions is what generates exceptional performance.

    Great work! I look forward to the next installment!

  • Thanks.

    As it turns out. There are a few books that are serving as the foundation for my current consulting engagement. One of the others is “Drive”.

    The Motivation 3.0 portion of NPS is around the notion that customer satisfaction and one’s role in delivering it is somewhat of a cause.
    In our project we’re considering greatly increasing autonomy and eliminating the current incentive system. Good of you to make the link.

    As for using NPS in a city. I did pose the question to my friend, Rob Markey who doesn’t know of a government using it (and he heads the worldwide forum). He thought it a very interesting idea though. And even though we might not have good delis in Trenton now, the better a city we are in general, the more likely we are to have good food options in the future. Currently we’re not in a position to attract quality retail. That’s mainly because of our poor policies.

    Thanks for the comments and recommend the blog to friends and colleagues :)

  • Bernard McMullan:

    I agree the pressure on mayors and mayoral candidates to propose relatively rudimentary “solutions” or “programs” rather than principle-based approaches to civic government. What do we want to achieve balanced by what do we have control over. I like do like your four indicators, but getting to a higher graduation rate is a multi-year endeavor that overwhelms a 4 year term as mayor. Thus, we need interim indicators as well. And by the way, the newest proposal by the interim schools superintendent to re-establish middle schools flies in the face of research of what it will take. If Trenton public schools and the school board want to improve high school performance (and graduation rate) they must adopt and implement a policy that all (yes, all) middle school teachers must be certified in the subject they teach (i.e., no K-8 generatlist certification). This policy would help ensure that students in K-8 schools in the upper grades would receive instruction by teachers who know something about upper level math, science, English, etc. instruction. Simply creating middle schools is wrong-heading (see recent Columbia University study) and is just moving deck chairs around the proverbial sinking ship.

  • I’ll be honest. My eyes glaze over on school matters. I’ve paid attention to developments in education more than most people but I’m frustrated by the amount of research and lack of success.

    I’m definitely in the school choice camp.

    I’ll promote a better measure of school succcess but it has to meet the test of familiarity and system level relevance.

  • Well put – ultimately however you measure, it’s all about the actions. Getting people to call back (or just fix things) is all that counts. I get a bit weary of clients that wish to analyse surveys to death, rather that actually change things!

    Having said that, in my company we are 100% Net Promoter focused (we author the CustomerGauge measurement system), and by putting attention on continuous improvement, working on the actions, and emphasising good communication we know it is an achievable program to put in in say, one quarter.

    I would be very willing to help you get going with an NPS program in Trenton – we’ll help you keep it simple and targeted. And I would also be interested in seeing the effect in a government function. I’ve been writing about NPS for 5 years now, and I had to hunt down this reference for a town using NPS…. Please get in touch if we can help… regards Adam

    to the outcome work

  • Adam, thanks for writing and giving the government NPS example. I’d asked my friend Rob Markey at Bain whether he knew of any cities and he didn’t. Trenton has a long way to go before it can start taking steps forward. First we have to shed years worth baggage from being a poor city with a defeatist attitude. That kind of change will only come from us building up political power for revitalization. It came as news to me when I moved here that a large portion of the population likes a certain amount of poverty and lawlessness.

    My role now is to build up the resivoir of ideas so that a newly elected “good” government can hit the ground running. NPS will be near the top of my list. Our next election is May 2014 and we’re planning for it now.

  • BTW – I know Mooresvill. Used to live in Raleigh and worked in RTP at Nortel.

  • Michael McGrath:

    Really great idea.

  • Like your writing style, your column was forwarded to me for opinion by a friend who also does not live in Trenton, but we use to work in Trenton, and were very involved when in Trenton.

    Skimmed the article, so I might have missed about approach to survey, seems as though you were limiting to email. Maybe that would get those who did not have, could not afford computers, to seek access points to participate, such as the libraries, community college, and the public and qussi-public organizations, and non-profits to team up, even thought of the Soup Kitchen. Ya want the broadest and diverse population. Let’s go with an assumption, that the majority of people regardless of their affiliations want where they live and work and play to be safe and provide an environment that is enriching and enlivening, regardless…
    You are a good writer, with clarity, keep doing your thing, and present your results periodically. consider doing a demographic statistical profile of the collective responses, by some standard so you get some bases of demonstrating who your sampling respondants are reflecting.

    Good luck, you are getting attention, stay neutral so you have the opportunity to transcemt political parties, candidates, etc.
    Your agenda and ideas seem clear, you want to make a difference, and this is your time.

  • Thanks for the comment. However, I’m not so sure that telling me you just skimmed the article and the proceeding to critique a research method that I didn’t specify and that wasn’t the point of the article in the first place, is helpful.

    You suggest staying neutral. That’s about the last thing I am and the last thing Trentonians should be. Neutral people are people who don’t know what to do. That’s not me.

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