The Ultimate Question


The Ultimate Question (Reichheld) addresses the customer referral, expansion and retention issues faced by almost any business. Although I found it a bit of a slow read (a lot of time justifying the topic) there is a simple elegance in the message. To save you the time of digging it out, here is “the ultimate question” to ask of your customers.

 “On a scale of 0 to 10, how willing are you to refer our business to others?”

What I call an umbrella question because in order to answer it the person needs to go through a fairly big checklist in their minds to find that one number. I like it. Strong.

The essential companion question, in response to their answer, is

 “What is the main reason that you decided on that particular score?”

This is where the rubber hits the road. Without it you have a number and little knowledge of what to do about it. A great question because it surfaces the underlying pieces of the decision making process. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know, for instance, that in spite of all your customer centric efforts, the reason this person is at ‘2’ is because the snowplow driver in your parking lot gave her a hard time?

The author goes on to describe how to design a system to ascertain your Net Promoter Score, a measure of how many of your customers are Promoters, Detractors and Neutral (read ‘easily lost to competitors’). And just the answers to those two questions alone can really help to take your business to beyond the next level. Also makes for a survey of only two questions so your customers probably won’t feel burdened.

There is a follow on book by other authors (Answering the Ultimate Question). I didn’t like it much, just too ‘academic’, if you know what I mean. But, as with most books, a few useful points for the diligent.