3 steps to turn passives into promoters

TLDR: I’ve written previously about how to turn Detractors into fans and Promoters into advocates using your Net Promoter℠ program.  However, Passives are another type of customer altogether.  Read on for three ways you can turn more Passives into Promoters.

Find the Signals

Understanding what’s holding a Passive back from being a Promoter is a challenge because the strength of their feedback signal is often weak or nonexistent.   Unlike Detractors’ survey comments which are loaded with strong opinions, Passives are not actively dissatisfied and they aren’t telling you that they’re satisfied either.  In most cases they are not clearly articulating what you need to do to make them loyal.

The good news is that a Passive can often be turned into a Promoter will small fixes…but what to fix?

First Pass Analysis

Do a first pass analysis of Passive survey comments, bucketing the comments into 4-6 categories. If your analysis yields a clear pattern of feedback, then prioritizing and delivering those improvements can be a straightforward exercise.  You’re on your way to creating new Promoters.

Customer Outreach as Needed

What if the Passives’ comments were inconclusive? What if you didn’t get enough comments from Passives (a very real possibility)?

It’s time to deepen your understanding by reaching out for more feedback. Live conversations are best, or a short and concise email request if not. The more personal the outreach the better insights you’ll get.

To maximize the responses, ask a simple question to the effect of: “what would need to be true for you to be a huge fan of my product?”.

Close the Four Value Gaps

It’s often said that the ideal customer is one who has realized the full “value” of your product. Passives, by definition, have a value gap.

Another way to move Passives to Promoters is to identify, categorize and prioritize the value gaps in how you deliver your product to customers.


Are there missing features that Passives want?  Drive the roadmap accordingly.


How hard is it for a customer to utilize your product?  The features might exist, but if the customer experience is challenging, then those features won’t get used.


Which of your service touch points should be improved?  Think about the whole customer journey from Onboarding to activation to ongoing support and training.


Value can also be “value for money”. Are some customers feeling like their investment exceeds the value they get?  Look into your product packaging, such as price tiers and feature bundling for opportunities to better align price with value.  

Note that reducing list prices, or extending deeper discounts, is not a panacea here.  Customers simply want good alignment between value and money spent.

Nurture Adoption

We’ve written previously about how important it is to nurture ongoing user adoption.  Without strong adoption processes, you’re apt to create a customer segment of Passives who are not getting the most from your service.

A strong adoption marketing program has these elements:

  • Listen. Gather each user’s feedback (your NPS program) and measure their usage of your service
  • Learn. Develop insights and analytics that help you segment customers and drive internal improvements
  • Engage.  Apply what you know about each user to personalized, targeted messages to guide them through each step in their adoption journey

Summing it up

Passives are the most challenging customer segment because of their ambivalence.  Adopt the mindset that you want to get every passive to express themselves more strongly. And lead your passives down an active path of adoption so they achieve the full value of your service.

2 thoughts on “3 steps to turn passives into promoters

  1. About 80% of our Passives are “Promotors” where the customer comment associated with the survey clearly indicates that the customer was satisfied. For many customers providing an 8 out of 10 is strong praise. Has anyone observed the similar pattern? Do you accept those or take any kind of action?

    1. Holger, I’d take that as a good sign! One of the limitations of the NPS formula is that it doesn’t show you the size of the Passive population relative to the whole. Therefore, you can have the same NPS score from two very different user populations: one with a lot of Passives and small percentages of Promoters and Detractors, or one with a relatively lower percentage of Passives and a more polar distribution of responses as Detractors & Promoters.

      If, in your case, you have a big percentage of Passives relative to the whole respondent population then perhaps it gives purpose to follow-on analysis or maybe follow-up questions: “what would it take for you to recommend Optimizely?” Perhaps that would uncover some latent improvements?

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