Transactional versus relationship NPS surveys: Why the difference matters

This post examines the difference between relationship and transactional surveys. My purpose is to give those interested in the research underlying Net Promoter Score® (NPS) a better idea of how to think about the types of data that each of these forms of survey captures. In particular, I discuss this in relation to NPS, as a firm's NPS score can be very different depending on whether the survey is about B2B relationship or B2B transactions.


What we mean by a relationship survey

When we refer to relationship surveys, they are usually what people think of when it comes to surveys in general. A large number of respondents are interviewed, and the questionnaire covers a range of topics dealing with the relationship between clients and firms in a market. These surveys are mostly done on a regular basis, whether monthly, quarterly, or annually to provide tracking data.

For a beaton example, think of the big beatonbenchmarks survey, run annually and covering many thousands of respondents.

This type of survey usually looks at the overall relationship between a firm and its clients. In preparing the questionnaire we include questions that cover a range of factors and aspects of the relationship between the client and firm. This is used to gauge the health of the relationship and the health of your firm's brand in the market. This information is usually tracked so that it can be monitored over time.

What we mean by a transactional survey

Transactional surveys, on the other hand, usually occur shortly after a transaction (project or matter) has been completed. These are done to get client's feedback while the transaction is still fresh in their mind. The questionnaire is usually much shorter, consisting often of only 5-10 questions, and focuses on specific aspects of the experience. Each transactional survey often has a small sample size of maybe 5 to 10 respondents.

For this type of survey, think the recently introduced beatondebrief. beatondebrief provides firms with real-time feedback from clients at the level of projects or matters. A beatondebrief survey is usually sent out during or soon after the completion of a single project or matter to the specific client individuals involved. Each matter survey usually only goes to a maximum five or six clients, although there may be more, e.g. in large engineering projects.

The transactional survey is about clients' satisfaction with a particular matter. This often revolves around specific aspects of that transaction, for example the documentation, service level, quality or communication. It thus provides very detailed information on the transaction experience, so that if a client has a bad experience, the firm is more able to address it quickly and understand what went wrong at that point in time. This helps the firm take action to resolve issues promptly and prevent recurrence.

Which one do I use?

The two types of surveys are complementary. The relationship surveys help you understand your overall relationship and brand health, and how your firm compares to other firms at a point in time in the market. You can track these scores to see whether your overall relationship and brand health are improving or not over time. In this sense, the relationship survey is more related to informing your strategic thinking, and your overall game plan for your firm.

Relationship surveys are strategic.

On the other hand, the transactional survey is more like a quality control chart. This idea is similar to how factories use quality control charts to monitor their machine production. If one batch of products doesn't meet specifications, it is examined to find out why, so that the production process can be restored to the standard required. But instead of monitoring product specifications, in transactional surveys we monitor aspects related to a project such as quality documentation or effectiveness of communication.

If for example, you receive two transactional surveys that rate low for documentation, you can examine those two transaction surveys at that point in time to find our what exactly went wrong with the documentation. In effect, you are able to respond to a red flag. In this sense, you are provided with tactical information to help you detect problems early and work out what exact changes or improvements you need to keep you on track to meet your goals. Equally, when you receive high scores you are getting a green flag, and can phone and thank the client for the compliment - and invite them to recommend you.

Transactional surveys are tactical.

What does this mean for NPS?

The NPS scores based on a relationship survey are not comparable with NPS based on a transactional survey. The NPS scores based on these two types of data can often be quite different. This is because when the respondent is considering the Recommendation question that is used in the NPS, they are factoring different aspects into their thinking, depending on the type of survey used.

For the transactional survey, respondents are only answering the questionnaire in relation to one particular interaction, the matter or project in question. Whether the Recommendation question itself is asked in relation to that single matter or not, the closeness of the transactional survey in time to the actual transaction, and the focus of the transactional questionnaire as a whole on that single matter, means that the respondent's thinking will be automatically narrowed by this context when they answer the Recommendation question.

In addition, transactional surveys are often sponsored, in that the respondent knows which firm is commissioning the survey, as they survey is in relation to a specific matter.

For a relationship survey, the respondent is answering the Recommendation question in relation to their whole experience with the firm. Relationship questionnaires are not focused on any particular interaction, and don't make reference to any particular interaction in the wording of the questions, causing respondents to take a much broader view when considering how they would rate your firm in the Recommendation question. In relationship surveys like beatonbenchmarks there is no sponsoring firm, or if there is, the sponsoring firm's identity is not revealed so as to get an unbiased representation of the market.

A firm may have a low NPS based on a transaction survey, while having a much higher NPS based on a relationship survey, or vice versa. For example, this may be because for that particular matter the firm performed poorly because they were not 'responsive'. But, in the more general relationship survey that single matter is just one aspect of a much larger relationship that covers many matters and the overall organisational bond the client may have with your firm. This means that if the firm has performed well in other matters and interactions, the respondent would score them highly for the Recommendation question in the relationship survey.


Whether you use data from a transactional or a relationship survey really depends on your research question, as they are both well suited to answering different questions.

The relationship survey is best suited to informing your firm's strategic thinking and actions. It provides insights into how your firm is performing on key metrics in its served market relative to other firms, and helps your firm identify strategic improvements. The transactional survey, on the other hand, provides you with granular detail on how you are succeeding or falling short in key areas of project delivery. It enables you to identify specific actions to improve critical shortcomings.

Transactional and relationship surveys are complementary. Their design, conduct and interpretation should be managed accordingly.

More on NPS from beaton


Grant Hollings is a Research Manager at beaton.