A Complete Guide to Customer Effort Score (CES)
By João Alves
One of the most important aspects of a company’s revenue is customer satisfaction and loyalty. One of the best ways to measure customer satisfaction and loyalty is through a customer satisfaction survey methodology known as Customer Effort Score (CES).
Corporate Executive Board (CEB Global, now Gartner) developed CES in 2010. CEB found that the volume of effort consumers put in when interacting with brands has a strong correlation with loyalty levels. In fact, “96% [of customers] who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal, compared to only 9% of customers with a low-effort experience.”
In the below guide you will gain a better understanding of what CES is, when and how to measure it, and its relationship with Net Promoter Score (NPS).
What is Customer Effort Score?
Customer Effort Score (CES) is a customer experience metric gathered from surveys to measure the amount of effort or difficulty consumers experienced to resolve an issue.
In general, a Customer Effort Score is a customer satisfaction survey used to measure the amount of effort or difficulty a customer experiences when interacting with a business. Resolving an issue with customer support, using a demo or trial, or making a purchase are examples where effort levels can be measured.
CES surveys will often ask one question or make a singular statement framed around effort level that the surveyee must respond to on a scale starting at one and going up to 10. For example, “How difficult was it for you to resolve your issue today?” or “Please rate the difficulty of using our product.”
Why Customer Effort Score Matters
As a company, you want your customers to experience low effort and ease when interacting with your brand. A low CES is a strong indicator that a customer will stay with or purchase again from a company. Additionally, a low CES can also translate to positive organic media or word-of-mouth traffic. While a high effort score can lead to customers churning and even bad-mouthing your company.
Examples of high effort situations for customers typically consist of having to be transferred to multiple departments, switching modes of communication (email to phone), or having difficulty with a company’s online interface.
Your Customer Effort Scores relay key data and insight into specific bottlenecks or difficulties that your customers face when interacting with your company. These negative experiences can then be fixed and mitigated by better training your customer experience (CX) team or in-store employees, or by fixing software bugs and issues.
When to Use CES
You want to be strategic about your customer satisfaction surveys. Consumers don’t always like to fill out surveys unless they are on an extreme end of the satisfaction spectrum — either a company went beyond expectations or the service did not go well. Below are incidences when you should implement a customer satisfaction survey to get a Customer Effort Score.
Following an interaction with a product, demo, or trial
After a consumer uses your product or service, you want to turn them into a repeat customer. One way to increase the acquisition rate is to understand and fix issues or difficulties clients experienced during a demo or trial period.
Directly after with customer service
Once someone finishes interacting with a customer service representative, send an email or ask the customer to stay on the line for a quick survey. This way, you can collect real-time unfiltered feedback.
After an interaction that led to a purchase
Your purchasing process can be improved by requesting direct feedback once someone pays for a service or product. After implementing this feedback you will likely increase the number of consumers buying from you.
How to Measure CES
Measuring your CES depends on the type of customer satisfaction survey deployed. You want a high answer rate on these CES surveys. Making sure your surveys are simple and straightforward will increase the answer rate. Surveys should typically be a singular question or statement, with a maximum of two questions or statements.
What is the CES Formula?
A CES is typically calculated by the sum of all Customer Effort Scores divided by the total number of responses. For example, a survey that gives three option choices (poor, neutral, satisfied) versus 10 options will have a different benchmark for what qualifies as a strong CES.
Here is an example of how to calculate your Customer Effort Score:
- Let’s say you have 10 respondents who score your customer effort on a scale from 1–7 as 3, 5, 7, 7, 6, 4, 6, 6, 7, 7.
- Add these scores then divide by the total number of respondents.
- (3, 5, 7, 7, 6, 4, 6, 6, 7, 7) ÷ (10)
- (58) ÷ (10) Customer Effort Score = 5.8
The below section will further explain the different survey types, when to use them, and what qualifies as a strong Customer Effort Score for each.
CES Survey Types
There are several ways to conduct customer satisfaction surveys. All of them are getting to the same point though: On average, how much effort do customers put forth to complete a particular action. The below surveys should be implemented depending on the experience the customer went through.
The Likert scale can be used to measure satisfaction, agreement, desirability, and frequency. For instance, you might measure frequency by asking how often a client uses your software (Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, Frequently). Generally, the Likert scale uses a 7-point scale.
The 1–5 scale is a form of the Likert scale. For some surveys, you might want fewer answer choices due to there not needing to be as much variation, i.e. dropping the scale from seven to five.
The 1–10 scale easily translates your raw data to a CES score because of its focus on a numeric rating. Be mindful of how numbers are associated with negative and positive responses though. For example, typically higher numbers (8, 9, and 10) are associated with positive responses. However, if you’re asking the surveyee to rate the level of effort it took to resolve a problem you want your lowest numbers (1, 2, and 3) to be associated with low effort and your higher numbers to equate with high effort.
The three emotional faces scale survey is quite short because it only gives three options. This type of survey can be used frequently due to its brevity. It can also be used as a supplemental survey to one of the surveys listed above.
Advantages and Disadvantages of CES
CES and customer satisfaction surveys have pros and cons, but the pros heavily outweigh the cons as you get insights into specific touch points that need to be addressed and can predict future purchasing behavior.
The strongest endorsement for measuring CES is that it has high predictive power for customer loyalty. According to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study, 94% of customers who reported they experienced low effort interactions with a company said they would repurchase. While 88% of the same consumers stated they would increase their spending.
Furthermore, CES gives insight into how likely customers are to refer your brand or business to others. According to the same HBR study, close to 81% of customers who reported they had difficulty or put in high effort when interacting with a company intended to speak negatively about the brand.
Another key advantage for CES surveys is their ability to quickly take survey responses and turn that information into actionable steps. Since many customer satisfaction surveys measure one touchpoint, rapid changes can be made to resolve that bottleneck. Moreover, you can begin to A/B test these changes and will gain further insight by conducting future CES surveys.
One negative or limitation to CES is that you can’t take into account or measure how consumers’ ratings or opinions of a brand are influenced by external factors such as competitors, pricing, or other products.
Another limitation is the inability of CES surveys to segment customers by type or demographic. For instance, you would have difficulty knowing if one age group is more turned off by your company’s CX than another age group.
Ways to Improve your CES
Going to the troubling of deploying CES surveys and collecting that information serves little purpose unless direct action is taken. You want to improve your CX as much as possible to obtain recurring customers and to expand your organic traffic. Here are a few simple ways to improve your CES.
1. Have a mobile-friendly website
According to OuterBox, in 2018, 79% of customers ordered products via their mobile phone, while 80% of online shoppers used a mobile phone inside of a physical store to search product reviews, find alternative store locations, or compare prices.
2. Reduce average response times
Some customer’s issues are more pressing than others. Make sure that you have a way to automate and silo which complications take priority. For instance, if a payment fails for a customer or your software crashes these should be dealt with as soon as possible, while someone’s general inquiry about a product can be scheduled to reply to at a later time.
3. Try new low-effort tools
Continuously be on the lookout for plugins or tools that your company can utilize to deliver low-effort experiences. If you do choose to implement a new tool or system, make sure that your teams are properly trained to prevent future hiccups from occurring.
CES vs. NPS
CES surveys give insight into specific customer touch points and measure customer satisfaction. That being said, it's best to pair your CES metric with another customer satisfaction survey, Net Promoter Score (NPS).
An NPS survey typically asks on a scale of 0–10 how likely a customer is to recommend a company to someone they know. The response groups are then broken into three distinct buckets — promoters (scored 9–10), passives (scored 7–8), and detractors (scored 0–6). The percentile of groupings can then be calculated to give you an NPS score. NPS also allows for more customer segmentation and further data analysis that your CES does not.
With CES surveys measuring the level of effort and NPS surveys measuring the likelihood of referral, you get keen insight into how a consumer interacted and responded to your company and their loyalty level. According to one Gartner Study, top-performing companies with low-effort scores typically have an NPS of 65 points higher than similar companies who were ranked as having high-effort scores.
How to Use CES and NPS Together
Together, CES and NPS measure both consumer effort and loyalty. The two metrics complement each other because CES pinpoints specific customer experiences while NPS gives a broad view of an organization’s relationship with its customers. Use CES to address and tackle low-hanging improvements. And implement NPS surveys to gain a more robust understanding of the customer journey.
The combined deployment and implementation of CES and NPS surveys will give you a comprehensive overview of customer satisfaction and sentiment. Once you have sufficiently tracked and analyzed these measurements, make sure you take actionable steps to further satisfy your customers.