Successful businesses solve customer problems. If you sell stylish walking shoes, you solve the problem of needing to choose between comfort and aesthetics. If you offer a home cleaning service, you solve the problem of having a dirty home.
There’s more than one way to solve these problems, of course. Your customers could carry a backup pair of shoes or clean their own homes. The problem with these solutions is they require more effort on the customer’s part. You give value by providing an easy solution.
For this reason, businesses pay careful attention to how easy or difficult it is for a customer to interact with them. The less effort it requires for a consumer to solve a problem with your business, the more value you can provide.
What is a customer effort score (CES)?
Customer effort score (CES) is a customer experience metric that evaluates a specific metric, usually how easy it is for customers to interact with your business. Businesses use CES to measure customer effort for specific business interactions, like accessing customer support, making a purchase, or using a product or service.
What are the benefits of CES for businesses?
Measuring CES can help you predict customer behavior. Identifying high-effort interactions can also help you decrease customer effort, which can improve customer satisfaction levels and increase sales.
Here’s an overview of the benefits of using CES:
- Ability to predict customer behavior. Research shows CES outperforms other customer satisfaction metrics (including net promoter score and customer satisfaction score) as a predictor of future purchase behavior and referral likelihood. Customers who report low-effort experiences are more likely than others to repurchase, increase their spending, or refer other customers to your business. You can use CES to anticipate growth based on current performance.
- Insights into the customer journey. CES surveys evaluate specific customer interactions, not overall customer satisfaction or brand perception. This makes them useful for evaluating customer journeys. You can measure customer effort for specific touchpoints and use findings to reduce effort, which can improve customer retention and support lead nurture strategies.
- Decreased customer churn rate. Decreasing customer effort can increase customer loyalty, and businesses with loyal customers have lower customer churn rates than those with disloyal customers. Decreasing customer churn rates can increase audience size and decrease operational costs associated with customer acquisition and onboarding, all of which can improve profitability.
- Increased customer lifetime value. Customers with low-effort experiences tend to spend more per purchase and repurchase more frequently, translating to an increased customer lifetime value. This can help you earn more money from your current customer base.
- Increased referrals. Decreasing customer effort can also increase the likelihood of referrals. Referrals and word-of-mouth marketing can support your customer acquisition strategy, increase revenue, and reduce marketing costs.
What is a good customer effort score?
CES scores correlate inversely with effort—in other words, higher scores indicate lower customer effort. Beyond this, CES measurements aren’t standardized. Businesses use different CES survey language and measurement tools to calculate scores, meaning there’s no universally “good” number. It also makes it difficult to use CES to compare yourself to your competitors—even if you can find their scores, they may not provide comparative value.
How to measure your customer effort score
- Set goals
- Decide when to send your survey
- Develop your survey
- Survey your customers
- Calculate your score
- Analyze your score
Here’s an overview of the basic process you can use to measure CES:
1. Set goals
Before you develop your survey, determine your goals for measuring CES. Are you beta testing a new product, establishing a baseline for your current customer service programs, or looking for the source of a customer retention problem? Identifying what you hope to learn can help you develop your survey and decide when and how to send it.
2. Decide when to send your survey
Use your goals to decide when to send your survey. Deciding this also helps you determine what questions to ask.
Businesses frequently distribute CES surveys at the following points:
- Immediately after a customer service interaction. If you want to gain information about your customer support programs, send CES surveys immediately after a customer service touchpoint or build them into the relevant interaction.
- Immediately after a customer makes a purchase or takes a desired action. If your goal is to determine how easy it is for customers to make a purchase, sign up for an event or newsletter, or take another desired action, send a CES immediately after the customer takes the desired action.
- Post-purchase. If you want to gain information about how easy it is for customers to interact with a product or service, send a CES several days to one week after a customer receives the product or first uses the service.
- As part of product or user interface (UI) testing. Some companies also conduct product or UI testing cycles, in which a customer interacts with a product or interface, either in a controlled setting or on the condition that the user will provide feedback about their experience. If you’re testing a new product or interface or evaluating the effectiveness of current offerings, incorporate your CES survey into the testing cycle.
3. Develop your survey
Customer effort score surveys use scale-based ranking systems and a corresponding question. Customer effort score questions are often variations on “How easy was it for you to [do something].” Common predicates include the following:
- solve your problem?
- make a purchase using our online store?
- find what you were looking for?
- sign up for an event?
- use our product/service?
Once you’ve selected your question, choose a scale and format your question accordingly. Numbered scales, emoticon scales, and Likert Scales are popular choices:
- Numbered scale. Numbered scales ask respondents to select a number (often between 1 and 5, 1 and 7, or 1 and 10) to indicate how easy it was to accomplish a task. Higher numbers correspond with greater ease, i.e., lower effort.
- Emoticon scale. Emoticon scales have users select one of three emoticons: a frowning face, a neutral face, or a smiling face.
- Likert scale. Likert Scales use 1 to 5 or 1 to 7 points and ask users to indicate how strongly they agree or disagree with a corresponding statement. On a seven-point scale, 1 corresponds with “strongly disagree,” 4 with “undecided,” and 7 with “strongly agree.” If you use this system, you need to convert your question to a statement, such as “It was easy for me to solve my issue.”
The best system for you depends on your goals, specific question, and the context in which you survey customers. For example, if your goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of various types of remote customer service interactions, you might select an emoticon scale because this survey type is easy for customers to understand and complete. If you’re conducting a product testing cycle, you might choose a numbered scale to obtain more detailed customer feedback.
4. Survey your customers
Once you’ve developed your survey, distribute it to your customers. Many businesses send surveys via email using automated triggers. For example, you might automatically email a post-purchase survey seven days after a customer receives an order.
Some survey tools can build CES surveys into customer service interactions by soliciting a response using the same channel on which the interaction took place. Businesses send these surveys at the end of the interaction but before the customer leaves the channel, i.e., closes the chat or hangs up the phone.
5. Calculate your score
To calculate your CES, divide the sum of all responses by the total number of respondents.
As a formula, the customer effort score calculation looks like this:
CES score = (sum of all customer responses / total number of respondents)
If you’re using an emoticon scale, you need to assign a number to each image before you can do the math. For example, a smiling face might receive a 3, a neutral face a 2, and a frowning face a 1.
6. Analyze your score
Because CES questions and scales vary, it usually isn’t possible to benchmark a score against industry averages. To analyze yours, consider your score, question, and response distribution.
Let’s say your CES score is 5. Your CES survey asked participants to respond to the question, “On a scale of one to seven, with one meaning extremely difficult and seven meaning extremely easy, how easy was it for you to solve your problem today?”
A score of 5 may mean that most of your customers found it somewhat easy to solve their problems. To double-check this assumption, analyze your distribution: If all of your customers responded with scores between 4 and 7, your assumption is correct. If 32 customers responded with a 7 and 16 customers responded with a 1, different users are having radically different experiences. Your service quality might be inconsistent, or certain types of users are struggling to interact with your business.
In some cases, you may be able to use demographic or other customer data to understand this kind of variation—if only customers who accessed customer service through a mobile app report high-effort service interactions, your app might be the problem. If you need more information, you can conduct an additional survey or even reach out to respondents who submitted negative feedback for more information.
Tips for improving your company’s customer effort score
Although CES scores are not typically useful for comparing your performance with your competitors, many companies establish a customer effort score benchmark to monitor change over time and target improvements.
Improving your CES is a matter of reducing customer effort, but your exact methods depend on what you’re measuring. Here are a few strategies that can help:
Improving CES scores for customer service interactions
If you’re using CES to measure customer service interactions, improving your score requires improving your customer service programs. Here are a few strategies:
- Offer multiple communication channels. Some customers prefer email or chat; others prefer to speak to someone on the phone. Offering multiple ways for consumers to get in touch with you allows them to select the channel that requires the least effort for them.
- Offer self-service options. Publishing a resource center or FAQ section on your website can reduce the burden on your customer experience team and allow users to solve common problems themselves.
- Implement a call-back system. If you’re using a phone or chat system, be mindful of wait times. Listening to hours of hold music is a frustrating experience for customers. Consider implementing a call-back system so customers don’t need to stay on the line.
- Send confirmation emails. If you offer customer support by email or contact form, send an automated follow-up immediately after a customer submits a request that includes estimated response windows. This can reassure customers that their request has been received and when to expect a response.
- Consult your customer support team. Your customer success team holds valuable information about customer experience; if your team members struggle to help customers solve problems, your CES score will likely be low. Consult customer service data to find out what types of problems users have and ask your team members if they have the resources they need to solve customer problems.
Improving CES scores for products or user interfaces
If you’re using CES to measure the difficulty of taking an action or using a product or service, improving your CES may require you to update your user interface, product or service, or educational materials. For example, if customers can’t figure out how to turn on your product, a simple on-button sticker on your packaging might solve the issue.
Here are a couple of additional strategies:
- Conduct additional research. Improving your product, service, or user interface CES often requires additional research. You can conduct follow-up interviews with customers, hold focus groups, or send open-ended surveys asking customers more questions about their experience with your company.
- Conduct testing. Consider conducting product tests or using usability testing tools to see how customers interact with your website. You can conduct a full-scale product test cycle or use this same strategy informally by asking friends or family members to interact with your product or site and provide feedback on the level of effort required.
Customer effort scores FAQ
What is a customer effort score (CES)?
Customer effort score (CES) is a customer satisfaction metric that measures how happy a customer is with a single brand interaction or with your brand in general.
Are there any limitations in using CES as a metric?
Yes. One major limitation is that CES feedback only tells you how difficult a consumer found it to interact with your business. Businesses typically need to perform additional research to identify the reasons behind a score.
Is the customer effort score typically measured on a numerical scale?
Yes. CES is expressed numerically, and surveys that use non-numerical responses (such as emoticon surveys) convert responses to numbers to calculate CES.