In this article, we'll cover:
- What is a customer effort score?
- Customer effort score: a brief history
- CES survey types
- Advantages and disadvantages of customer effort score
- How to use customer effort score
- When is the right time to send a CES survey?
- What’s a good CES score?
- How to assess your CES score distribution
- An example of customer effort score
It’s incumbent upon businesses to treat the issues and complaints raised by customers with the utmost seriousness and respect. This is crucial to fostering long-term customer loyalty, which is something that’s been neglected by far too many businesses over the years.
The thing about long-term customers isn’t just that they like the products or services you offer, over those of your competitors. It’s that they feel a genuine sense of loyalty. This is a precious commodity in business, and it shouldn’t be treated lightly. Loyal customers are, in effect, unpaid brand ambassadors, spreading the word to colleagues, friends, and family.
Furthermore, keeping customers happy isn’t just about providing good products, but about overall standards of service and the all-around experience. Customers should have to go to as little effort as possible in finding what they need and want.
Businesses need to find a suitable metric for measuring this. One such metric is the Customer Effort Score (CES). First devised by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), this metric is used by businesses to quantify customer service standards and to get a handle on the customer’s experience. As such, it has become one of the most important and widely-used customer experience metrics.
This guide will provide you with a comprehensive introduction to the Customer Effort Score. We’ll define it in more detail below, before going on to provide a brief history. We’ll then discuss CES surveys and the advantages and disadvantages of the metric itself.
Following that, we’ll explain more about how to make the most effective use of Customer Effort Score, when to send CES surveys, what constitutes a good CES score, and how to assess it. Then, we’ll conclude by discussing some relevant examples.
What is a customer effort score?
As we’ve just been discussing, customer effort score is a metric which businesses use to measure customer satisfaction. It was devised by the Corporate Executive Board – now part of market research firm Gartner – in 2010, to help businesses better understand customer interactions and gain insights into the level of effort involved.
Customer effort score surveys are, in effect, a kind of customer satisfaction survey. They’re pretty simple and involve a single question, asking customers to rate their experience of using certain products and services according to whether they thought it was ‘very easy’ or ‘very difficult. Respondents are asked to score their experience on a scale; say between one and seven, with one being the most difficult, and seven being effortless.
So, though it might at first seem somewhat counterintuitive, a higher customer effort score may (depending on the question posed) actually be better, as it translates into a low-effort experience. A lower CES, meanwhile, might indicate a high-effort experience. In these cases, the higher the effort involved, the higher customer disloyalty is likely to be.
There are various reasons, some of which we’ll elaborate on subsequently, why a good customer service score matters. In particular, customer retention is hugely important, and CES can be a good predictor of whether consumers will return. Customers who are unhappy with the service interactions they experience are unlikely to keep coming back.
Businesses must pay very close attention to customer feedback in order to understand their customers’ views. A growing number of them use CES for that purpose; they want to understand how their service team is performing and whether customers will repurchase.
Customer effort score: a brief history
Customer effort score has its origins in a 2010 survey carried out by the CEB. This research found that a massive majority – 96 percent – of customers who reported having had a high-effort customer experience were likely to be more disloyal to the businesses involved.
By contrast, just nine percent of respondents who reported having had low-effort experiences said that they would be disloyal to the brands concerned. Gartner has outlined four key principles to help businesses create what it calls ‘the effortless experience’:
- Empower customers to resolve issues themselves by boosting the stickiness of self-service online channels.
- Adopt ‘next issue avoidance’ practices to go beyond first contact resolution rates and reduce the necessity for time-consuming follow-up calls.
- Train customer-facing staff in psychological and behavioural practices so that they can reduce the consumer’s perception of the effort involved in the interaction.
- Provide staff with greater autonomy in managing customer interactions, thus rewarding service quality over efficiency.
CES survey types
There are several different types of CES survey, involving slightly different survey questions and methods of rating customer experiences by difficulty. The main types are as follows:
- Likert scale: This involves asking consumers to rate their experience according to a ‘strongly agree/strongly disagree’ scale of one to seven. The proposition involved would generally be ‘the company made it easy for me to solve my problem’. So, ‘strongly disagree’ would be responsible one, with ‘strongly agree’ as response seven.
- 1-5 scale: Here consumers are invited to rate the difficulty of the experience they’ve had on a scale of one to five, with one meaning ‘very difficult’ and five meaning ‘very easy’.
- 1-10 scale: As with the 1-5 or Likert (1-7) scale, consumers are asked here to give their experience a difficulty rating of between one and ten. So, if they’re asked how difficult it was to solve their problem, a rating of 1-3 would be considered good, while a rating of 7-10 would give cause for concern.
- Emoticons: Sometimes, customers are presented with emoticons to represent the experience they’ve just had. Generally, there are three emoticons presented to consumers: a smiley face, a neutral face, and an angry face.
Advantages and disadvantages of customer effort score
As with any method of analysing customer sentiment, customer effort score has its advantages and its disadvantages. Among its advantages is the fact that other service metrics can be more volatile than CES, which may make them less reliable for gauging customer loyalty and calculating the rate of churn.
CES is proven to provide businesses with reliable and actionable insights. It provides a model which customers can use to rate all of your client-facing processes and services. This, therefore, allows you to obtain customer feedback about specific processes and services, enabling you to isolate and resolve issues in particular areas.
However, CES does have its limitations as well, and in order to use it effectively (something we’ll discuss in more detail in the next section) it’s important to be aware of these. Firstly, CES merely provides a score and an indication of where consumers face difficulties. It does not elaborate on what these are, so you’ll need other methods to determine that.
It’s also restricted to the service-based aspects of your business alone, and not other aspects. In addition, it omits relevant context and extraneous factors which might have affected the customer experience. That includes elements such as staff shortages and budgetary constraints. Nor does CES consider what rival firms are doing and how they shape up by comparison.
How to use customer effort score
Taking all that into consideration, then, we need to clarify how you should use CES correctly. It’s important to have a nuanced understanding of what CES is for. The best bet for businesses is to use it in tandem with other relevant metrics, most notably Net Promoter Score (NPS) and customer satisfaction score (CSAT).
NPS and CSAT, too, have their own limitations, but when used in conjunction with CES, they should help to provide a rounded view of customer sentiment. Like CES, NPS and CSAT measure customer satisfaction. CSAT is a direct measurement of customer satisfaction, while NPS also tracks brand loyalty and how likely consumers are to recommend a brand.
The main difference between NPS and CES – and one of the reasons why they complement one another so well – is that the former monitors how consumers feel about a particular brand or business. CES, on the other hand, is used to identify areas where customers are encountering difficulties.
CSAT surveys, meanwhile, can be more versatile than either NPS or CES. You can ask multiple questions covering multiple areas, allowing you to get a more in-depth understanding of what your customers think of your business and the services you offer. You can then calculate an overall CSAT score based on the survey results you’ve received.
The key, then, is not to rely on a single benchmark – which can only give you a very partial picture of your customers’ experiences – but to use multiple benchmarks so that you cover a wider range of relevant bases.
When is the right time to send a CES survey?
There are two points at which you might send a CES survey to a consumer. These are after they’ve interacted with customer service and after an interaction that leads to a purchase. It is best to send surveys to consumers soon after they’ve interacted with your business. This is because the memory of the interaction is still fresh and you’re more likely to get a response.
Real-time feedback is important for this reason, and CES surveys can help you obtain it. Sending a survey out following a certain customer service touchpoint is a good way of getting information on how your service team is performing.
Likewise, it’s worth sending surveys out, for example, at the end of an onboarding period. The objective is to garner feedback while it’s still uppermost in the client’s mind, as it should be more reliable. The longer it takes to send out a survey after an interaction, the less likely it is that the customer concerned will fill it out.
What’s a good CES score?
We mentioned earlier in this guide that higher CES ratings often indicate that consumers have experienced only a low level of difficulty when accessing services. Lower scores, meanwhile, may indicate higher levels of difficulty.
This will depend, of course, on the question that’s being asked. It may be, depending on the phrasing of the question, that a lower score is desirable. When working out overall CES scores, then, you must bear in mind the question that’s been asked.
There are, in any case, no general industry standards to measure your own business’s performance against. Your score will also depend on the exact question you ask. Needless to say, different businesses tend to ask slightly different questions and phrase them in different ways. This can make comparisons between their findings unreliable.
Another factor to consider is the number of responses you’ve received. If you’re receiving only a small number of responses, the findings may not be entirely reliable. Low response levels may also suggest that you’re not sending surveys out at the appropriate times or that, for whatever reason, they aren’t catching the attention of your customers.
If you’re looking for further ideas on what questions to ask in a CES survey, you can find templates online. These should give you a clearer view of how other firms approach them.
How to assess your CES score distribution
The most effective way of working out your overall CES distribution is to calculate an average. Simply add all your CES scores together and divide that figure by the number of responses you received. So, say you have 100 responses to a 1-10 scale survey, and the sum of the responses amounted to 500; the average score would be five out of 10.
Of course, for other types of survey – such as the emoticon surveys we referred to earlier – there may not be a numerical score involved. In these cases, you could simply subtract the total of negative answers from the positive answers to give you an average CES.
The CEB/Gartner study we mentioned earlier found that an improvement in a customer’s CES rating from one to five translated into a 22 percent increase in loyalty. Increasing a customer’s CES from five to seven, however, boosted loyalty by only two percent.
An example of customer effort score
Many businesses have adopted Customer Effort Score as a way of tracking customer experiences, but one of the best known is telecoms giant BT. In an effort to drive up customer service standards, BT undertook a far-reaching re-evaluation of its customer service teams’ performance. Adopting CES as a yardstick was one way of doing this.
The company had previously used first call resolution, only to find that for some issues, it wasn’t an appropriate way of measuring success. To correct this, BT started to use CES as a way of measuring both customer experiences and loyalty. It also made various changes across its contact channels – shortening customer journeys, changing language, adding options – and monitored CES to see if they had any impact.
As we’ve stressed throughout this guide, CES isn’t a miracle cure, and what it tells us about the customer experience is unavoidably quite limited. But it does nevertheless provide insights that can be important, and the link between the smoothness of the customer experience and brand loyalty is well-established. CES can, therefore, be a useful tool for many businesses.