What Is Customer Effort Score (CES)? Definition & How to Measure
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated on July 7, 2023, to include new data and information.
- A critical metric. The customer effort score (CES) is essential for quantifying and improving customer experience.
- Several survey types. Brands can measure CES through several types of surveys, including the Likert scale, numbered scale and emoticon scale.
- Limited in scope. The CES metric has limitations that require it to be used as part of a broader suite of customer experience metrics.
In today’s fiercely competitive business landscape, a superior customer experience (CX) is more than just a nice-to-have — it’s a necessity. But how do we quantify and improve this elusive concept? Enter the customer effort score (CES), a powerful tool to gauge customer satisfaction and tailor unforgettable experiences.
Far from being just another buzzword, CES can act as your compass, guiding you toward more meaningful customer interactions and service excellence with the power of customer feedback.
In this article, we decode the customer effort score, revealing its value and practicality in crafting superior CX strategies.
What Is Customer Effort Score (CES)?
Customer effort score (CES) is a metric used to determine the amount of effort it takes customers to accomplish a specific task with a brand. It’s one of several metrics that places hard values on a brand’s CX and often works in conjunction with metrics like the net promoter score (NPS), customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and customer churn rate (CCR).
“Customers get frustrated when something they want to do with your brand requires a lot of effort, or unexpected effort for them,” said Jeannie Walters, CEO and chief experience investigator at Experience Investigators. “The Customer Effort Score (CES) is a way to monitor how much effort customers feel is required of them to accomplish something with a brand.”
When to Use Customer Effort Score vs. Other Metrics
Most people use a combination of metrics to get a robust picture of their CX performance. However, there is a time and a place for everything. Let’s look at the distinct use cases for CES, NPS, CSAT and CCR.
Customer Effort Score (CES)
CES is useful for following a specific touchpoint or transaction. It’s also a useful tool for prioritizing customer journey improvements, said Walters.
“For example, you might have a CES survey at key points along the journey… If payment process is showing a low CES, that is an important thing to know. It’s also good for self-service options like finding answers in a knowledge base or solving an issue.”
When you have a high-effort service interaction, customer loyalty can take a hit. If you’re looking to streamline specific customer interactions and make a product or service more user-friendly, CES should be your go-to metric.
Net Promoter Score (NPS)
Unlike capturing data on one specific moment or interaction, net promoter score (NPS) is a good metric for those long-term customer loyalty questions and relationships. It’s measured by the customer’s experience as a whole, including the product attributes, price, brand and customer service altogether, according to Daniel Rodriguez, chief marketing officer at CX platform Simplr.
When combined, he said, “Customer Effort Score and NPS can build a more complete view of customer sentiment.”
Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)
The customer satisfaction score (CSAT) measures the degree to which a customer is happy with your product, service or a specific interaction they’ve had with your company. Like CES, CSAT is measured using a simple survey where customers rate their satisfaction on a scale, such as 1 to 5 or “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied.”
It’s essential to remember that CSAT is a broad measure of customer satisfaction. It may not provide detailed insights into specific aspects of the customer experience, which is where CES can come in handy.
Customer Churn Rate (CCR)
Your customer churn rate (CCR) is a key metric that reveals the percentage of customers who stop using your product or service over a given period of time. It’s an important indicator of customer satisfaction, product-market fit and customer loyalty.
While churn tells you customers are leaving, it doesn’t tell you why. That’s where CES becomes invaluable. By using CES alongside CCR, you can start to understand if customer effort impacts your churn rate.
Related Article: 20 Customer Experience Metrics Critical for Your Business
How to Measure Customer Effort
The purpose of any customer effort score survey is to determine how much effort it takes for a customer to complete an interaction with your brand. These surveys tend to all look very similar but have some slight differences.
Types of Customer Effort Score Surveys
There are three commonly used types of customer effort score surveys:
The Likert scale is a psychometric scale that uses a non-question statement to assess the level of user agreement.
For example, you might make the statement: “It was very simple to pause my subscription.”
And users could choose between a 5-point scale, where 1 represents “Strongly Disagree” and 5 represents “Stongly Agree.”
Today, many that employ a Likert scape for their customer effort score surveys also colorize the buttons from red to green.
The numbered scale is similar to the Likert Scale, but instead uses a question to assess the level of user agreement.
For example, you might ask: How easy was it to pause your subscription?
Users can select from a numbered scale poll, such as 1 through 10, with 1 being the most amount of effort and 10 being the least.
Emoticons have a time and place, and this is one of them. From frowning to straight-lipped to smiling, they make it easy (and a little more fun) for customers to indicate how much effort it took them to complete an interaction.
Customer Effort Score Questions
CES surveys can start with one of two things: a question or a statement. The customer effort score question you use might be:
- On a scale from 1-7, how easy was it to interact with our product/service?
- On a scale of “Very Difficult” to “Very Easy,” how would you rate your recent interaction with our customer service team?
- How would you rate the ease of use of our product/service on a scale from 1-5?
- Was it easy to find the information you were looking for on our website/app?
- Did you find it easy to make a purchase/complete the transaction on our platform?
- How much effort did you personally have to put forth to resolve your issue with our product/service?
An alternative to the customer effort score question is a CES survey statement, such as:
- How much do you agree with the following statement: The company’s website makes buying items easy for me.
- On a scale from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree,” please respond to this statement: The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.
According to Walters, brands can also include an open-ended follow-up question at the end of a customer effort score survey to ask for feedback on the response.
Customer Effort Score Calculation
To determine your company’s customer effort score, add up the total sum of responses, then divide that number by the total number of survey respondents.
Customer Effort Score Calculation: Total Sum of Responses / Number of Responses
For example, say you use a CES survey that asks for a rating of 1 through 10. In this scenario, 1 is most amount of effort and 10 is least amount of effort. Your total number of ratings adds up to 400 and 50 people responded to the survey.
400/50 = 8 out of 10
Interpreting CES Survey Results
Now you have your customer effort score calculation. But is it a good number?
On a customer effort score survey with a scale of 1-7, anything above a 5 would be considered “good.” But this varies from industry to industry, according to Walters.
Rodriguez added that the best way to determine what a good customer effort score benchmark is for your business is to track the metric over time. Once you have that historical data, you can see how it compares quarterly or semi-annually.
An increase of at least 10% is an indication of progress in the right direction. Conversely, a significant decrease in CES is an indication of negative customer experiences or unmet customer expectations.
Related Article: How Do You Make Customer Effort Score Data Actionable?
Pros & Cons of the Customer Effort Score
“We live in a fast-paced, technologically dependent society that has a short attention span,” said Devin Schumacher, founder of digital marketing agency SERP AI. “Unless your business provides immediate benefits, you will not attract customers. Now, this is where you start measuring your CES.”
The Pros of the Customer Effort Score
The customer effort score can help brands:
- Improve brand experiences for customers and prospects
- Determine gaps in customer experience programs
- Establish new methods for customers to accomplish tasks
- Demonstrate a willingness to improve customer experiences
- Compare CX efforts to competitors
- Reduce customer service costs
Shopping experiences are relative, but standardized metrics like CES quantify the variables involved. By asking users about their experience through the lens of effort, a business can understand just how easy it is for a customer to make a purchase, ask a question or troubleshoot a problem, according to Rodriguez.
“In the era of the ‘NOW Customer,’ website visitors expect quick resolutions or risk jumping to a competitor’s site,” he said. “Measuring customer effort is an important way to ensure today’s consumers are having the best experience possible.”
Measuring CES across all touchpoints in the customer journey enables CX leaders to identify high-effort areas and actions to optimize the customer experience and generate more revenue for the business, according to Rodriguez.
The Cons of the Customer Effort Score
While the customer effort score is a powerful metric that can offer valuable insights into customer experience, it’s not without its limitations. Understanding them can help you use the metric more effectively and in conjunction with other CX metrics.
- Lack of emotional context: CES lacks the ability to process the emotional context of a customer’s interaction. For example, the customer might find a process easy (low effort) but still be unsatisfied for other reasons the customer effort score can’t measure.
- No indication of overall satisfaction: CES focuses on specific interactions or transitions and therefore does not necessarily reflect the customer’s overall satisfaction with your brand or their customer loyalty levels. A customer could be satisfied with one transaction but have an overall negative view of your company.
- Limited predictive power: Customer effort score may have limited predictive power for long-term customer behavior due to its focus on single interactions. For example, a customer might report low effort (good) in one interaction, but still stop doing business with you due to price, preference changes or other factors not captured by CES.
- Narrow scope: While the CES can help identify friction points in specific interactions, its narrow focus means it might overlook broader issues affecting customer satisfaction, like product quality or price competitiveness.
While the customer effort score is undeniably useful, it’s crucial to use it as part of a broader suite of customer experience metrics. By understanding its limitations, you can interpret CES data in context and make more informed decisions about how to improve your customer experience.
Tips to Improve the CES Score at Your Company
Investing in a low-effort experience — and improving your customer effort score — can have a significant impact on customer satisfaction and retention rates. Here are several strategies to boost your customer effort score.
1. Simplify Your Processes
Look for ways to streamline customer interactions. This could involve simplifying your website navigation, reducing the number of steps to make a purchase or making information more accessible. If you can offer a low-effort experience or customer interaction, your CES is likely to be higher.
2. Enhance Customer Service
Quick, effective customer service can drastically reduce the effort customers need to resolve issues. Invest in training your customer support team and consider introducing live chat or AI-powered chatbots for immediate responses.
3. Optimize Your User Interface
A well-designed user interface can significantly lower customer effort. Make sure your website, app or software is intuitive and easy to use. Regular usability testing can help identify any friction points.
4. Proactive Communication
Be proactive in your communication. If there are potential issues that might affect your customers, let them know beforehand and provide solutions. This can prevent customer frustration and reduce the perceived effort.
5. Invest in Self-Service Options
Many customers prefer solving their issues independently before reaching out to customer service. Providing options like detailed FAQs, instructional videos and other self-service tools can improve your CES by empowering customers to find solutions quickly and easily without the need for a customer service representative.
6. Regularly Measure and Analyze Your CES
Continually monitor your CES and seek customer feedback via CES surveys to understand where pain points exist. Use this data to inform changes, improve customer interactions and increase customer loyalty.
Remember, the key to improving your customer effort score is to prioritize the customer’s ease and convenience in every interaction with your company. By adopting a customer-centric approach, you can enhance customer satisfaction, loyalty and, ultimately, your bottom line.
Related Article: Your CX Altitude Change: Customer Centricity to Life Centricity
Customer Effort Score (CES): It’s Only Good if It’s Used
The customer effort score (CES) has become more narrowly focused, which is good, according to Walters. Certain customer journeys are very complex, and customer experience is a long-term play.
And, she added, customer effort scores are only good if they are used. That means if you track it, make sure there’s a way to close the loop with the customer, take real action and improve.
“And also like anything, it’s not magic,” Walters said. “Customer experience management and leadership requires reviewing measurements like CES and NPS to improve the customer experience, as well as listening to the feedback, understanding operational data and relying on a CX strategy to move a business forward. Tracking numbers is never enough.”
Use the customer effort score in conjunction with other metrics like NPS and CSAT, Rodriguez added. Deploy CES after customer interactions or at specific touch points like a purchase or exchanges with customer service reps to understand how easy it was for the customer to engage with your business.
“Then use the CES results in combination with NPS and CSAT survey results,” he said, “to build a more complete view of the customer experience and how well you are managing expectations and making customer interactions easy.”