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GuidesCustomer researchCustomer effort score (CES): What it is & how to calculate it

Customer effort score (CES): What it is & how to calculate it

Last updated

22 April 2023

Reviewed by

Miroslav Damyanov

How easy is it for customers to interact with your products and services? This matters because it determines customer loyalty. 

Gartner conducted quantitative research involving 97,000 customers and hundreds of customer service organizations. The company wanted to unearth the connection between customer loyalty and customer service. 

The research had four interesting findings:

  • Customer delight (going beyond basic needs and expectations) doesn't affect loyalty.

  • Customer satisfaction is not a reliable predictor of customer loyalty.

  • Customer interactions with service reps drive more disloyalty than loyalty.

  • Customer loyalty depends on how easy it is for your customers to do business with you.

Do you know how much effort your customers need to interact with your business? That’s where the customer effort score (CES) comes in. 

In this guide, you’ll learn what CES is, why it matters, and how to calculate and use it.

What is a customer effort score (CES)?

CES is a metric measuring the level of effort customers put into a particular interaction with a business. The interaction could be using a product or service, finding information, or getting issues resolved.

The lower your customers' effort, the more satisfied and loyal they are. And you need loyal customers because they are more valuable. You are way more likely to sell to an existing customer than a new prospect, and it’s multiple times more expensive to gain a new customer than retain an existing one.

To measure your CES, create a survey and ask your customers how easy it is to interact with your business, products, or services. You’ll typically use a scale of 1–5 or 1–7. 

The survey asks customers a statement like, "On a scale of 1–7, how much effort did you put into solving your issue?"

Importance of customer effort score (CES) surveys

CES surveys help you discover how much effort your customers put into interacting with your business. It also enlightens you in these areas:

1. Provides insights about your support services

In CES surveys, customers rate their effort in a particular interaction with your business. Analyzing the effort score of several customers across different interactions provides insights about your support services.

For example, you can understand customers' expectations for your support services and their preferred channels. You can also identify areas of friction in the customer journey and make data-driven decisions to improve your services.

2. Promotes customer retention and loyalty

The Gartner research found that ease of interaction is one of the strongest predictors of customer loyalty: 94% of customers with low-effort experiences would likely purchase again.

When your customers have easy, effortless experiences, they are more likely to remain loyal to you and continue using your products or services. 

According to the Gartner study, "96% of customers who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal, compared to only 9% of those with low-effort experiences."

3. Reduces service costs and efforts

Customers who have an easy experience are less likely to contact support to resolve the issue. 

CES surveys help you identify the root cause of customer frustrations, so you can improve the customer journey. This reduces the support requests and inquiries you receive, reducing your service costs and efforts. 

4. Promotes positive word of mouth

When you remove friction in the customer journey, you improve the customer experience

Customers who have a great experience with your company are more likely to recommend you to friends and family and on social media. The Gartner study found that 81% would speak negatively about a business to others if they needed to exert lots of effort.

According to Invesp, people are 90% more likely to trust and buy from a brand recommended by a friend. Promote word of mouth through methods like testimonials, user-generated content, and referral programs.

How CES compares to NPS and CSAT

CES can work with other customer service metrics to provide a more comprehensive understanding of customer experiences. 

The other two main customer service metrics are: 

NPS measures how likely customers are to recommend your business to others. It measures the overall customer experience, not a specific touchpoint. 

CSAT measures customer satisfaction with your product, service, or a particular interaction, not the overall experience.

Here's how they compare with CES:

CES predicts future customer purchase behavior

CES predicts future customer purchase behavior. If your customers have an effortless experience, they are more likely to continue doing business with you. 

NPS can also predict customer loyalty and purchase behavior. 

CSAT only measures satisfaction with a particular interaction, not the overall experience.

CES indicates the likelihood of customer referral

CES indicates the likelihood of customer referral as an effortless interaction improves their experience. The same goes for NPS.

CSAT doesn’t provide this insight, as a customer can be satisfied with one interaction but not recommend your business.

CES reliably predicts customer loyalty

CES and NPS can reliably predict customer loyalty because a low-effort experience can lead to satisfaction and loyalty. 

CSAT is less predictive of customer loyalty because it focuses on one interaction rather than the entire relationship.

CES, NPS, and CSAT provide valuable insights into different aspects of the customer experience. Try each metric to determine the best mix for your business.

When to send a CES survey

The timing of a CES survey impacts the response quality and accuracy. 

Get your timing right by sending the survey when it makes the most sense for its objectives:

1. Immediately after an interaction that led to a purchase or subscription

If you want to understand the effort required to make a purchase or subscribe, send out CES surveys after a purchase. Customers will find it easier to recall the interaction, as it’s still fresh in their minds.

The survey results will help you determine how to improve the customer journey.

If you want to understand the effort your customers put into solving a pain point, send a CES survey after you resolve their issue. 

You can also send it after they’ve read a how-to article to determine its helpfulness.

3. To supplement product teams' UI and UX testing

Do you want to understand the usability of your product or identify areas for improvement? Send out a CES survey after rolling out a new feature or adopting a new process. 

This is a great way to discover the effectiveness of new features or processes. You can use these insights to improve usability and reduce customer effort.

Deliver your survey where you interact with your customers, whether on your website, app, email, chat, or physical store.

Customer effort score questions

There are three main ways to present your CES effort score questions: 

Likert scale

A Likert scale is a five- or seven-point scale ranging from “very difficult” to “very easy.” 

Lower numbers are typically low effort, with higher numbers symbolizing high effort.

Suppose you sell pencils, and your company is called Pensilvester. An example of a question with a Likert scale could be:

“How much do you disagree or agree with the following statement: ‘It was easy for me to resolve my issue with the Pensilvester service team’?

  • Strongly disagree

  • Disagree

  • Somewhat disagree

  • Neither disagree nor agree

  • Somewhat agree

  • Agree

  • Strongly agree”

You can color-code it to make it more visually intuitive.

Emoticon ratings

This scale uses emoticons to represent your customers' different levels of effort. 

Smiley emoticons are low effort, and sad emoticons are high effort.

As they’re more visual than other methods, they’re easier to understand and respond to.

Numbered scales

Numbered scale questions are similar to Likert scale questions. Instead of words, they use numbers. 

For example, you can ask your customers: 

"On a scale of 1–10, how much effort did you have to exert to solve your issue?"

Lower numbers (1–3) are high effort, while higher numbers (7–10) are low effort.

There is no single "best" way to present customer effort score questions in your CES survey. The ideal approach depends on your goals and the audience's needs and preferences.

Customer effort score calculation

Your CES score is the average of the survey responses your customers submit. 

To calculate it, add the customer effort scores in your responses, and divide them by the total number of responses.

CES = Sum of all customer effort scores / total number of responses

Suppose you used a 1–5 scale and received five responses: 1, 4, 5, 3, and 2. 

Your customers' average effort when interacting with your business is (1+4+5+3+2) / 5 = 3

If you're using the emoticon or the Likert scale, assign a number to each emoticon or rating before using the score to calculate.

Interpreting the results

Generally, the higher the CES score, the more effort your customers put into interacting with you. The lower the CES score, the less effort they put in. Because scales differ, here is a good rule of thumb for interpreting CES scores:

  • 0–30% indicates easy interactions.

  • 30–50% suggests relatively easy interactions. There may be areas to improve.

  • 50–70% implies your customers experience difficulty. There’s room for improvement.

  • Above 70% points to a high level of difficulty. You need to overhaul the customer journey.

As you interpret CES scores, consider the other two customer experience metrics for a more comprehensive picture of the customer experience.

What is a good customer effort score?

Several factors determine what you should consider a "good" CES score, including the questions you use.

For example, a high CES score for a survey asking customers to rate statements like "it was easy to solve the problem" would indicate low customer effort. 

But a high score in a survey asking users to rate statements like "it was hard to solve the problem" would indicate high customer effort.

You can determine a "good" customer effort score in three ways:

  • Internal CES benchmarking: Tracking your CES scores over time and comparing it to previous scores. If you're improving, consider it a good score.

  • Competitive CES benchmarking: Comparing your CES score with your competitors to identify areas to improve. If you're better than most, you can consider yours a good score.

  • Industry-standard CES benchmarking: Comparing your CES score with the average CES score in your industry. If you are doing better than most other companies in the industry, yours is a good score.

Customer effort score pros and cons

Like other data collection methods, customer effort scores have advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of customer effort score

  • CES is easy to implement

  • It’s a good predictor of customer satisfaction, behavior, and loyalty

  • It’s a strong predictor of the likelihood of customer referral

  • It’s actionable and makes it easy to take corrective actions quickly

  • It allows you to find weaknesses and customer frustrations at each touchpoint

Cons of customer effort score

  • CES is limited to service, not the overall business

  • It doesn't take into consideration factors like costs, competitors, and product quality

  • CES data is only relevant in the short-term

  • It doesn't provide value for industries without consumer interactions

Tips for building CES surveys

Here are some tips for building effective CES surveys:

  • Keep the survey brief to increase response rates and feedback quality.

  • Use clear and concise language to prevent confusing your respondents.

  • Provide context so the respondents know what you're measuring. For example, you can include details about an issue when asking your consumers how easy it was to solve.

  • Choose the scale that matches your business and the survey's objective.

  • Ensure your survey is mobile-optimized. According to Statcounter, 58.43% of online interactions happen on mobile.

  • Test the survey with a small group of customers before sending it out to the public to ensure the questions are clear and the scale is appropriate.

  • After collecting the responses, use the feedback to make meaningful changes. This demonstrates your commitment to improving your customer experience.

How to improve your company’s CES score

Customers are choosy, so they can easily switch to a different brand if you don't provide an effortless interaction. 

If your calculations indicate your customers exert a lot of effort to interact with your business, you can quickly improve your CES score in the following ways:

Give agents the tools they need to delight customers

Provide your customer service agents with all the tools they need to improve the customer experience. This includes training and tools like a knowledge base.

Practice solution-oriented support training

Instead of just solving the immediate problem, train your agents to focus on finding the root cause to prevent it from happening again.

Offer self-service options

FAQs, chatbots, and other self-service options reduce your customers' effort in solving issues or finding information, improving your CES score.

Implement an omnichannel support strategy

Customers expect to receive support on their channel of choice. Ensure you cover all channels, including phone, email, chat, and social media.

Dive into customer data

Use as much customer data as possible to identify customer trends and patterns, including survey responses, customer feedback, and customer behavior. It will help you identify which customer effort areas need improvements.

CES is an important metric

You can use CES to gain insight into your support services, promote customer loyalty, reduce costs, and promote positive word of mouth. 

For the best results, send your CES survey at the right time and use a format that matches your business and survey objective.

Ensuring your customers don’t exert too much effort when interacting with your company is key to loyalty and profits.

Learn more about customer feedback platforms

FAQs

1. How often should I send CES surveys?

The frequency depends on your customer interactions and survey objectives. You can't send them randomly. Instead, send them after a customer interaction or at specific time intervals.

2. Can I use CES for measuring employee performance?

CES isn’t suitable for measuring employee performance. But you can use CES data to determine if employees need additional training or support to improve outcomes.

3. Can I use CES with other customer experience metrics, namely NPS and CSAT?

Yes, you can. Using CES with NPS and CSAT can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the customer experience.

4. Can all industries use CES surveys?

Yes, they can. But you must customize the questions or statements to fit the needs and expectations of each industry.

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