Customer Success December 6, 2018 7 min read by Tim

What is Customer Effort Score (CES) & How to Measure It?

What is Customer Effort Score (CES) & How to Measure It?

Disloyal customers are costing businesses billions. But what actually triggers disloyalty? Former CEB Global’s research (now part of Gartner), explained that the level of effort consumers put into interacting with a brand has a direct impact on loyalty levels. In fact, according to CEB Global, it seems that around 96% of consumers that reported having difficulty solving a problem were more disloyal.

How do you know how easy it is for your clients to interact with your business, though? Well, that’s where Customer Effort Score comes into play.

What Is Customer Effort Score?

A general Customer Effort Score definition describes it as being a type of customer survey that measures how easy it was for a client to interact with your business (solving an issue with customer support, making a purchase, signing up for a trial, etc.).

Consumers are generally asked how they agree with a statement (“The company made it easy for me to solve my problem,” for instance), to rate their level of effort, or to just answer a question (“How easy was it for you to solve your problem today?” for example).

CES Survey Types

There are a few metrics you can use to measure your Customer Effort Score, but keep in mind that they can change the way you calculate and score surveys:

  • The Likert scale –  This method involves a “Strongly Disagree/Strongly Agree” scale which is structured as such: Strongly Disagree – Disagree – Somewhat Disagree – Undecided – Somewhat Agree – Agree – Strongly Agree. The answers are usually numbered 1 to 7, and you can also color code each one to make everything more visually intuitive for respondents (having “Strongly Agree” green and “Strongly Disagree” red, for instance).
CES Survey - Likert scale
CES Survey – Likert scale
  • The 1-10 scale – This metric involves having respondents offer an answer in the 1-10 range to your question. Generally, the 7-10 segment is associated with positive responses (if you’re asking customers how easy it was to do something, for instance). However, if your question is asking the respondent to rate the level of effort, the 1-3 segment will be associated with positive results instead (since they represent low effort).
CES Survey - 1 to 10 scale
CES Survey – 1 to 10 scale
  • The 1-5 scale – In this case, the answer options are as follows: Very Difficult – Difficult – Neither – Easy – Very Easy, and they are numbered from 1 to 5. The order can also be reversed.
CES Survey - 1 to 5 scale
CES Survey – 1 to 5 scale
  • Emotions Faces – While, this metric is pretty simple, it’s useful if you run a lot of CES surveys for minor aspects of your product/service/website. Plus, it also makes it easy and intuitive for respondents to quickly answer. Basically, you use a Happy Face, Neutral Face, and Unhappy Face images as responses, with the Happy Face, usually meaning there was little effort required.
CES Survey - emoji
CES Survey – emoji

When Is the Right Time to Send a CES Survey?

Generally, CES web surveys are sent to customers during these key moments:

After an Interaction That Led to a Purchase

Sending out Customer Effort Score surveys after a client interacted with your product/service or service team and ended up making a purchase is a great way to collect real-time feedback about what improvements you need to make to streamline the buying experience.

For example, you should always send out a CES survey after a customer signs up for a free trial or finishes the onboarding period. It helps you quickly find out if you need to make any changes to make other people more likely to buy from you.

Right After a Client’s Interaction with Customer Service

Sending out a CES survey after a customer service touchpoint (like email support tickets) lets you quickly find out how efficient your support team is, and if any changes need to be done to boost the overall efficiency. You should also consider sending out such a survey after a customer finishes reading a Knowledgebase article since it will help you find out how useful your content is.

In this case, it’s not necessary to send out CES questionnaires at a specific interval. Since the question is asking respondents how much effort they had to put into solving a problem, it makes more sense to send the survey after customer service touchpoints.

How to Put Together a Good Customer Effort Score Question

For starters, you need to make sure the wording is as unambiguous as possible. Don’t ask customers about anything that doesn’t have to do with customer effort. Also, the tone of your question should be neutral, so that the respondent doesn’t feel like you’re trying to favor a certain answer.

Ideally, you should also avoid using the word “effort” (ironic, we know) because the word’s meanings can differ from language to language, so there’s a chance you might get irrelevant answers.

And make sure your CES survey question marks off an area of analysis – be it the overall experience a customer had with your website/brand, or just a singular customer interaction moment (like live chat).

Lastly, there are 2 ways to format the question:

  1. Make it a statement – This format is very useful when using the 1-7 Likert scale. Here’s a Customer Effort Score question example of that: “How much do you agree with the following statement: The company’s website makes buying items easy for me.” 
  2. Make it a direct question – This format is more suited to surveys that use the 1-10 and Happy/Unhappy face metrics. Here’s an example: “How much effort did it took to solve your problem?”/”How difficult was it for you to solve your problem?”

We personally recommend using the statement format – both because the 1-7 Likert scale is more accurate to work with when calculating your CES score, and because the direct question format usually relies on using the word “effort,” which we already mentioned can be a bit problematic if you have an international client base. If that’s not a concern, though, the direct question format can work well too.

How to Interpret Customer Effort Score Results

One of the more easier ways to measure CES results is to just get an average score (X out of 10). This is generally done with the 1-10 Customer Effort Score scale. You just take the total sum of your CES scores and divide it by the number of responses you got.

So, if 100 people responded to your Customer Effort Score survey, and the total sum of their scores amounts to 700, that means your CES score is 7 (out of 10).

If you’re using other metrics (like Happy/Unhappy faces or an Agree/Disagree scale), you could also try performing a Customer Effort Score calculation by just subtracting the percentage of people who responded positively from the percentage of respondents who offered a negative response. The neutral responses are normally ignored.

For instance, let’s say you had 400 respondents, and 250 of them responded positively, and the rest negatively. By subtracting 37.5% negative answers (150/400 x 100) from the 62.5% positive answers, you get a CES score of 25%.

If you’re using the 1-7 Disagree/Agree scale, we also found it’s best to just divide the total number of people who offered a 5-7 response (Somewhat Agree – Agree – Strongly Agree) by the total number of respondents. Afterward, just multiply the result by 10 or 100 (depending on whether you’re using a 1-10 or 1-100 scale). You could do the same with the 1-5 scale (with 4 and 5 being the positive responses).

Here’s an example – if you had 100 respondents, and 70 of them offered a positive response, your CES score will either be 7 or 70 (70/100 x 10/100).

What Is a Good Customer Effort Score?

The answer is a bit tricky – mostly because performing a Customer Effort Score benchmark against competitors is difficult since there is no clear industry-wide standard to compare against, and also because whether or not your CES score is a good one depends on your Customer Effort Score question and the metrics you use.

After all, if you use the Disagree/Agree scale for answers, where “Strongly Disagree” is numbered with 1 and “Strongly Agree” is numbered with 7, and have a statement like “The company made it easy for me to solve my problem,” you’ll clearly want to have a high CES score – ideally one that’s over 5/50.

On the other hand, if your CES survey response scale associates 1/Happy Face metrics with “Less Effort” and 10/Unhappy Face metrics with “A Lot of Effort,” and directly ask customers how much effort they had to put into performing a certain action, you should strive to have a low CES score.

Customer Effort Score – The Good and the Bad

CES has both good and bad sides, but the cons pale in comparison to the pros of using such a survey.

Advantages

One of the great things about CES surveys is that they are actionable and specific – they can quickly show which areas need improvement to streamline the customer experience.

Besides that, Customer Effort Score results have been found to be a strong predictor of future purchase behavior. In fact, according to this HBR’s research, approximately 94% of customers who reported they experienced “low effort” in interactions with a business said they would buy again from it. Also, 88% of those consumers said they would spend more money too.

The same research also shows us that CES can give you an idea how likely your customers are to refer your brand to others, and how they would speak of it. Basically, around 81% of customers who reported they put in a lot of effort when interacting with a business said they intended to speak negatively of the brand in question. So, it’s possible to assume that consumers who are happy with the low level of effort asked of them will likely recommend the brand to others or at the very least speak positively of it.

Disadvantages

While CES’ drawbacks aren’t really a deal-breaker, they are worth highlighting. For one, Customer Effort Score can’t really tell you what kind of a relationship a consumer has with your brand in general. Also, CES can’t tell you how your customers and their ratings are influenced by factors such as your competitors, products, and pricing.

Another issue worth mentioning is the fact that CES surveys don’t offer a way to segment customers by type. And lastly, CES surveys can tell you a customer had difficulty solving a problem, but they don’t tell you why. For example, if a consumer says it was hard for them to try and get something your brand can’t actually offer, that’s not really a relevant result for your business.

Is Only Using Customer Effort Score Surveys Enough?

While CES app surveys are a great source of customer insight, it’s better when you pair them with a satisfaction-oriented survey – like Net Promoter Score, for example.

For the sake of this article, we’ll throw in a quick definition: NPS is a customer satisfaction survey that asks consumers how likely they are (on a scale from 0 to 10) to recommend your brand to other people. NPS surveys allow you to send follow-up questions to ask why the customer gave a particular rating, essentially letting you find out exactly what you need to improve to boost customer loyalty.

Using CES alongside NPS will let you accurately measure both consumer effort and loyalty. The two metrics effectively complement each other and let you focus on two vital aspects of your business instead of just one – especially since NPS lets you segment customers. Another Gartner research shows that top-performing low-effort companies tend to have an NPS that is 65 points higher than top-performing high-effort businesses, further showing the link between Customer Effort Score and Net Promoter Score.

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