Customer Effort Score

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What is a Customer Effort Score?

A Customer Effort Score (CES) is a customer survey used to measure how easy it was for a customer to interact with your business to satisfy their needs. This could be an interaction with customer support, purchasing, sales enquiry etc. 

The Customer Effort Score was developed by the Corporate Executive Board (now part of Gartner) and started to really rise in popularity with the publication of a Harvard Business Review article in 2010 titled ‘Stop Trying to Delight your Customers‘.

Why does CES matter?

Low Customer Effort is the strongest driver to customer loyalty with the following stats widely used:

  • Ninety-six per cent of customers with a high-effort service interaction become more disloyal compared to just 9% who have a low-effort experience.
  • Of the customers who reported low effort, 94% expressed an intention to repurchase, and 88% said they would increase their spending.
  • CES is 1.8x more predictive of customer loyalty than CSAT and 2x more predictive than NPS.
  • 40% reduction of repeat calls, 50% less escalations, reduced channel switching by 54% which reduced costs by 37%.

Remember back in the day when we were all encouraged to ‘delight’ the customer?

Well, the CES research revealed that delighting customers actually doesn’t build loyalty, rather, reducing the effort customers need to expend is actually the key to building customer loyalty.

And loyal customers are good for business, spending more, staying longer and helping to promote your product to help you attract more customers – all ultimately leading to increased profit.

Customer Effort Score Question

When the Customer Effort Score was first introduced back in 2010, it commenced with a 5-point scale from 1 (very low effort) to 5 (very high effort).

Of course, it was only natural that over time others have tweaked and evolved the model, and there are now multiple ways to measure customer effort with different survey approaches and different ways to format the question.

There are two ways to format your CES question.

  1. Make it a statement – This format is handy when using the 1-5/1-7 Likert scale: “How much do you agree with the following statement: Our website made buying items easy for me.”
  2. Make it a direct question – This format is more suited to surveys that use the 1-10 and Emoticon metrics such as “Was it easy to find the information you wanted on our website?
Best practice tips for a good CES Survey question and practices:
  • Adopt a neutral tone (the question needs to be objective/impartial)
  • Avoid the word ‘effort’ (yes, that’s our objective but your question should sound natural)
  • Be precise and keep it simple (relate to something specific you want to analyse, rather than trying to ask for general feedback)
  • Segment your audience (you don’t need to ask everyone the same question, i.e. no point asking an onboarding question to long-term customers)
  • Timing matters (If you are asking about an onboarding process no point asking the question a month later)
  • Don’t forget to optimise for mobile (you survey might look great on desktop but with more people using mobiles than ever before make sure it also looks good and works on mobile)
  • Like all great CX data, there is no point just measuring the data and doing nothing with it. Share it with the leaders in your business who can and will take action.
  • Close the loop with the customer – if they’ve taken the time to give you some feedback take the time to say thanks and even better, let them know how their feedback has helped improved/change a process.

Customer Effort Score Question Examples

There is literally no end to the statements or questions you could ask, but some common customer effort score questions are below.

CES Example questions

  • How easy was using [Product] so far?
  • Overall, how easy was it to solve your problem today?
  • How easy was it to find the information you wanted on our website?
  • How easy was it to interact with our team?
  • Were the instructions you received during the onboarding stage easy to follow?

CES Example Statements

  • To what extent do you agree with the following statement: [Product] made it easy to handle my issue.
  • How much do you agree with the following statement: [Product] made it easy for me to use the [X] feature.
  • To what extent do you agree with the following statement: Our support rep made it easy for me to handle my issue

Types of Customer Effort Score surveys

If you remember that the basic premise is that less effort results in more loyal customers, it doesn’t really matter which method you use as long as you can determine the level of effort the customer needed to apply to achieve their objective.

The four most common customer effort score survey question examples are below.

1. CES Score using the Likert Scale

The Likert scale uses a 7-point answer scale that is often colour-coded, like the example below.

How do you agree with the following statement:

“The company made it easy for me to handle my issue”

CES Survey example using Likert Scale

The statement can be changed to measure a variety of customer interactions such as:

  • The company made it easy to make a purchase
  • The company made it easy for me to obtain the information I needed

2. CES Score using the 1 to 10 Scale

Using the 1 to 10 scale, a low score is considered good as it required less effort for the customer.

How much effort did it take to solve your issue/find the answer you needed today?

CES Survey example using 1 to 10 scale

3. CES Score using the 1 to 5 Scale

Similar to the Likert scale, the customer effort score 5-point scale uses to fewer options than the Likert scale and can be used as a statement or a question.

How easy was it to solve your problem today?

CES Survey example using 1 to 5 scale

4. CES Score using Emoticons/Emojis

Rising in popularity in recent times, the CES Emoji scale is typically a three-point or 5-point scale (it gets harder to find the right emojis to go beyond 5).

How easy was it to find the information you wanted on our website?

Customer Effort Score Emoji scale

How is the Customer Effort Score calculated?

Determining your Customer Effort Score ultimately depends on which CES survey method you are using.

There are a number of commonly used customer effort score formula that are outlined below:

Customer Effort Score Method 1

A fairly simple equation, all you need to do is add up (sum) all of the scores you received and divide it by the number of survey responses.

Assuming you had 100 responses and you added up the scores from all their responses and it totalled 650, your Customer Effort Score is 650 divided by 100 which equals 6.5.


Customer Effort Score Formula

Customer Effort Score Method 2

Another simple scoring solution is to just measure the positive responses out of all the people surveyed. So assuming 80 people out of 100 surveyed gave you a positive response, your CES score would be 80% (80/100 x 100).

The key to using this methodology is to be clear on what constitutes a ‘positive’ response and that can depend on the survey type you are using.

Using the ‘Somewhat Agree /Agree/ Strongly Agree’ example again, some people may determine that only ‘Strongly Agree’ constitute a positive response, whilst for others, they may consider all three as positive.


CES Survey Methodology 2


Customer Effort Score Method 3

This one can be a bit trickier to calculate.

In this methodology, you subtract the negative results from the positive results to calculate your Customer Effort Score.

Assuming you did a survey that had a total of 500 respondents, let’s assume the following distribution using a 5-point scale as an example:

  • 1 = 50
  • 2 = 50
  • 3 = 100
  • 4 = 200
  • 5 = 100

You add up the positive results (assuming 4 and 5 are positive) so its 200 + 100 = 300 divided by the number of survey respondents (500) multiplied by one hundred equals 60% (300/500 x 100).

Now do the same for the neutral/negatives which in this example is the 1,2 & 3’s so 50 + 50 + 100 = 200 divided by the number of survey respondents (500) multiplied by one hundred equals 40% (200/500 x 100).

To determine your Customer Effort Score, you subtract your negative score percentage (40%) from your positive score (60%) equals a CES score of 20% (60% – 40% = 20%)

CES Survey Methodology 3

When should you conduct a Customer Effort Score Survey?

The idea behind the CES is the immediacy in conducting the survey after someone has interacted with your business.

This could be:

  1. Immediately after an interaction with the call centre/customer service
  2. Immediately after purchasing a product or service
  3. After someone cancels a subscription
  4. After someone completes an onboarding experience

More recently, companies have also started to use CES to measure the aggregate experience someone has with your brand or product in general although it can be argued there are better metrics to capture this.

What is a good customer effort score?

It’s not uncommon for businesses to want to compare their performance to either competitors or perhaps the best in the business so they know how they measure up. But when it comes to benchmarking your CES score, as you may have figured from the examples above, it’s not an easy thing to do because there are so many variations on how to actually measure it.

Different question types (question or statement), different scales, different timing, different segments and so on can all lead to variations in results so it’s unlikely your survey will ever exactly mirror someone else’s.

What is important is establishing a baseline for your performance, and then measuring the results over a period of time.

If your CES score is trending upwards, that’s clearly a positive!

Conversely, if the trend is going down then you have some work to do.

Just remember that one of the key challenges with CES is that it doesn’t tell you WHY the customer provided the score.

How do you improve your Customer Effort Score?

A quick search on the internet will result in no shortage of theories, ideas, models etc on how to improve your CES score.

Regardless of which model or industry expert you find, the basic premise is that you need to make things EASY for your customers.

A simple sentence to write, very hard to put into practice!

A common extension to the CES Question or Statement is then asking WHY the customer gave that score. This can provide you with some qualitative information that can contain gold nuggets of information to help you improve your business.

Example of an open-ended CES question

There is typically no single quick fix for improving your CES results but to give you some ideas on some steps you can implement to improve your Customer Effort Score:

  1. Empower the front line to focus on getting the right outcome for the customer, rather than worrying about productivity metrics.
  2. Minimise channel switching by improving your self-service channels.
  3. Use feedback from disgruntled or struggling customers and act on that intelligence.
  4. Make it easy for your customers to connect to your business.
  5. Reduce your average response times (whether that’s over the phone, email, live chat etc)
  6. Don’t just resolve the current issue — try and prevent the next one.
  7. Join the Australia Customer Experience Professionals Association (ACXPA) ?

What are the alternatives to Customer Effort Score?

An ever-increasing amount of consulting firms and AI technology companies are trying to invent the next big thing in measuring customer experience.

And for good reason.

There’s lots of money in it.

Companies are finally starting to understand that Customer Experience can, and is, used as a key differentiator in the market and are looking for ways to measure, and improve their CX so the investment in CX continues to increase.

Asides from CES, the two most common CX Metrics used are:

In summary

One of the advantages of using Customer Effort Scores in your business is that they are a great way to capture transactional issues within your business that can be quickly implemented and reliably tracked over time.

There are, of course, disadvantages to using a customer effort score, the main ones being:

  • Does not provide information regarding the customer’s overall relationship with your business.
  • Lack of segmentation by type of customer.
  • It’s limited to a particular service/transaction/moment and not the customer’s relationship with your overall business.

So like all customer experience metrics, it’s never good to rely on just one metric!

One golden rule to remember though is that regardless of which metric you use, genuinely caring about the customer experience and then acting on the feedback provided is only going to deliver positives for your business.

Some key links you might find helpful:

Upcoming CX Roundtable - Campbell Davies
Upcoming ACXPA Contact Centre Roundtable - John Stavrakis

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