Most customer service professionals are familiar with the two most common customer service metrics: the Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Score and the Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS asks customers how likely they are to recommend a company to their friends or colleagues on a scale of 0 (not at all likely) to 10 (extremely likely), while CSAT typically asks customers to rate the quality of specific experiences, like a customer service chat or a store visit.
Both metrics are popular for a reason. They give companies vital insights on team performance and customer happiness, and help illuminate strengths and weaknesses that impact big-picture goals, like increasing customer retention and growing revenue. But on their own, these metrics may miss a key piece of the customer experience equation: how much effort your customers have to put in to get their issues resolved.
This concept is gaining notoriety in customer service circles, and it has a metric to go along with it: the Customer Effort Score, or CES. Below we’ll explain what it is, how you can measure it, and why you should care in the first place.
What Is the Customer Effort Score (CES)?
The Customer Effort Score measures customer service a bit more holistically. Instead of asking customers to rate the agent who helped them or share feedback on the company as a whole, CES focuses on the process customers go through when seeking help, which has a major impact on their overall experience with a brand.
The concept of customer effort gained attention when Harvard Business Review published their now-famous article: Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers. In it, they explain that companies should focus less on “exceeding expectations” and “delighting customers”—and more on resolving issues quickly and effectively:
Two critical findings emerged that should affect every company’s customer service strategy. First, delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does. Second, acting deliberately on this insight can help improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn.
HBR found that the Customer Effort Score more accurately predicted customer loyalty than the standard Customer Satisfaction Score. Why? Because CSAT surveys often focus on single interactions, like a support call or live chat, and ask about specific aspects of that interaction, like how knowledgeable or friendly the agent was.
Don’t get us wrong—these factors are important. Every customer service team should measure agent performance and monitor customer satisfaction by channel. But these metrics don’t tell the whole story.
HBR found that the most frustrating customer experiences were those that involved multiple channels and interactions. Customers were more frustrated and more likely to disengage with a brand when they had to:
- Re-explain a problem
- Switch from the web to the phone
- Transfer to another representative
- Contact the company repeatedly about the same issue
In other words, the more time and effort a customer gives, the less happy they are… and the more likely they are to leave.
Like the customers in the HBR study, your customers could be jumping through hoops to get answers. Maybe they regularly search your knowledge base for relevant articles and come up empty-handed, or they call your support line multiple times before reaching someone. Experiences like these breed frustration and lead to customer churn. And unfortunately, most companies fail to catch the procedural gaps that cause them because they don’t ask the right questions.
How to Measure Customer Effort Score
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Say you’re the head of customer service and you’re currently measuring customer service satisfaction with a 2-question survey. First you have a standard rating question: How would you rate the service you received today? Second is an open-ended short answer question: Would you like to share any additional feedback?
As responses come in, you see that there’s room for improvement. Your average CSAT score is a 3.5 out of 5, and only a handful of people have given you useful open-ended feedback. Your boss looks over the numbers and asks you to come up with a strategy to improve them. Your next question is probably, “So… where do I begin?” You could start just about anywhere based on the data you have.
This is where the Customer Effort Score comes in handy. It can fit neatly into your customer feedback program, supplementing existing data and giving you clearer insights. You don’t need to radically change your survey process either—just add the CES question to your customer service survey.
Now, customers can rate the interaction and their experience as a whole. By combining the two questions, you get more out of each.
The standard Customer Effort Score question uses the likert scale—it gives respondents a statement and asks them to rate how much they agree or disagree. Here’s an example:
Simple enough, right?
However, there’s an even simpler way to do it that may generate better results. Instead of giving customers a statement and a scale, you could simply ask them a yes/no question. Here’s what that could look like:
Then, add a short answer question after the CES question to gather more feedback. For example:
When to Measure Customer Effort
The CES question can help you collect more meaningful insights at any stage of the customer journey, but it’s especially useful after these key customer touchpoints:
- Customer service interactions (phone, live chat, email, social media, in-person, etc.)
- Purchases or sales interactions
- Program or service sign-ups
- Website visits
- Online checkouts
- Customer meetings or consultations
As we mentioned above, customer effort is particularly relevant if you support your customers over multiple channels. In fact, the modern concept of omni-channel service is all about reducing friction between service channels and minimizing customer effort.
Once you start collecting feedback from your customers, you’ll have CES results to compare alongside your CSAT results (and Net Promoter Score, if you include the NPS question in your customer service surveys). Essentially, you get a whole new layer of customer feedback that colors your data. With more context, you can pinpoint the processes and channels that are lacking and take steps to improve them.
PRO TIP: Get even fancier with your feedback program by creating survey analytics dashboards to track key metrics alongside one another. You can view CSAT, NPS, CES, and other metrics all in one place, so you have a constant, real-time view of customer feedback and you can take action quickly.
Improving Customer Service with CES
Every company will put its customer effort findings to use in different ways, but there are some key takeaways from the HBR study that we can all learn from. Here are the top 5 strategies they suggest to reduce customer effort:
1. Predict follow-up questions and address them proactively.
Companies can lower call-back and case reopen rates by training their customer service team to proactively answer common follow-up questions. For example, if your team fields a lot of password reset questions, and customers tend to email again asking for the link to manage their account, your customer service reps should start including that link in their initial response. This simple addition can majorly cut the back-and-forth, saving your reps and your customers time.
2. Train reps to navigate the emotional side of service.
Managing customer expectations and tiptoeing around aggressive reactions is perhaps the toughest part of the job for customer service reps. Not only is it difficult to predict how customers will respond (especially when you’re speaking over email), but it’s emotionally taxing for customer service reps too. HBR found that customers often called companies back because they didn’t trust the information or the representative that gave them the information. You can minimize this by training reps to effectively identify the “emotional type” of each customer and then tailor their response accordingly.
3. Make self-service easy.
No one likes to yell “representative” into a phone a hundred times only to get directed to the wrong place by an automated voice. If you want to make your customer service processes effortless, then look to your self-service tools first. Modern customers are comfortable seeking answers out on their own. In fact, most people prefer resolving issues on their own anyway. The number one way you can deflect tickets and reduce customer effort is by arming customers with the resources they need to solve problems themselves.
4. Ask your frontline team for feedback.
Quantitative survey data is important, but never discount the qualitative feedback your reps get from customers every day. More than anyone else at your company, your customer-facing employees know the struggles your customers are facing, and they’re the first people you should consult when you’re trying to resolve those struggles. Ask your frontline team what unhappy customers are telling them, and create a system for logging this feedback alongside your survey results. Even better, create an internal survey so your reps can submit the feedback they hear on the fly.
5. Reduce employee effort.
If you want to minimize customer effort and improve the overall customer experience, then you have to give your customer-facing employees the agency to make decisions and take action. The more obstacles you put in their way, the harder it becomes for them to deliver quality service. This is a common problem for service teams, especially at large companies with bureaucratic processes that force reps to get sign-off on every decision. High employee effort = high customer effort. Solve the first, and you’ll empower your team to solve the second.
No doubt, customer loyalty drives business forward. But in order to get there, you first have to recognize what drives customer loyalty itself. Research suggests that low-effort experiences are highly predictive of customer loyalty, while high-effort experiences correlate with customer churn. As we discussed above, the Customer Effort Score can quantify this key element of the customer experience that companies all too often miss.
When planning your survey approach, keep in mind how each metric (CES, CSAT, and NPS) offers unique insights on your customer experience. Measuring any one of these three is a great start, but you’ll get the most actionable feedback when you measure all three together.
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