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Customer Effort Score (CES): The Complete Guide

Learn how to use the Customer Effort Score metric, boost loyalty, and prove the ROI of your efforts.

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Chapter 1

The Customer Effort Score

Customer Effort Score (CES) is a customer loyalty metric used by companies to measure the level of effort that a customer experienced with a particular interaction. 

It’s measured by asking customers to agree or disagree with the following statement: “[Placeholder for company name] made it easy for me to handle my issue.” 

The respondents can choose from seven answer choices ranging from strongly disagree (score 1) to strongly agree (score 7). 

The CES score is calculated by finding the average of all responses. This means, taking the total sum of responses and dividing it by the total number of survey respondents. 

Here is the equation: (Total sum of responses) ÷ (Number of responses) = CES score. 

So let’s say you received 50 survey responses and the total sum is 200. Here is how you would calculate your CES score: 200 ÷ 50 = a CES score of 4. 

A score of 4 wouldn’t be great. Generally speaking, an average Customer Effort Score that is more than 5 is good. A score that is 5 and lower is not.

Some CX professionals theorize that you actually don’t want the perfect score of 7, because it means your customers aren’t putting in any effort themselves to get their questions answered. And instead, for instance, they’re going to your support team, for every problem that could be solved with self-serve. So actually, a CES score of 5 or 6 is the sweet spot.

Regardless of your score, consider including an open-ended follow-up question that asks for feedback on the response. This way, you’ll get more context for a strategic action plan. 

Chapter 2

Why CES Matters

We recently sat down with Annette Franz, founder, and CEO of CX Journey Inc., to talk about Customer Effort Score. While we were ready to dive into CES use-cases and best practices, she reminded us to first consider the concept of effort. What is it? And what does it look like?

As it relates to customer experience (CX), she explained effort as a “strenuous physical or mental exertion on the part of employees and customers, and more importantly, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions about that exertion.” 

Notice how she included employees in the definition of effort. To reduce customer effort you can’t exclude employees. The key to success is improving the experience for both parties.

Also important to note: Although low-effort is the foundation of any great experience, it’s only one of three key elements that influence customer loyalty. The other two being emotion (customers must feel good about an experience) and effectiveness (the experience delivers value).

Lastly, you can’t talk about effort without bringing up the idea of the effortless experience. And while we have plenty of opinions about this topic–which you can read here–the thing worth noting now is that the importance of effortlessness will vary by department. For example, it’s very important for a service team, but less when it comes to product development, where effectiveness is, on the other hand, extremely important.

Nevertheless, while the value of effort varies by company and department, it still applies to most, if not all, touchpoints across the customer journey.

Chapter 3

How to use the CES metric

The Customer Effort Score has gained popularity as a metric aimed at reducing the effort in customer service or other routine interactions where low effort is the main loyalty driver. 

CES is a touchpoint metric. The goal of a touchpoint metric is to understand how well a brand performed at a particular point in the customer journey. This means that CES is best used to capture feedback after individual customer interactions versus measuring an end-to-end brand customer experience (Net Promoter Score is a great option for this type of relationship measurement). 

Below are the general stages in a customer journey map where you should consider using the CES metric (keep in mind, these are just examples): 

  • Buy stage: At this stage, the ease of completing the purchase is critical. CES is the most useful metric for routine interactions that should be done efficiently. 

  • Ask and Engage stages: For most basic consumer service interactions, speed thrills. That’s why CES is growing in usage as a top-level metric. 

It’s worth noting that customer effort doesn’t just occur within customer service; there is effort and friction in every part of the customer experience. Think about the experience of researching a product or service–is it easy for prospective customers to find the information they want? The same goes for purchasing and using a product.

In summary, Customer Effort Score should be used to measure the level of effort that a customer experiences when they interact with your brand. It’s a short-term, touchpoint metric for customer experience. 

Chapter 4

Prove the ROI of low customer effort

So you’ve identified the touchpoints that need to be measured in terms of effort and you’ve sent out a Customer Effort Score survey. Now the feedback is pouring in and it’s time to take action. Where do you start? 

Before you can act on your CES survey insight via various CX initiatives, you need to prove that there are benefits to investing in those improvements. In other words, you’ve got to prove the return on investment (ROI) of your CX initiatives. 

Unfortunately, Your executives don’t just allot resources because you came up with a great idea–you must first convince them it’s worth the expense.

It’s important to note that not all benefits tied to low effort are monetary, though ultimately the outcome is monetary. 

 For instance, CX improvements can deliver emotional or functional benefits for the customer. Such as, feeling confident in the care of your support team and the convenience they provide. 

Although they aren’t directly tied to monetary value, emotion and low effort are two of the three key elements that lead to loyal customers. And happy, loyal customers will: 

  • Be less price-sensitive.

  • Stay longer, spend more, buy other product lines, churn less.

  • Be more forgiving. 

  • Have fewer complaints.

  • Want to help your brand improve, succeed, and grow.

  • Help other customers (e.g., answering questions on online forums).

  • Will evangelize for the brand.

As you can see, the outcomes above are ultimately financial. As a result of these benefits, brands see: 

  • Reduced call volumes.

  • Decreased marketing and advertising.

  • Fewer gimmicks and promotions.

  • Additional revenues.

  • Competitive insights (from the feedback).

  • Process improvements and cost efficiencies (as a result of acting on feedback).

The spillover effect

When it comes to effort, there is a spillover effect that you can’t ignore. We’re talking about the tendency of one person’s efforts and emotions to affect how other people around them feel. This can occur in many ways, such as: between two employees, an employee and their manager, an employee and their partner, etc. 

Why does this matter? 

When employees are frustrated because processes are broken, policies are outdated, or the technology they’re using is cumbersome, then it impacts how they are able to do their job. 

But if we make the job easier for our service team–whether it’s through tools, training, or updated processes and policies–they’re happier, more productive, and better able to deliver quality experiences for our customers. 

Steps to prove the ROI 

The first thing you need to do is to identify the root cause of every pain point. Then, create plans for how to fix them and prioritize them in a list. Once the improvement plans are organized as such, follow these five steps for each initiative. 

Step 1: Write a clear and concise description of each initiative. Answer the following questions: What is it? What does the work entail? How much is the estimated cost? You should provide enough information so that anyone reviewing the description will understand the resources needed to implement it. 

Step 2: Outline how this initiative will impact employees. Consider how it will decrease effort and make their job easier. Explain how the employees will benefit from it and how the increased productivity will translate to better customer experience. Also, note if it’ll require new training. 

Step 3: Repeat Step 2 but for the customer instead. What will the impact be for the customer? How will the customer benefit? How will their experience be different once the improvements are made? In what ways will it create value for the customer?

Step 4: Identify the business metrics that will be impacted if the improvement is made. Will it impact employee metrics? Operational costs? And of course, don’t forget about the customer.

Step 5: Explain how the initiatives and its benefits will impact business growth. This is where you tie the metrics impacted directly to the financial benefits for your company. You must quantify benefits as much as possible. For more on quantifying benefits, check out our free guide on how to prove the ROI of customer experience

Chapter 5

Take action on CES feedback

So, you’ve proven the ROI of low effort and have convinced the executives to provide you with the necessary resources. Congrats! Now you’re able to take action and improve the customer experience. 

There are four major activities that you should undertake after receiving feedback from your CES survey:

Implement service recovery.

  • Gather key customer insights. 

  • Launch and manage a customer journey map program.

  • Create a service blueprint. 

Let’s go over each one in detail.

Service recovery

Service recovery is a fancy term for following up on a poor CES score given by an individual customer–this is known as a service recovery opportunity because it’s a great way to save at-risk customers. 

To implement a service recovery, set up an alert for your CES survey so that when a customer has shared frustration and dissatisfaction due to high effort (pick a certain threshold, like a CES score of 2), the appropriate service agent receives a notification and can follow up promptly. 

Make sure you have the right process in place by answering the following questions: 

  • Who will respond to the customer? 

  • Within what time frame? 

  • In what mode (phone, email, in-person)? 

  • What will they say/ask (e.g., apologize, ask for more information to get to the root cause, schedule a follow-up call for more details, etc.)? 

  • How will you empower your staff to handle these calls? 

  • What information do they need to make the call? 

  • What is the intended outcome of the follow-up? 

  • When and how does the service recovery need to be escalated? 

  • How will you capture the discussion?

  • Will you share best practices with others to learn from? 

  • How will you know if the customer is satisfied with the follow-up? 

  • How will you know if you’ve “saved” the customer?

Customer insights

Take the time to look for patterns within the customer feedback. Look at who is providing the feedback–both positive and negative–to see if there is a certain type of customer that finds the experience to be more painful than others. 

For example, a customer who is hearing-impaired or someone who is elderly may have a higher effort experience with the interaction than someone who is not. Perhaps the high-effort experience was with a specific channel.

Only by getting to know your customers will you be able to provide a better experience for them. 

Customer journey mapping

The CES metric does a wonderful job of identifying whether or not there was an inordinate amount of effort expended by the customer to achieve a specific goal with your brand. However, even while survey respondents might provide some comments about their experience, the feedback alone cannot show you everything you need to see in order to take action and improve your CX. You need a customer journey map (CJM). 

A customer journey map is a visualization of the steps a customer takes as she interacts or transacts with a brand. It must be created with customers, from the customer perspective, and include many elements beyond what the customer is doing, such as: 

  • What the customer is thinking. 

  • What the customer is feeling. 

  • The communications channel(s) your customer is using, including in-person interactions. 

  • The duration of each touchpoint. 

 Only in doing so will you begin to form the picture of where friction and effort occurred for the customer. 

 While customers must be involved in the journey mapping process, you also want a cross-functional team from your company to be involved from the beginning. Make sure everyone is on board with the importance of developing a journey map and receives cohesive customer insight.

Once you have a customer journey map in place, think of it as an ever-evolving program. The map itself is a tool, part of a larger process that includes developing not only a current state map but also a service blueprint, a future state map, and a future state service blueprint.

There’s a lot more to consider on this topic. Be sure to check out our customer journey map guide for the full picture.

Service blueprint

The customer journey map gives you a view of what’s happening “on the outside” for the customer, whereas the service blueprint shows you what’s happening “on the inside.” It gives you an inside view of the people, tools, systems, policies, and processes that facilitate the experience.

A service blueprint is necessary when it comes to providing a low-effort experience because you can’t fix the customer experience if you have inefficiencies within your organization. The blueprint will help you identify broken policies and processes, find missing resources opportunities, and improve employee training. In summary, it’ll help you eliminate the inefficiencies that are creating a frustrating experience for customers and employees.

Chapter 6

Free CES survey template

Measuring customer effort starts with sending the right CES survey. Here’s a free CES survey template to help you get started.

Learn how GetFeedback can help you exceed customers’ expectations—start your free trial today.

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