How to take action on Customer Effort Score feedback

The four major activities that must be undertaken after CES feedback is received by the company.


Annette Franz

February 27, 2020

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One of the biggest mistakes companies can—and do—make with customer feedback is to do nothing at all with it. Remember the old Gartner statistic: “95% of companies collect customer feedback. Yet only 10% use the feedback to improve, and only 5% tell customers what they are doing in response to what they heard.” 

It’s from a few years ago but still fairly representative. I’ve seen the 10% as high as 34% in some more recent studies. Perhaps the 5% statistic has bumped up a bit, as well, but tell me the last time you heard from a company after providing feedback. It’s pretty rare. What did they do with your feedback?

I’d like to help you to not become a statistic. To do so, I’ll focus on a specific metric that is used to help create a better experience for all involved: Customer Effort Score (CES).

What do we mean by effort?

A good place to start is to tell you a bit about the concept of effort: what is it and what does it look like?

Effort is strenuous physical or mental exertion on the part of employees and customers, and more importantly, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions about that exertion. In The Effortless Experience, Matt Dixon notes that emotions and perceptions make up two-thirds of the effort equation. As we know from the definition of customer experience, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions drive a lot of what customers think of and whether or not they will continue to do business with the brand.

Notice that I’ve included both employees and customers in the definition. I’m a strong believer in the fact that if we reduce employee effort, we will also reduce customer effort and improve the experience for both of them.

Capturing feedback from customers about how easy or difficult it was to interact or to transact with a brand is a critical part of understanding the experience. It’s important to hear from them about where the experience is breaking down, and oftentimes undue effort is the culprit for the breakdown. 

Salesforce reported in their State of Connected Customer report that 74% of customers would switch brands if the purchase experience was too difficult. If you can’t even close the sale, then the rest of it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Some examples of things that create effort for customers (and for employees) include the number of call transfers; the number of calls/contacts to resolve an issue or to transact; time to resolve; repeating information from one platform or person to another; repetitive steps/tasks; excessive clicks; missing or hard to find information; channel switching; missing or hard to find contact information; outdated policies; and broken processes. 

It’s worth noting that customer effort doesn’t just happen when it comes to contacting customer service; there are effort and friction in every part of the customer experience, in every transaction or interaction. Think about what happens when customers are researching your product or service, purchasing your product or service, using the product or service, using your website or mobile app, and more. Are any of those high-effort experiences?

Four activities to take on CES feedback

The best way to learn what creates pain and effort for your customers is to ask them—or to listen to them via some other channel, e.g., social media, online reviews, etc. But once you’ve heard, you’ve got to use that information to improve the experience. The steps I outlined in How To Take Action on CSAT Feedback apply here, as well.

 In this article, I’m going to call out four major activities that must be undertaken after CES feedback is received by the company, three of which I didn’t address in that article. They are:

  1. Service recovery.

  2. Customer insights.

  3. Journey mapping.

  4. Service blueprinting.

Service recovery

Service recovery involves closing the loop on what we call “service recovery opportunities,” those moments during the experience where the customer told you things didn’t go well, where friction and effort left them feeling frustrated and dissatisfied. When customers have put forth more effort than expected—and, especially, if they’ve not been able to achieve with the brand interaction what they were hoping to—you’ve got to follow up with them. This is a great way to save at-risk customers.

To implement and execute service recovery, you’ve got to start with setting up an alert for your CES survey so that when a respondent meets a certain threshold on the customer effort question, a notification gets sent to the appropriate people to follow up with customers. 

Make sure you’ve got a process in place to follow up with every customer who met the alert threshold. 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 get 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

An important thing to consider as you act on CES feedback is who is providing that feedback and who is experiencing the greatest effort and frustration. There may be a certain type of customer that finds the experience to be more painful than others. For example, a customer who is visually-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. Having a better understanding of who is most impacted by the experience today will certainly go a long way to designing a better experience for tomorrow. 

Knowing the “who” is a great segue into the next item, journey mapping. We always begin journey mapping with identifying and knowing the personas for which we’ll map.

Map the customer journey

The CES metric identifies whether or not there was an inordinate amount of effort expended by the customer to achieve whatever it was she was attempting to achieve in her interaction with the brand, but you have to really understand what’s happening in order to take action and to ensure that effort is reduced or eliminated. 

While the survey respondent may provide some comments about where the experience required more effort than acceptable, the best way to really identify the effort is by creating a journey map of the experience.

A 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 not only what the customer is doing but also what she is thinking and feeling.

The map will also include other information, as well, including the people, the systems, and the documents that the customer interacted with during the experience, as well as how long each step of the journey took. This begins to form the picture of where friction and effort occurred for the customer. 

As noted, customers must be involved in creating the journey map. But you’re also going to want to have the right stakeholders in the room to listen, observe, and eventually ask clarifying questions of the customers. Those stakeholders will be from various cross-functional areas of the organization because the experience doesn’t just begin and end with the journey on the map; oftentimes, there is some other part of the organization, some other information or channel or conversation upstream, that caused the customer to end up where she is, with the experience she’s having.

It’s important to note that the work is not done once the map is created. It’s really only just begun. The map itself is a tool, but there’s an entire process wrapped around it that includes developing not only a current state map but also a service blueprint, a future state map, and a future state service blueprint. Following the process ensures that the maps are actionable and operationalized. That’s a good segue into the third thing you must do in order to efficiently and effectively act on CES feedback.

Get started on customer journey mapping today with our free step-by-step guide.

Create a service blueprint

The next thing you’ll need to do, upon completion of the journey map, is to create a service blueprint. While the journey map gives you a view of what’s happening “on the outside,” i.e., the experience the customer is having, the service blueprint gives you a surface-to-core view that will help everyone understand what’s happening “on the inside” to support and to facilitate that customer experience. In other words, it gives you an inside view, i.e., documenting the people, tools, systems, policies, and processes that facilitate the experience. 

Basically, you cannot fix what’s happening on the outside if you don’t fix what’s happening inside. The service blueprint will identify broken policies and processes, employee training and missing resources opportunities, and more. It will identify where waste and inefficiencies are happening that are creating a frustrating experience for customers (and for employees, for that matter).

Service blueprints help you understand how you’re delivering the experience to customers today. They are necessary to reveal, uncover, and then redesign the root cause of painful customer experience. I guarantee you that most companies don’t think about the customer (and, oftentimes, the employee, either) as they develop or implement the tools, systems, policies, and processes that result in an experience for the customer. The blueprints can and will certainly showcase where silos occur and the impact of those silos, namely, a frustrating experience for employees and for customers. And they will also identify where employees are expending a lot of effort (perhaps because of the wrong tools, broken processes or policies, or lack of training) and the impact of that effort.

Once you’ve completed the blueprint, you will have identified improvement opportunities, cost savings, process inefficiencies, and skill gaps for your people. The result of all of that: information you can then take to fix the root cause and get the experience right going forward.

Take action on what you’ve learned

Between the survey feedback and then what you’ll subsequently learn as you dig deeper into the experience through journey mapping and service blueprinting, you’ll be set up to make improvements that will reduce customer effort, enhance the customer experience, and ensure that customers come back. 

Don’t rest on your laurels. Get an action plan in place. Assign owners and teams. And go do something with what you learn!

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About the guest author 

Annette Franz is the founder and chief experience officer of CX Journey Inc.

She’s got 25 years of experience in both helping companies understand their employees and customers and identifying what drives retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall experience—so that, together, you can design a better experience for all constituents. She has worked with both B2B and B2C brands in a multitude of industries. Connect with her: | @annettefranz | @cxjourney | LinkedIn | Facebook

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