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What is a customer effort score or CES?

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Customer Effort Score

Delivering outstanding customer experiences across each aspect of your business is your goal. But how do you know if you're delivering great client service consistently over time?

Tracking and analyzing your customer experience delivery, like tracking brand loyalty through your Net Promoter Score (NPS), is an important practice that can sometimes be overlooked. Winning new business is important, for sure, and needs to be a priority; however, how new and long-time customers feel about your client support and service abilities is also an important measure of your ability to maintain growth and success.

Like NPS, measuring your Customer Effort Score (CES) is a scalable process. You can start simple and build from there. So, let’s start at the beginning.

What’s CES?

CES is a similar metric in concept to NPS but with a slight alteration of vantage point. Instead of asking about a customer's willingness to make a referral or how satisfied they were with your organization, it probes ease-of-use.

How easy was it to work with your business?

Our friends at MindTouch define CES this way: “Put simply, customer effort score measures a customer’s perception of how easy (or difficult) a company made it for them to complete some action. Buy a product. Resolve an issue. Register a product. Visit a website, even. The interactions to which CES can be applied are not limited to support.”

So, if a customer goes to your website, for example, how difficult was it for them to find what they wanted and take action to get it? That’s a very broad definition, but you get the idea.

The more difficult it is for a potential or existing customer to take a desired action, the less likely they are to stay loyal to your brand and keep engaging.

Customer Effort Score, like the Net Promoter Score, is obtained by conducting an initially simple, short survey question.

The concept of CES was introduced in 2010 in the Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” The authors found the following survey question phrasing worked best:

“To what extent do you agree with the following statement: The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.”

In essence, the question is not whether your business can solve pressing problems for its customer base: The essential question is whether your business can solve problems or alleviate pain points quickly and with minimal pain or effort on your customer’s part.

The Harvard Business Review found that Customer Effort Score data showed them that “customers were loyal when their experience was effortless, not when it was fancy” and that 96% of customers that gave a bad effort rating were less loyal to that brand in the future (Userlike)

Looking through a different lens is sometimes extremely powerful. Easy customer experiences yield greater brand loyalty over the long term. CES tracking measures this over time, enabling businesses to adjust and improve their consumer experiences with their brands.

How Do You Calculate Your Score?

You carefully formulate your question, send out the survey, collect the data and then analyze it. Typically, CES responses get categorized into a number scale.

There is debate on how to arrange the number scale. The point is that your survey responses need to be linked to quantifiable data points. For example, you could pose the survey question and have a 1-7 scale, with 1 being extremely easy and 7 being extremely difficult with variations on wording in between.

There are two primary ways to calculate CES.

You can take an average of all CES by dividing the total sum of the scores by the number of scores. Or, you could take the Net Promoter Score (NPS) approach of using percentages through categorizing responses. For example, those scores from 1-2 would be labeled low effort, 3-4 would be labeled medium effort and 5-7 high effort customers. You then subtract the percentage of low effort customers from high effort to get your CES.

Like NPS, Putting CES Into Context Is Important

CES doesn't mean much without context. That means that data that comes back needs to be measured against internal historical data and, when available, industry CES standard to create benchmarks.

Like NPS, CES surveying is less effective as a one shot effort. 

As “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” put it: “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.”

The improvements born of strong CES measurement can only come about by putting this data into historical and industry context.

Timing is Important for Impactful CES Surveys

Unlike NPS that has a broader, less time-sensitive nature, CES surveys are best done following very specific customer interactions. CES surveys work best when done after a clear customer touch point like a closed transaction or a closed support ticket.

HubSpot referenced a quote about CES timing from Content Analyst Andrew Friedenthal: "Because CES asks customers specifically to rate the level of effort they put into resolving a problem or issue, it doesn't make sense to send a CES survey out at any regular interval. Instead, he says that it's best to send out CES surveys only after specific service touchpoints or the resolution of particular issues. CES surveys should be sent to customers who have needed to contact your organization for trouble-shooting immediately after you have resolved their issue so that you can find out how much effort it took on their part to get through to you for a solution."

The best CES results are those that are within close proximity of the customer's expenditure of effort to interact with your organization.

Consistently measuring CES and regularly analyzing the data that comes back provides insights into how your organization is performing and meeting its audiences' needs. Mediocre scores or CES data that show a high level of difficulty and effort among your customers is a red flag that needs to be resolved.

Like every metric, CES can provide opportunities to drill down in an effort to locate the source of a customer service or technological issue that might be creating pain for your customers.

But until you start tracking CES consistently, you’ll be stuck in “you don’t know what you don’t know" mode, which is never a good place for a business to be.

If you feel like you’re in the dark when it comes to CES and other important Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) step into the light. We are metric tracking and analysis experts that can lend a hand. We’d love to learn more about your business. Contact us today.

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