What is Customer Effort Score (CES) and How to Measure It?


It is a fact of human nature (and customer relationship management) that people are more likely to complain than they are to give praise. When customers are unhappy, customer service agents are busy.

For many years companies believed that customer service was the vanguard for building customer loyalty. Today we know that it’s not quite that simple.

The Corporate Executive Board’s Customer Contact Council (CCC) surveyed 75,000 B2C and B2B customers over three years and published their research in 2010. Their research showed that customer loyalty is correlated with brand attachment and overall experience with a product or service.

In the customer service journey, exceeding expectations doesn’t build loyalty to the same degree that a poor experience erodes it. A negative or annoying customer experience that doesn’t meet expectations, let alone exceed them, can quickly undermine loyalty.

Even worse, 81% of customers who had to expend a lot of effort to achieve their CS goals intend to spread negative word of mouth about their experience.

The sweet spot for brands is an excellent customer experience with the brand and product or service, backed up by frictionless support experiences that consistently meet expectations. Providing customer service agents with the right tools is essential.

Sometimes simple is best. Rather than elaborate (and often expensive) campaigns to exceed customer expectations, consumer behavior data indicates that companies can reduce customer service costs and attrition rates by focusing on the basics. For example, reducing customer effort in self-service options and streamlining the live call experience.

To give companies a way to track customer effort, the CCC came up with the Customer Effort Score (CES), a simple way to measure customer effort. But what is the Customer Effort Score?  How can it help build a better customer experience (CX)?

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Benefits of the Customer Effort Score

Measuring CES leads to necessary insights for improving customer experience and retention. Companies can analyze the customer service interactions of problematic CES to pinpoint friction and trouble spots in customer support.

Tools like Kayako’s Single View make it easy to see the whole picture across time and different channels quickly. Management can then adjust workflows and procedures to improve the customer experience.

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Tracking Customer Effort Score can lead to many benefits for companies because the CES is related to customer loyalty, especially for repeat customers. Gartner published some compelling statistics about the benefits of tracking and lowering the customer effort:

Higher Net Promoter Scores

A CES that indicates customer success leads to more positive word-of-mouth. This in turn improves the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a widely used service metric that measures the likelihood of a customer referring a company. The difference is substantial. For companies with top-performing CES metrics, the NPS is 65 points higher than for companies with marginal CES.

Higher Customer Lifetime Value

88% of low-effort customers said they would increase their spending, and 94% said they would repurchase. In contrast, only 4% of those with high-effort outcomes intended to repurchase.

Lower Customer Service Center Costs

Favorable CES leads to cost savings. Low-effort experiences reduce costs by decreasing up to 40% of repeat calls, 50% of escalations, and 54% of the need for channel switching. Overall, low-effort interactions cost 37% less than high-effort interactions.

Lower Customer Service Agent Turnover

Customers are not the only stakeholders that benefit from improved CES. Employees experience less stress as well. When service reps can meet customers’ expectations, they feel better about their job. Their intent to stay increases up to 17%.

What Is a Good Customer Effort Score?

The CES is a simple metric based on a single question for the customer. Whether a high or low number is favorable depends upon how you phrase the question.

In the CCC study, researchers used this question: “On a scale of 1 (very low effort) to 5 (very high effort), how much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” Obviously, in that case, the lower the score, the better.

The Gartner Customer Effort Score also helps companies measure the ease of customer interaction during a request. The Gartner process asks customers to rate their agreement on a scale of 1 to 7 with the following question: Did the company make it easy for the customer to resolve their issue?

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A 1 is a “strongly disagree” response, and a 7 is a “strongly agree”. Numbers 2 through 6 are varying levels in between. As you can see, the higher the score for the Gartner CES, the better.

The Gartner CES calculates the percentage of customers that “somewhat agree” (those who give a 5 or above) that the company made it easy to resolve their issue. Researchers found that moving customers out of active disagreement or neutral (5 or above) presents opportunities to build loyalty.

Like most metrics, the CES does not operate in a vacuum. It influences and reflects changes in other support metrics, too. By tracking what drives CES, companies can use the metric in conjunction with other support metrics to pinpoint problem areas.

Compared to the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), the CES has much higher predictive power for customers’ repurchasing and increased spending. Andrew Schumacher, Gartner Senior Principal, says, “Customer effort is 40% more accurate at predicting customer loyalty as opposed to customer satisfaction.”

In fact, 94% of customers with low-effort experience had the intention to repurchase, and 88% said they would increase spending. On the flip side, 81% of customers with high-effort experience held intent on spreading negative word of mouth.

How Do You Measure Your Customer Effort Score?

There can be many steps and multiple touchpoints during a single customer service call. Suggestions for tracking responses for CES include:

Transactional Metrics – Ask the CES question after each discrete step, or transaction, in the support journey. If you consider that every customer service touchpoint (calls, chat, self-service, etc.) is a transaction, you can ask customers after each step and collect transaction-level data.

Surveys – Companies can also survey customers after a service encounter. Best practices for CES surveys include:

  • Automate the survey
  • Be sure it is mobile-friendly
  • Keep it very simple or people won’t finish it
  • Collate and share the data frequently.

When is the right time to send the CES Survey? Since the CES only answers one question, you can insert a popup or page directly after a customer completes an online transaction. For calls or more complicated service tickets, some experts recommend waiting 24 hours to ensure the case has final closure.

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How to Improve Your Customer Effort Score

A useful way to get an overall CES is to find the average of all customer’s scores. Simply divide the sum of all the CES by the number of customers. That gives you the average.

If your average CES is less than 5 (using the 7-point scale), you likely have customer attrition and are at risk for increased negative word of mouth from unhappy consumers.

It is important to analyze the customer journey across every interaction. Where can you take immediate action?  Where will you need to implement long-term changes? Are the number of replies per case too high? Do customers have to wait too long on hold? Are you asking them to repeat the same information multiple times? A tool like Kayako’s Single View can help you get an overview of the customer journey in just one place.

Quick Heal is a leading provider of internet security tools and anti-virus software. Its customer service team was overwhelmed and needed to streamline its support process. Using Kayako’s Customer Support software, like Single View and Self Service, Quick Heal was able to:

  • Reduce ticket response and resolution times
  • Improve collaboration and reduce duplication of effort
  • Extend support hours
  • Consolidate conversations from multiple sources

You can read more about how Quick Heal healed its customer support problem in this case study. 

How about a CES that is more than 5? Well, first of all, congratulations!

More good news: the CCC data shows that companies will benefit more from continuous improvement in meeting customer expectations rather than pushing for customer delight in exceeding expectations.

Focus on the fundamentals and look at what specific transactions are pulling the average down and creating strategies for improvement.

The place in the customer engagement journey where exceeding expectations adds the most to brand loyalty is their experience with the product or service and emotional brand touchpoints. A good example is a product that arrives beautifully wrapped with a personalized note or electronics that pair easily with a device on the first try.

When it comes to customer service, customers simply want consistency and to come to a full resolution of their issues as quickly and easily as possible. 

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