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Customer effort score: What is it and why should your business care about it?

Tanuj Diwan
Apr 14, 2020

10 mins read

Tanuj Diwan

There are a whole lot of reasons why customers buy a specific product or service.

Apple fans stick to Apple products because of its design aesthetics and proprietary software + hardware combination that delivers great user experience. Android users prefer Android for its open-source utilities and affordability.

If you think deeply about it, both the products help their users get things done, in their own way.

The final objective of any great product or service should be to help the customer get things done. Only the effort involved in both cases differ. And there lies the difference.

Customer effort score is a metric that measures the ability of a product/service to do that.

How much effort should customers put in to get things done?

This is the underlying question that CES aspires to answer. Under the hood, it is a survey tool — just like the Net Promoter Score.

However, there are subtle differences. This blog will delve into those subtle differences.

What is a Customer Effort Score?

Customer Effort Score (CES) is a customer service metric that measures user experience of a product or service.

The metric is calculated based on survey responses from customers. The survey asks the customers to rate the product’s user-friendliness from “Very Difficult” to “Very Easy.”

The standard question that is usually to determine CES is “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?”.

What is a Customer Effort Score? - SurveySensum

Source

The objective of this exercise is to determine whether the customers are able to do what they want to do easily, with moderate difficulty or with extreme difficulty.

Based on the feedback received, further improvements can be made to the product to make it more customer-friendly.

But, isn’t that what most survey systems and metrics attempt to do? What does CES do differently?

A decade ago, Harvard Business Review did a three-year-long survey of 75,000 B2C and B2B customers and their interactions with businesses through non-face-to-face channels. Two major findings emerged out of the survey.

  1. Customer delight doesn’t build loyalty
  2. Reducing customer effort does

This led to the creation of the Customer Effort Score as a metric. Compared to other key metrics like Customer Satisfaction Score and Net Promoter Score,

Customer Effort Score has more potential to determine if a customer would remain loyal to the business.

What benefit can measuring Customer Effort Score give?

According to Andrew Schumacher of Gartner, “Customer effort is 40% more accurate at predicting customer loyalty as opposed to customer satisfaction.”

Compared to other customer feedback collection mechanisms like Net Promoter Score or Customer Satisfaction Score,

CES can provide more information and customer understanding with better accuracy that can improve your product or service. Here are some of the benefits that CES is assured to provide:

Identifies disappointed customers

A CES survey helps figure out quickly disappointed customers who are at the risk of switching loyalty to a competitor.

As a thumb rule, customers who have responded that the product or service was difficult or very difficult to use exhibit the possibility of churning.

If the CES survey was sent at the initial stages of the customer lifecycle, then the risk is higher.

Enables quicker surveys

Most survey mechanisms like Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Satisfaction Survey (CSAT) require a long span of time before the surveys can be sent out.

However, with CES it is possible to send dynamic surveys, even after the first interaction with the customer. The fact that CES tries to measure the level of effort that a customer has to put in, too many instances are not necessary.

Also, customer judgment based on a single interaction also makes it free of any prejudice or biases.

Helps eliminate redundancies

What if your checkout process is longer than usual? Or your mobile asks for too much information?

Does the customer have to type more characters when a simple tap can save the effort? Your product or service might have several redundancies that may not come to notice at the development stage.

A CES survey helps narrow down on redundancies in the current system that customers are not happy so that you can take corrective actions.

Improves product features

Your product could be doing well. But, can it do better? CES helps answer that question.

Based on the survey responses from customers, you can easily figure out existing workflows or processes that can be rewired to make it less effortless for customers.

It makes you think whether there is a better way for the customer to perform a task with minimal effort.

The downsides of Customer effort score

On one side while CES helps make things easier for the customer, from a business standpoint, there are several downsides to it as well.

CES is not contextual

To begin with, the CES does not indicate the customer’s overall relationship with the business.

Is the customer a first-time user interacting with the business for the time first time? Or is it a loyal customer who knows the processes but still finds it to be at fault? This context can tilt the scale in favor of the business or against it.

CES does not segment

Secondly, CES does not segment customers like NPS or CSAT. as a result, it is difficult to take targeted actions that can remedy their problems. Any solution that is conceived will influence all customers alike.

Types of CES surveys

A CES survey can be carried out in several ways. Although the basic question involved remains the same, the responses can be gathered in several forms.

Some common CEs survey formats are described as below:

Numbered scales

The most common type of CES where customers are requested to respond to the CEs survey question using a number response.

It could 1 to 5, 1 to 10 or any other numbered scale as decided by the business, in this type of CES survey, a composition of higher scores indicate positive CES.

Likert scale

The Likert scale aims to seek feedback from customers through opinions. They are similar to research questionnaires where customers respond to questions with template answers like:

  1. Strongly Disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Somewhat Disagree
  4. Undecided
  5. Somewhat Agree
  6. Agree
  7. Strongly Agree

The CES score is considered if more number of responses are in the range of 5 to 7.

Emoticon ratings

You must have seen emoticon rating surveys in blog footers, email newsletter or even as part of mobile app surveys.

They are visual and hence an interactive element to them that the other two types of surveys lack.

In emoticon surveys, the CES question is appended with a row of emoticons that range from smiling to disappointed. The customer can choose the relevant emoticon that denotes their feeling.

Similarly, thumbs up or thumbs down symbols may also be used in place of emoticons.

How to Measure Customer Effort Score

Customer effort score (CES) measurement begins with one question — “On a scale of 1 to 5, how much effort did you have to put forth to handle your issue?” customers are required to respond to the question with the following options:

  • 1 = Very low effort
  • 2 = Low effort
  • 3 = Neutral
  • 4 = High effort
  • 5 = Very high effort

Once the survey is completed, the CES is derived by dividing the sum of all individual customer effort scores by the total number of customers who responded.

The resultant figure would be a score in between 1 and 5. Like a 5-star rating, higher the rating, better it is.

Alternatively, the CES score can also be measured using text responses. Similarly, the question can also be rephrased as, “How easy did we make it for you to handle your issue today?” the responses for the same could be:

  • Easy
  • Neither
  • Difficult

This is typically useful for service-based businesses that have numerous customer interactions.

The CES score would be derived by deducting the composition of customers who replied ‘Easy’ compared to customers who provided the other two responses.

The resultant score would be in the range of -100 t0 100. This would be similar to NPS where a higher score is a positive sign.

What is a good Customer Effort Score

There is no industry benchmark for customer Effort Score. A higher score is always considered to be better.

It indicates that the business is successful in rendering a positive customer experience or that their workflows are effortless for customers to use.

Ideally, a business should have a CES that is higher than the mean.

For example, on a scale of 5, the CES should be more than 2.5 or 3. Or on a scale of 100, the CES score should be 50 or higher.

Anything less exhibits inherent roadblocks in the Customer journey of the product or service that should be remedied at the earliest.

In the case of such respondents, it would be ideal to set up a customer feedback loop and gather information as to what displeases them about a product or service. Otherwise, in the long run it will lead to customer churn or even negative brand image.

How to Improve Customer Effort Score?

There is no silver bullet that can improve the Customer Effort Score. However, there are a couple of measures that can push the needle of your CES.

Here are 4 of them:

  1. Predict customer wants
  2. Set up self-service portals
  3. Redesign workflows
  4. Gather customer feedback

Predict customer wants

Customers buy a product or pay for a service because they expect it to solve a particular problem or challenge. To achieve a higher it is necessary to understand the top-priority problems or challenges of customers.

If the business is able to predict customers’ wants and fine-tune its offerings accordingly, it will reduce customer effort resulting in higher CES.

Set up self-service portals

Every time a customer tries to use a product or service for the first time, they might stumble into situations where they need someone to help them out.

Calling customer support or engaging in a live chat with a chatbot can be quite strenuous. If there are self-service portals like IVR menus, FAQ sections or even a community where the queries are solved instantly.

Customers will feel more productive at solving their own problems. This, in turn, can improve the CES score.

Redesign workflows

Reassess your current workflow. How many steps should a customer perform before their objective is met?

For example, in the case of a mobile app, how many clicks or gestures should the app user perform before they can complete an action or find information. Zero in on steps that can be eliminated to make the process effortless for customers.

Gather customer feedback

This might seem like a no-brainer. However, from a CES perspective, the feedback you should be collecting Customer Feedback and it must focus on how you can make things easier for customers.

The usual ‘How will you rate our product/service?’ may not yield the necessary input. Tweak the CES survey follow-up questions in such a way that customers are persuaded to share pain areas in the current process.

Customer effort Score: How much effort do your customers put in?

When it comes to customers and business relationships, there is one untold truth — Effort is the strongest driver to customer loyalty.

It is not customer delight. It is not a premium feature. It is not freebies. It is the ability of a product or service to help a customer get things done that make it successful.

CES helps measure if your product or service is good at that. It asks customers how much effort they have to exert to get something done. If it is too much effort, it is time to rethink your product or service. If your business manages to steer around the product, service or workflows, it will lead to greater customer success and augmented customer loyalty.

After all, isn’t that what every business strives for?

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