Ultimate Guide to Customer Effort Score CES

Assessing customer experience and quantifying customer satisfaction can be achieved using various metrics, as we have previously highlighted. A particularly useful metric that tends to correlate closely with customer loyalty is Customer Effort Score or CES.

Customer Effort Score (CES) History

Back in 2010 research conducted by CEB, acquired by Gartner in 2017, determined a strong relationship between the amount of effort required from a customer to resolve a problem and customer loyalty.

The less effort required from the customer the more likely they were to become loyal customers.

Research demonstrated that 96% of customers who experienced high-effort service interactions become more disloyal compared with only 9% who have low-effort experience. Since it is 6 to 7 times cheaper to sell to existing customers than it is to acquire new ones the business value of fostering customer loyalty is clear. Effort from the customer has been found to be a very significant driver of customer loyalty and Customer Effort Score (CES) was developed as a simple way to quantify the amount of effort required.


What is Customer Effort Score?

Customer Effort Score (CES) is a numeric measure derived from customer surveys. Customers are asked relevant CES questions and prompted to select their answers on a scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 7, depending on the version of CES. For example, a score of 1 would equate to ‘very high effort’ and a score of 7 would be associated with ‘very low effort’.

Customer Effort Score Versions

CES has undergone some changes since the technique was first launched. The original CES system was based on a question which required respondents to quantify the effort that they needed to exert in order to deal with their request.

How much effort did you personally have to make in or to handle your request?

They would then select their response from a 5 point scale where 1 indicated ‘very high effort’ and 5 indicated ‘very low effort’.

After participants had responded to this first question they may then be presented with a second question which was dependent on the answer they had initially provided. For example, if they had indicated that effort was required to resolve their issue the second question might be:

Why was high effort required to deal with your issue?

If they had indicated that little effort was required then the second question might be:

What made it easy to deal with your issue?

Although this original form of CES is very useful, providing valuable customer feedback, there were some notable issues. One was that participants didn’t always correctly interpret both the question and the answer. Another was that the word ‘effort’ does not translate well into other languages leading to confusion in some geo-locations. These issues made it difficult to use CES for benchmarking, especially for global organisations.

These identified limitations led to the development of CES 2.0 which was released in 2013. CES 2.0 introduced the 7 level answer scale, the two extra levels making it easier to analyse responses.

Another major change in CES 2.0 was doing away with the ‘effort’ based questioning. Instead, participants are presented with a statement and prompted to select the degree to which they agree with the stated hypothesis from the 7 point scale. For example:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement:
[Company / department] made it easy for me to handle my request.
Select your answer from 1 – 7 where:
1 = Strongly Disagree and
7 = Strongly Agree.

Subsequent, investigative questions would be based upon the answer provided.

When to Assess Customer Effort Score (CES)

Customer Effort Score needs to be assessed as soon after the specific customer interaction as possible. For example, immediately after making a purchase or immediately after the conclusion of a service call. There are 3 primary scenarios in which Customer Effort Score assessment is applicable

  • Post-purchase: To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement: [Company] made it easy for me to complete my purchase.
  • Immediately after a concluded service interaction: To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement: [Company / Service department] made it easy for me to resolve my issue.
  • To assess an overall experience: To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement: [Product handbook / user-instructions] made it easy for me to learn how to use [product].

Customer Effort Score vs Other CX Metrics

As noted, CES provides a numeric indication of how difficult it is for your customers to resolve their issues. It is more accurately indicative of customer loyalty than other metrics such as CSAT.

CSAT basically assesses the immediate satisfaction levels of your customers. Generally, CSAT assesses customer satisfaction with a company, service, product or interaction. It is entirely possible that you are achieving consistently high CSAT ratings but these do not reflect the amount of effort required from your customers which, as noted, closely correlates with loyalty.

NPS or Net Promoter Score is another commonly used customer experience metric. It asks a broad question regarding the likelihood that a customer will become a promoter, such as:

How likely are you to recommend [company] to a friend or colleague?

NPS indicates which customers are most likely to become brand ambassadors (promoters) and those which may become critics (detractors). NPS assesses the total interaction between an organisation and a customer, whereas CES assesses the effort associated with very specific interactions.

It should be clear that CES provides insight where both CSAT and NPS don’t. While your CSAT scores may be high you may still be losing valuable customers due to the effort required from them during certain interactions. CES would highlight these. Similarly NPS provides an excellent overall assessment of how customers perceive your business, which may be predominantly good. But if customers need to exert high levels of effort in some specific areas they are less likely to become loyal. CES can identify these areas before your customers depart..

How to Use Customer Effort Score

As we have seen, Customer Effort Score can be used to identify barriers which have required effort from your customers to resolve their issues or achieve a satisfactory conclusion. By identifying these ‘road-blocks’ and taking steps to remove them the amount of effort required from customers will be reduced, CES scores will improve and customer loyalty increased.

CES can be effectively deployed to identify customers who are still unhappy after the resolution of their service ticket. Monitoring real time customer feedback can alert service team supervisors to customers whose loyalty is wavering due to the excessive effort required from them. Reaching out personally to these customers can be a valuable tactic to keep them on board.

CES is also a valuable tool for real time assessment of service agent performance. Agents for whom CES scores consistently indicate higher levels of effort required from the customer may be in need of additional training. Conversely, agents whose CES scores are consistently good, indicating little effort required from customers, might be rewarded and their interactions examined in detail to determine exactly what is working so well in their customer interactions.

CES scores can also be highly beneficial in product development. Identifying product issues which take high levels of effort to resolve can be used to inform product development priorities.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Customer Effort Score (CES)

The big, main advantage provided by Customer Effort Score is that it is the CX metric which most closely correlates with loyalty. If you are losing customers then measuring, monitoring and analysing Customer Effort Scores will potentially reveal where improvements need to be made in your customer interactions. Using CES to evaluate specific interactions and touchpoints provides highly actionable feedback. Making your customer interactions as near-effortless as possible will help your business grow.

Another key advantage is simplicity. Short and simple surveys are always favoured by customers and tend to drive the best response rates.

A disadvantage of Customer Effort Score is that it is focused upon specific aspects of the services provided and does not assess your overall business. Another disadvantage is that while CES provides indications of whether customers are having difficulty using your services it doesn’t immediately tell you what those problems were or why they arose. Further customer questioning is needed to probe more deeply.

What’s a Good CES Score?

A CEB study  found that improving a customer’s CES score from 1 to 5 (on the 7 point scale) increased their loyalty by 22%. Further improving their CES score from 5 to 7 only increased loyalty by around 2%.

On a scale of 1 to 7 individual customer effort scores of 5 or more would be a reasonable target. If you are seeing scores below 5 then further investigation would be warranted.

Assess Your CES Score Distribution

Examining the distribution of your Customer Effort Scores can be very revealing. While averaging the scores derived from multiple customers will provide a valuable indication of the effort required, averages don’t always reflect the complete picture.

For example, if a group of 100 customers were CES surveyed and 70 of them returned top scores of 7 and 30 of them returned bottom scores of just 1 then the overall average score would be 5.2. This average score would appear to be quite good, but the fact that 30% of respondents indicated that significant effort was required is masked by this average. These 30 people are unlikely to become loyal customers and may become detractors, due to their very poor experience. Examining the CES distribution would highlight this group and prompt the need for further investigation to identify and resolve the issues that they ran into.

The same average score of 5.2 would have been achieved if 80 respondents had scored 5 while 20 had scored 6. In this case all responses indicate positive effort reports but the average is the same as that seen when a high proportion had negative experiences. This highlights the need to not only consider Customer Effort Score averages but to also examine score distributions.

It should be clear that Customer Effort Score is a valuable tool in the customer experience toolkit which can be effectively used to gain actionable insight to improve customer loyalty.

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