Customer Effort Score: How One Simple Survey Can Boost Customer Experience

/ marketing
Yaakov Karda

In the world of customer experience, there are numerous different ways to measure what a customer is going through, and how it’s impacting their experience—and that’s awesome. After all, according to Peter Drucker, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Metrics are a supremely valuable way to learn about things that are going well - and where there is room for improvement. You might already be familiar with some of these key measurements of the customer experience, such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter score (NPS).  

Here we're breaking down Customer Effort Score (CES) - a powerful metric that helps you spot the sticky situations you put your customer in. Measuring CES can help you identify ways to boost loyalty and opportunities to serve your customers more effectively - let’s jump in!

What is Customer Effort Score?

CES is a metric that measures how users experience a product or service. After being sent a simple survey that asks “How easy was it for you to solve your issue today?”, customers rank their experience on a seven-point scale ranging from "Very Difficult" to "Very Easy." Customer responses help a company determine how much effort was required to use the product or service. From there, they’re able to determine how likely the customer is to keep using it and where your team could improve.

CES Survey in action. Made using Paperform.

What does “high-effort” mean?

Have you ever gone to a restaurant and asked the server if there was anyway to customize a dish by adding bacon, or removing gluten, or catering to another allergy or preference? They probably said “Sure, let me go and ask the chef” or already knew the answer, and were able to offer you an alternative recommendation.

However, occasionally you will get a server that comes back and just says “No,” and then waits for you to ask another question. In even more infrequent circumstances, you’ll spend a good 10 minutes inquiring about different items on the menu, while the server walks back and forth between your table and the kitchen, before ultimately deciding to just get a plain garden salad. You’re frustrated, it’s taken a ton of time, you’re disappointed with your meal. That is a high-effort experience. In an ideal world, your server would have listened to your needs and given you options that worked for them.

In software, an interaction or feature is deemed “high-effort” if it requires a lot of work on the customer’s part to reach a resolution. For example: if a customer is transferred between different teams multiple times during an interaction, if they need to send multiple responses to an inquiry, or if they have to go outside of your product to figure out the answer. The lower the effort required in an experience, the better.

According to The Effortless Experience, 96% of customers with a high-effort service interaction become more disloyal compared to just 9% who do after a low-effort experience. Loyalty drives a number of key customer metrics, but there’s something that’s even more important: revenue.  Specifically, 43% of customers spend more money at brands they’re loyal to. CES is valuable for all teams within a company, not just support. With that in mind, there are two main ways that measuring CES impacts your customer experience; you can help customers proactively, and you can identify your stickiest, most difficult problem areas.

Help customers proactively

Did you know that 87% of adults surveyed are happy to be contacted proactively by companies regarding customer support inquiries? Beyond contacting customers proactively, 70% of customers now expect a company’s website or an online form to include a self-service application and 73% of customers prefer to use the website over any other form of support. Given that, it’s in many companies’ best interest to create experiences that proactively support their customers.

CES gives you insight into which parts of your product or support require the most effort from your customers. With that information in hand, you are primed to create help center articles or send helpful emails that give your customers the information that they need prior to them realizing that they need it. Even better, proactive support has the following trickle down benefits:

It limits negative word of mouth

According to Jay Baer, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know directly, and 70% trust anonymous reviewers when they post online about a brand. There are also a ton of opportunities for people to be sharing their opinion. Research from Hubspot suggests that consumers discuss specific brands over 90 times per week, even in just casual conversation. By proactively supporting customers and boosting their experiences, you ensure that less of that casual banter will be negative, and you get more positive word-of-mouth-marketing from your customers.

It creates self-service opportunities

When you’re running a business all on your own, it can be difficult to know which docs to prioritize. You don’t have all the time in the world to write about everything—so what do you choose? By knowing where your high-effort areas of your product or support structure are, you can move forward in a data-driven way. Rather than following your whims, and writing what about what feels good to you in the moment, use the quantitative data pulled from CES to navigate the appropriate direction for your self-service methodology moving forward.

It lowers service costs

According to one study, support teams receive about 492 tickets each month. That’s more than one hundred tickets each week, or about sixteen tickets a day. And that’s the average—there are many companies, like Wordpress and Netflix, that experience significantly higher volume on a daily basis.

If you’re doing it right, providing a great self-service experience can be measured both in your CES and in the number of tickets that you don’t receive in your inbox because of it. That’s called “ticket deflection.” If you’re deflecting tickets from coming through into the inbox, you’re doing the double duty of lowering effort score (the fewer tickets a customer has to write to support the better) and lowering the cost of your services. After all, if there are fewer questions coming in, you don’t need to hire additional help to handle them.

Identify sticky problem areas

Secondly, measuring CES does an excellent job of shedding light on the places in your product or service infrastructure that aren’t as optimized as they could be. For example, you might find your purchasing page doesn’t let customers update their credit card information on their own. That’s a really high effort situation. Using CES can help you uncover those areas of opportunity and fix them. Fixing, or at least gaining insight into your problem areas helps with two key impacts: reducing churn, and influencing changes in your product.

Reduce churn

To 80% of American consumers speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service are the most important elements of positive customer experience. On the flipside, more than half of all Americans have scrapped a purchase or upgrade because of a poor experience, or difficulty getting what they needed.

Providing a great experience by filling in the problem areas of your product or strategy is an excellent way to keep those customers from churning out.

Influence changes to your product

Data is the universal language within many companies. While your product team might not understand the pain behind a customer experience, they can definitely understand the collected data that directly measures how many people are affected by a poor design choice or feature release.

Many companies wonder how customer-facing teams can best impact product cycles and get support-heavy issues prioritized. CES is one of the best ways to do so: it gives your product and engineering teams a direct, quantitative number to associate with the qualitative anecdotes that you share from customer interactions.

Wrapping Up

CES at a glance may seem like it is just a metric benefitting customer experience and support  teams, but it’s so much more than that. Customer effort score allows you to make impacts cross-functionally and boost key company metrics like churn, revenue and employee experience. Use the quantitative properties of this powerful, simple survey to boost your customers’ relationship with your brand and simultaneously rejuvenate your internal team, while you’re at it.

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