Customer Effort Score: What is it (& How Does it Help Your Business?)

/ 11 min read
Eliza Frakes

In today’s interconnected world, there are loads of ways to check in with customers about their experience. Whether it’s through surveys, emails, or social media, it’s easier than ever to gather and measure metrics on the customer experience. And that’s great!

Right? Making it easier to connect with customers is excellent news, but, just because you can survey your clients day and night, doesn’t mean you should. And what kind of surveys are most effective, anyway?

Service metrics are a supremely valuable way to learn about things that are going well, and find opportunities for improvement. Many businesses use surveys or customer feedback forms to gather these metrics. The most common types of customer feedback surveys you’ll see are customer satisfaction surveys (CSAT), Net Promoter Score surveys (NPS), and Customer Effort Score surveys (CES).

We’ll get into definitions on all those wacky acronyms, but in this article, we’ll focus on Customer Effort Score: a powerful metric that helps you spot the sticky situations you put your customer in. You can use CES to help you boost customer satisfaction and loyalty, all by making your processes easier. But first, you’ll have to know what CES actually means.

What is Customer Effort Score?

CES is a customer experience metric that measures how difficult or easy it is for users to engage with a given product or service. Most CES surveys look something like this:

The process can be anything from checking out at an online store to connecting with a customer service representative. The 1 in the point scale is marked as “very difficult” and the 7 as “very easy.”

That’s the CES question. When enough customers respond, you can calculate your customer effort score by finding the total number of responses, and dividing that number by the number of responses given. It’ll end up being a single number between 1 and 7.

Sum of Responses  ÷ Number of Responses = CES score

All from a single question, your CES score tells you how much effort is required to complete the given process. The data you get from this type of survey question can help you see, quantifiably, where the trouble spots lay within the customer journey.

Your CES score can also help you determine how likely the customer is to keep using your product, and how (and where) your team can improve.

Why your CES score matters

Interpreting your CES score is pretty intuitive: a low customer effort score means that the given process was difficult for most people to complete, and a high customer effort score means it was fairly easy to complete. But is it a big deal if a process is difficult to complete?

In short, yes. According to the smart folks at the Harvard Business Review, having a process be easy to complete might even be more important than having excellent customer service. In other words, if companies are only focusing on one way to improve their business, they should prioritize making processes simple.

Difficult processes are considered “high-effort,” which means exactly what it sounds like: they require more work to complete, and are therefore more exhausting than low effort experiences.

High effort processes can happen throughout the shopping experience. Here are a few examples:

  • A customer isn’t given enough information on a product from the business and needs to search elsewhere for answers.
  • A customer has to navigate countless pop-ups to reach the check out at your online store.
  • A customer waits on the phone for 45 minutes to reach a service representative.
  • A customer has to log in or supply payment details multiple times in order to purchase an item.

While these processes won’t make anyone literally winded, they're considered high effort because they’re difficult, frustrating, and inefficient. In order to keep customers happy, it’s best to create as many effortless experiences as possible. Luckily, tracking your CES score and keeping it high can help you do just that.

Picking The Right Kind of Customer Feedback Survey

According to Cision,  87% of adults surveyed are happy to be contacted proactively to offer customer service feedback. Given that customers are willing and the data is highly valuable, it’s in many companies’ best interest to send out customer feedback surveys. But which ones are most effective?

💡 Tip: The best surveys are short and sweet. Using the right kind of questions will make them as efficient as possible.

Net Promoter Score

A Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey gauges customer enthusiasm by asking some version of “how likely are you to recommend this product or service to a friend or colleague?” NPS surveys are usually scaled from 1-10, and like CES, you can calculate the score by averaging the survey responses.

Versions of this type of question can be asked in the form of a statement. For example, you could ask how much a customer agrees with the following statement: I am likely to recommend this product to a friend. Survey respondents can then answer using a scale of 1-10, where 1 is marked as"strongly disagree," and 10 is marked as "strongly agree."

Customer Satisfaction Surveys

A Customer Satisfaction Survey gauges (you guessed it) a person’s satisfaction with a product or service. The questions usually look something like: “How happy are you with your recent purchase?” CSAT surveys can be asked as scaled questions, but they usually require open feedback responses.

Customer Effort Score

While both NPS and CSATs give you valuable feedback, only your customer effort score tells you how easy or difficult a given process is. Minimizing the effort required to complete things like purchasing a product or contacting customer service can improve overall customer satisfaction and enthusiasm.

Not to mention, the purpose of the question is clear, and it requires almost no effort to fill out a CES survey, which will help you combat survey fatigue. With a CES question, customers can tell you numerically and quantifiably how they feel in just one click.

How (and When) to Ask Your Customer Effort Questions

With Paperform, you can design beautiful, functional Customer Effort Score questions in no time. We have templates for surveys centered around all three types of questions.

Whether you go with a template or make your own, you can customize every element in our sleek, easy to use editing interface. From the font, to the background image, to the success page, we give you all the advanced customization options you need to create CES questions specific to you and your brand.

Once your form is up and running, you'll be able to track your data easily with our robust, built-in analytics. You can check out all your responses, view helpful visualizations of your data, or export the results to excel, all right from the editor.

If you want to further analyze your results, you can use of our over 3,000 integrations to share the data you receive in your form with all the tools you use to run your business.

When designing your CES question, keep these rules of thumb in mind:

1. Keep it short
Don’t confuse your customers with unnecessary clauses or flowery language. Instead, try to word your question as clearly as possible.

2. Keep it easy
Multiple choice or scaled questions require significantly less work to fill out than open feedback ones do. Luckily, CES questions tend to be fairly easy to complete, since they’re already scaled.


3. Have a clear intention
If you want to know how difficult your check out process is, don’t ask about how much they liked the website's color scheme. You can save that for another survey. Instead, have a clear goal for your question, and articulate it as clearly as possible.

4. Reward your respondents
The feedback you receive from your CES questions is valuable. Shouldn’t the people who give you that feedback get something in return? You can incentivize people to answer your surveys by offering coupons or special promotions, and thank those who do answer the questions in the same way.

5. Don’t over do it
Like all of us, your customers are busy people, with loads of things on their plate. They don’t have time to answer countless feedback requests. Rather than bombarding them with dozens of CES questions, try to respect their time by only asking what’s absolutely essential.

6. Consider your question placement
The online check-out process is not a great time or place to ask for feedback. Find an unobtrusive place to ask instead, ideally soon after (but not during) the process you’re looking for feedback on.

5 ways your CES score can help boost your business

CES gives you insight into which parts of your business are running smoothly, and which may need a bit of ironing out. With that information in hand, you can focus on making high effort processes easier. But the benefits of calculating and understanding your CES go even farther than that.

Here are just a handful of added perks that trickle down on account of understanding your customer effort score.

1. Limiting negative word of mouth

The way people talk about your business matters. A lot, as it turns out. According to Neilson, 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know directly, with many of those people trusting word of mouth advice over other kinds of recommendations, like review sites or advertisements.

If the check out process at your store is high-effort, or customer interactions with your service team are lackluster, those are likely the first things out of someone's mouth when you ask them about the business.

When you use your CES score to find and fix high-effort processes, you can limit this kind of negative chat around your business. That way, the first thing out of a customer's mouth can be about how great the product is, or how much they loved the website’s design.

2. Increase customer loyalty

Asking CES questions helps you see where your customers would like for you to make changes in your site. By implementing those changes, and making the tricky processes easier, you can improve customer loyalty. Which is great news for your business, since loyal customers are more likely to repurchase items, make new future purchases, or continue to pay for services.

3. Create self-service opportunities

If you run a small business with a blog or written component, your CES score can help you figure out what to write about. You can use the quantitative data pulled from your CES score to pinpoint areas that are difficult for customers to navigate, and focus on writing helpful content around those areas.

Offering tutorials, how-to videos, or other articles that can help your customers trouble shoot is a double win: it saves you time and money by limiting service interactions, and it makes it easier for your customers to solve some issues on their own.

4. Lowers service costs

Part of running a business is maintaining an excellent customer service experience. But, it can be easy for your customer support team to get bombarded with hundreds of tickets, and end up flustered and overworked.

Luckily, you can use your CES score to identify and streamline problem areas, so that your customers don’t need to contact customer service as often. This can lead to ticket deflation, and free up your customer support team to do other things.

If you’re deflecting tickets from coming through into the inbox, you’re doing the double duty of lowering your CES 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.

5. Influence changes to your product or service

The data you collect from your customer effort score questions can help you gauge customer success and find potential changes to your product. If you notice that most processes in your business are receiving a good customer effort score, but that your contact page continues to get negative marks, you know that the contact page likely needs some TLC.

In addition to helping you smooth out processes, your CES score can help you and your product team make improvements to the product itself. Whether you’re selling software or handmade sweaters, your CES score can give you valuable, product based data.

To gather this data, you’ll want to pose the CES question to be specific to the product. If the product has a lot of features, try to narrow it down to the one aspect of the product where you're looking for feedback. These questions would still be scaled, with 1 being very difficult, and 7 being very easy.

Here are a few examples of what these CES questions might look like:

CES is one of the best ways to prioritize support-heavy issues. It gives your product and engineering teams a direct, quantitative number that can inform any changes made to your product.

6. Reduce churn

To 80% of American consumers, speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service are the most important elements of a positive customer experience.

On the flip side, businesses that aren’t speedy or convenient might experience higher rates of churn, or the rate at which customers stop doing business with a given company. Luckily, of the customer feedback surveys, CES targets speed and convenience the most directly.

We’ve all experienced the annoyance of an inefficient process in a business. Let’s say your customer is ordering matching jerseys at an online shop for their daughter's soccer team. They put the jerseys in their cart, but when they go to select different sizes, they realize they can’t change the sizes within the group they’ve selected.

Instead, they’ll need to remove all the shirts, and add them one by one, selecting the size of each jersey one at a time. And when they’ve got to order 30 of them by 3pm, before they have to go pick up their kid from school, this small inconvenience quickly becomes a large one.

This process is not only likely to lead to shopping cart abandonment; it, and processes like it, can increase rates of churn. To avoid losing your customers to these high-effort, annoying processes, you can use your CES score to quickly identify the difficult process, and fix it right away.

Over to You

At a glance, CES may seem like just another metric benefitting customer experience and support teams. But all with one little scaled question, your CES score can give you so much more than that.

Calculating and understanding your customer effort score allows you to find and fix high-effort processes, make improvements to your product, and keep your customers happy. Making improvements based on your CES score can boost key company metrics like churn, revenue and employee experience.

So why not give it a go with Paperform today? You can use our customer effort score template, or design your own gorgeous version of this multi-functional, superstar of a question. Best of all, you can try it out for free for 14 days, no credit card required.


About the author
Eliza Frakes
Staff Writer
Eliza Frakes is a content writer at Paperform. When she’s not writing for the blog, she’s probably writing a play (or acting in one), swimming in the ocean, or taking her very cute dog on a hike.

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