Customers today demand a convenient and effortless experience when they are interacting with a brand through any of a brand’s channels, making the reduction of customer friction and pain points a key part of modern marketing. The Customer Effort Score (CES) is seen as a business-critical metric that is a key indicator of customer loyalty, and directly correlates to whether a customer will continue to do business with a brand. This article will look at the ways that the CES can be improved.

What Is the Customer Effort Score?

In 2010, the concept of the Customer Effort Score was created by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB Global, now known as Gartner) when their research indicated that “effort” is a key driver of customer loyalty. The CES metric, often used as a part of a Voice of Customer program, is typically phrased like this:

On a scale of ‘very easy’ to ‘very difficult’, how easy was it to interact with this brand?

Or for customer service, the statement could be phrased like this:

The company made it easy for me to handle my issue.

It is answered by the customer who uses a standard 1–7 scale that indicates the difficulty of interacting with the brand, or whether they agree or disagree with the statement. The idea behind the CES is that customers prefer to do business with brands that make it easy for them to do so, and those brands are more likely to retain customers than those that do not. Although this seems like common sense, it actually had to be proven through research.

Previously, brands were under the impression that by delighting customers, through crafting an exceptional experience across all of their channels, they would drive customer loyalty. The reality, which was revealed through a study by CEB, was that exceptional, over-the-top service, or even just expected service, did not drive loyalty, but ease-of-use did. Conversely, those brands that made it difficult for customers to do business with them, continually lost those customers.

Paddy Rathinam, chief customer officer at Freshworks said that CES is becoming more important than NPS for brands trying to understand and correct the pain points in the customer journey. “It’s the closest we can get to measuring the pain a customer is going through when interacting with a brand. Given that customer service leaders have seen a 63% increase in customer expectations and 60% of leaders also saw an increase in churn (according to Freshworks’s recent CX Mandate Report), companies can’t afford to miss these key indicators.”

In their book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, authors Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi suggest that “Loyalty is driven by how well a company delivers on its basic promises and solves day-to-day problems, not on how spectacular its service experience might be. Most customers don’t want to be ‘wowed’; they want an effortless experience. And they are far more likely to punish you for bad service than to reward you for good service.” Dixon served as Group Leader of the sales, service, and customer experience practices of CEB. His book explains that “CEB’s careful research over five years and tens of thousands of respondents proves that the ‘dazzle factor’ is wildly overrated — it simply doesn’t predict repeat sales, share of wallet, or positive word-of-mouth.” Rather than try to dazzle customers, brands should focus on making their experience effortless across all channels.

The CES metric came from the need to measure the amount of effort customers had to exert in their interactions with a brand, from finding what they need, to adding a product to a shopping cart, to the actual purchasing process. By leveraging the CES metric, brands are able to decrease the effort a customer has to exert, which leads to recurring business and customer loyalty.

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Focus on Making It Easy To Do Business

Fred Reichheld, creator of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and author of the forthcoming book Winning On Purpose: The Unbeatable Strategy of Loving Customers, told CMSWire that “60 to 80% of customers who ultimately defect had said they were satisfied or even very satisfied the last time they participated in a survey.” Those brands that put too much emphasis on the Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) are putting themselves in a position where they may be spending too much time, effort, and money to exceed customer expectations at the cost of lost customers.

Research has shown that although having a high CSAT score is good, once it is consistently achieving 90-95%, any resources that are spent with a goal of increasing the CSAT score result in a decreasing ROI. At that point, even raising the CSAT score a couple of percentage points would take valuable time and effort, and the resulting change in customer loyalty or perception will be negligible at best.

Focusing instead on making the customer journey easier produces far greater results, and even increases the NPS, turning customers into brand advocates. Customer service is an area that can serve as a good example of what not to do. Customers who are contacting customer service are trying to solve a problem or answer a question. They do not want to be transferred from one agent to another, and they especially do not want to have to repeat information that they have just provided. They don’t want to have to go from a chat server to a website customer service form, only to have to pick up the phone and call customer service. This is the opposite of making it easy for customers.

Rathinam said that CES responses are based on analyzing the customer journey across every interaction with a brand, which makes it relatively easy to identify the pain points and reduce customer effort in a more targeted way.“This ultimately improves customer retention and engagement. An important factor to consider is that CES can vary greatly based on the situation a customer is experiencing (completing a purchase vs. requesting a refund, for example), making it more important to track by customer contact channel (phone, chat, etc.) for a complete picture.”

Learning Opportunities

Anticipate the Next Issue and Solve It Preemptively

Instead of reacting to a problem, brands need to take the attitude of preemptive customer service. They should be able to provide customers with what they need before the customers themselves know that they need it. Preemptive customer service is about anticipating your customer’s interactions and making them as effortless as possible.

If a brand sells a product or service that is likely to elicit a customer service call for product usage details, or if the customer is likely to come back to the website for additional instructions, the brand should proactively provide those details or instructions, saving the customer an extra step and reducing “calls per event.”

An example of this would be a brand that sells a product that must be registered online before it can be used. The customer goes to the brand’s website, only to be unable to find the location where the product can be registered. Now they must call customer service to ask where the page is for product registration, then go back to the website to register. By simply specifying the website address for product registration on the literature that comes with the product, they could have saved the customer several steps, much frustration, and valuable time.

Website analytics can also be used to gain an understanding of which areas on a website need improvement. If a customer has spent several minutes on the site’s main page, then uses the site’s search bar to find a certain product, that indicates that they were unable to determine where to find the product from the main page. A menu or page redesign may be necessary to improve the findability of the product, with the goal of making the process effortless for the customer.

Review Customer Feedback for Actionable Insights

Ruchika Sharma, customer marketing manager for Clever Tap, shared her views about how brands can use VoC metrics, such as the CES, to improve the customer experience. “The vision of developing a VoC program is identifying your customer’s pain points with reference to your services and then helping them to overcome those pain points in order to build an army of brand advocates.” Sharma said that brands have to put the knowledge gained from such metrics into action, and use them to identify and respond to the feedback they have obtained to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. The real challenge, she said, is turning negative feedback into positive results. “I believe the most important aspect starts after analyzing all the VoC metrics to identify those unhappy customers and coming up with a plan of action to cater to their challenges.”

Obtaining genuine feedback is always a challenge, but there are many ways brands can do so, such as social listening via a brand’s social media presence, online surveys, online communities, incentivized customer feedback, and simply requesting feedback at various points within the customer journey, i.e. after a customer’s shopping cart has been abandoned. By actively listening to what customers are saying in such feedback, brands can obtain actionable insights that can be used to simplify the customer’s shopping experience and eliminate any pain points that a future customer is likely to experience.

Interestingly, according to SurveyMonkey research, 85% of customers surveyed said that they are likely to provide feedback if they’ve had a good experience, while 81% indicated that they would provide it if they’ve had a bad experience. Contrarily, only 48% of those customers that had what they referred to as a “normal experience” would provide feedback.

Provide Self-Service Options

Customers often prefer to find solutions to their problems themselves rather than having to speak with a customer service agent. By providing them with ways to solve their problems, a brand is making their interaction easier and reducing the effort the customer has to make. Common methods that brands are offering to provide self-service options include:

  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) pages: FAQs are one of the first places that customers will visit in search of a solution to their problem. FAQs should include answers to the most common questions that customers have, including topics such as shipping, payments, and returns, and they should be updated regularly as customer service agents encounter repeated inquiries.
  • Knowledge Base: A knowledge base should be easily accessible, and it should include self-help articles, video tutorials, documentation, and references.
  • Community Discussion Forums: Moderated discussion forums where customers can talk to one another become a wealth of information for customers that wish to find solutions or answers. Customers enjoy sharing their knowledge with their peers, and as a forum grows, its community becomes brand advocates.
  • AI Chatbots: AI-based chatbots provide instant answers to commonly asked questions. Additionally, they are able to connect a customer’s name with their purchase history, customer service tickets, and other demographics that facilitate personalized communications with the customer.

Aside from making self-service options available, brands should ensure that other customer service options are easy to locate, and are available via all of their channels. The customer may feel the need to escalate the issue to a different channel, so don’t make it difficult for them to locate the customer service phone number and email address via a mobile app or website.

Final Thoughts

Convenience and ease of use are strong drivers of customer loyalty, increased sales, and brand advocacy. By focusing on making it easy to do business, anticipating the next issue and solving it proactively, reviewing customer feedback for actionable insights, and providing self-service options, brands can make the customer experience effortless, and in doing so, increase their CES and bottom-line.