Customer Effort Score (CES) is a metric used to determine the amount of effort it takes customers to accomplish a specific task within a brand experience. It is one of several customer experience (CX) metrics that place hard values on a brand’s CX and often works in conjunction with metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Churn Rate (CCR) and Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT).

“Customers get frustrated when something they want to do with your brand requires a lot of effort, or unexpected effort for them,” said Jeannie Walters, chief customer experience investigator at Experience Investigators. “The Customer Effort Score (CES) is a way to monitor how much effort customers feel is required of them to accomplish something with a brand.”

Benefits of Customer Effort Score

“We live in a fast-paced, technologically dependent society that has a short attention span,” said Devin Schumacher, founder of digital marketing agency SERP. “Unless your business provides immediate benefits, you will not attract customers. Now, this is where you start measuring your CES. 

The Customer Effort Score can help brands:

  • Improve brand experiences for customers and prospects
  • Determine gaps in customer experience programs
  • Establish new methods for customers to accomplish tasks
  • Demonstrate willingness to improve customer experiences
  • Compare CX efforts to competitors

The customer shopping experience is subjective, but standardized metrics like the CES quantify the variables involved. Remember, creating practical, effective plans requires fact-based data. Drawing conclusions based solely on what you think your customers feel yields negligible, insignificant results.”

By asking users about their experience through the lens of effort, a business can understand just how easy it is for a customer to make a purchase, ask a question or troubleshoot a problem, according to Daniel Rodriguez, chief marketing officer of CX platform Simplr. “In the era of the ‘NOW Customer,’ website visitors expect quick resolutions or risk jumping to a competitor’s site,” Rodriguez zaid. “Measuring customer effort is an important way to ensure today’s consumers are having the best experience possible.”

Related Article: Why You Should Care About the Customer Effort Score

How Does Customer Effort Score Work?

The CES survey typically asks customers to agree or disagree with the statement: “[Insert your company] made it easy for me to handle my issue.” Walters said brands can also include an open-ended follow-up question that asks for feedback on the response.

Ultimately, respondents will have a choice to rank their effort based on a score: they strongly disagree with the statement (score of 1) or they strongly agree (score of 7).

To determine the score, take the average of all responses. Use the total sum of responses, then divide by the total number of survey respondents:

The equation: (Total sum of responses) / (Number of responses) = CES score.

“CES is a good tool to prioritize customer journey improvements or where to invest resources to improve specific touch points,” Walters said. “For example, you might have a CES survey at key points along the journey... If payment process is showing a low CES, that is an important thing to know. It's also good for self-service options like finding answers in a knowledge base or solving an issue.”

What's a Good Customer Effort Score?

Anything over a five is considered "good," but this can vary from industry to industry, according to Walters. The best way to determine what a good Customer Effort Score is for your organization and to start measuring progress, is to compare your Customer Effort Score calculation against your scores over time (by quarter or semi-annually), according to Rodriguez. An increase of at least 10% is an indication of progress in the right direction. Conversely, a significant decrease in CES is an indication of negative customer experiences or unmet customer expectations.

Related Article: 4 Ways to Improve Your Customer Effort Score

Customer Effort Score Benchmarks

Gartner's “How to Measure and Interpret Customer Effort Score (CES)” is a good foundational piece of research that includes information on Customer Effort Score benchmarks. It does sit behind a paywall. It's an overview on measuring and interpreting customer effort scores and its impact on customer loyalty. This report also contains benchmark data for customer effort scores in select industries.

Learning Opportunities

The early days of Customer Effort Score implementations trace back last decade to a company called CEB Insights, which was acquired by Gartner. Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi, then of CEB Insights, authored among literature and research the Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty.

Can Customer Effort Score Build Better Customer Experiences?

Think about what customers say they want: ease and convenience is high on the list, according to Walters. Watching for where customers are reporting additional or unexpected effort is a way to track where customers are having moments of frustration, or unexpected delight, she said.

Measuring CES across all touch points in the customer journey enables CX leaders to identify high-effort areas and actions to optimize the customer experience and generate more revenue for the business, according to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez noted some ways a company can use CES to build better customer experiences:

  • Purchasing and sales: You can apply CES to identify high-effort interactions along the buyer journey and use the CES survey insights to optimize the purchase process and make a sale easier.
  • Automation: CES lets you know if your automation is helping or hurting your business. Chatbots are notoriously frustrating and have been linked to high-effort, low-satisfaction pre-sale experiences. If your chatbots are consistently generating poor CES, it’s an excellent opportunity to rework your automation strategy in the best interest of the customer. For example, some businesses find that automation thrives in the post-sale space (order status, return policy, etc) where one-click answers make the experience much easier; while humans (or human-assisted AI) can help make the high-converting interactions much smoother.
  • Marketing. Marketing is another area that can be improved through CES survey insights. A customer’s effort, more specifically their perception of effort, is influenced by decisions further upstream, such as an impression from a marketing campaign. CES survey data can help uncover areas in pre-purchase where customers may feel overwhelmed, and work to simplify and streamline their marketing communications accordingly.

Customer Effort Score vs. Net Promoter Score

How do you compare Customer Effort Score to Net Promoter Score? NPS is a good metric for those long-term loyalty questions and relationships. CES is better as a point-of-interaction metric. “They both matter,” Walters said. “There is no one magic metric.”

CES is measured in a single touchpoint, and NPS is measured by the customer’s experience as a whole, including the product attributes, price, brand, and customer service altogether, according to Rodriguez. “Together,” he said, “Customer Effort Score and NPS can build a more complete view of customer sentiment.”

Closing the Loop With Customers

The Customer Effort Score has become more narrowly focused, which is good, according to Walters. Certain customer journeys are very complex, and customer experience is a long-term play. “That means,” she said, “it's hard to ask for CES for long-term relationship metrics. It's great for specific interaction points and that can lead to real actions that improve the experience.”

The CES is only good if it's used. That means if it's tracked, make sure there's a way to close the loop with the customer, take real actions and improve. “And also like anything, it's not magic,” Walters said. “Customer experience management and leadership requires reviewing measurements like CES and NPS to improve the customer experience, as well as listening to the feedback, understanding operational data and relying on a CX strategy to move a business forward. Tracking numbers is never enough.”

Use the Customer Effort Score in conjunction with other metrics like NPS and CSAT, Rodriguez added. Deploy CES after customer interactions or at specific touch points like a purchase or exchanges with customer service reps to understand how easy it was for the customer to engage with your business.

“Then use the CES results in combination with NPS and CSAT survey results,” he said, “to build a more complete view of the customer experience and how well you are managing expectations and making customer interactions easy.”