Understanding your customer effort score

Why CES matters to your customers and your business

Consumers are notoriously fickle, taking off when a competitor promises lower prices or a better experience. How can companies hold on to them? By making things easy. Knowing how to do that starts with measuring customer effort score, a key metric in creating a successful customer-experience strategy.

The customer effort score (CES) is designed to measure how easy or difficult it is to do business with a company, whether it’s getting information, interacting with products, or resolving problems. Using consumer surveys, a CES can indicate the amount of time, physical work, mental energy, and resources a customer spends completing a transaction with the company.

CES insights help companies identify and address the areas in customer experience that can lead to problems.

Customer effort is seen as a strong indicator of overall satisfaction and loyalty; the less friction in a consumer’s interaction with a brand, the more satisfied and loyal that customer will be. This lesson is not new but it is powerful. An analysis by the Corporate Executive Board in 2010 asserted that when companies focused on reducing customer effort instead of emphasizing “delight,” customer service costs and attrition rates declined.

CES complements other metrics for gaining insight into customer experience. The better known net promoter score (NPS) asks how likely customers are to recommend a business to others, while customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys ask customers how happy they are with a particular product or service. CES focuses on how easy or difficult their experience has been.

Among the three, CES is effective at measuring loyalty over time but may be hurt by a single bad experience. NPS can indicate when over the long term those experiences have been overall positive. CSAT is most concerned with the short-term relationship and is less effective at assessing long-lasting brand loyalty. Used together, these tools can provide organizations with a better understanding of their customers, and the knowledge can be leveraged to create better experiences.

CES surveys can provide actionable data about the aggravations that cause customers to work too hard to complete a transaction. To get the most useful information, the surveys should include open-response questions designed to let customers fill in the blanks rather than simply asking them to rate their experience on pre-set scales.

Lower CES scores are best, because they indicate that interactions require less effort by the customer. Higher scores generally indicate greater length and complexity: long wait times, complicated phone menus, confusing customer-service systems, or multiple steps to speak with someone from the organization. Unhelpful chatbots are also contributors to high CES.

Once a CES identifies specific problem areas, there are a few common solutions for improving the overall customer experience:

1. Take advantage of self-service applications

Chatbots, FAQs, and other self-service tools can be especially helpful in making it easier for customers to resolve their problems. Not only do they free customer-service staff to handle more difficult issues, they empower customers to find information most relevant to them, on their schedules, and in their preferred ways.

2. Give customers multiple pathways

Customers like to have a variety of ways to get a problem solved. Sometimes an FAQ or an article in a knowledge base is sufficient, while other times a chabot is more useful. Some prefer to speak with someone by phone. By providing multiple in-roads to connect with the brand, organizations can better support the preferences of their customers and make interactions easier.

3. Remove friction in purchasing

Test the purchase path and identify areas that could slow down progress. Can customers easily save items and retrieve them from their cart? Are there options for payment types? And, finally, is the purchase path a smooth process across all devices? The less work customers have to do to ultimately make a purchase, the lower the customer effort score.

4. Reduce wait times

Few things aggravate customers more than having to wait on hold or go through lengthy phone menus before they can contact a live person. Depending on the specific pain points identified by a CES survey, improvements may require hiring additional customer-support staff, retooling phone menus, or redesigning the self-service portions of a website.

Reducing the time it takes for customers to resolve a problem or answer a question will help lower customer effort scores.

5. Use data to anticipate customer needs

One of the best ways to drive low customer effort scores comes from anticipating what the customer needs next. Chatbots, purchase history, greater trends, and customer service provide insight into behavior that can be used to improve the purchasing path by recommending products, providing more detailed information about a customer inquiry, or suggesting a portion of the site a customer may like to explore.

Pain points in the customer experience can be hard on both the consumer and the company. CES helps to identify these areas in need of improvement and lays the groundwork to create a better customer experience.

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