What is Customer Effort Score (CES) and how to Measure it?

Try to recall a recent interaction you had with customer service. Was it a better, more enjoyable experience than previous interactions? That’s the real crux of the question: what makes certain experiences better than others?

The customer effort score is most effective when it is analyzed after specific customer service touch points 

For many, it’s having their issues or questions resolved in a quick and hassle-free manner, and it’s easy to understand why. After all, nobody likes to waste time unnecessarily or become frustrated with the process of receiving an answer. So, if you’re measuring the success of a customer interaction, the ease of the experience may actually be more telling than the customer’s overall satisfaction. Customer satisfaction experts have addressed this idea with a new metric for customer satisfaction surveys: the customer effort score.

What is Customer Effort Score?

CES is an indicator that measures how easy it is to interact with an organization. It can be measured in the contact center with repeat call analysis or long handle time analysis, or measured in the customer journey with number of channel switches, long journeys, and journeys that pass through the contact center. All these analysis types can also be cross-checked with Sentiment Analysis to get a better idea of where customer emotion is high.

In that way, it’s a bit like the net promoter score (NPS), but it actually predicts of NPS because these analysis types can help build Net Promoters and prevent Net Detractors by driving customer satisfaction and lowered customer effort in real-time or near real-time. It is a fair conclusion that customers with negative sentiment scores on their interactions are not likely to recommend your organization, and analytics help to minimize the issues surrounding negative sentiment at a rapid pace.

The customer effort score is most effective when it is analyzed after specific customer service touch points, such as speaking to someone in the call center, or resolving an issue through a digital channel. Any time a customer has contacted your organization – online, by phone, email, whatever – you can analyze how easy it was or how much effort it required to resolve their issue or complete the task at hand.

That way, you can measure micro-touchpoints around the customer experience to determine how easy you’re making life for your customers. Based on what you find out, you can make changes that will make future interactions easier… and boost customer loyalty in the process.

Why It Matters

The idea behind the importance of the customer effort score is straightforward and uncomplicated: customers enjoy doing business with organizations that are easy to work with.

Great customer service is a big part of making business transactions easy. Just think about the last frustrating interaction you had with customer service. Was it very difficult to get clear answers and solutions? Were there long wait times involved? Did you have to send multiple messages to get your issue resolved? For customers having those experiences and spending so much time and effort dealing with an organization, they might think twice about doing business with them in the future.

The concept of customer effort gained attention when Harvard Business Review published their now-famous article, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers. In it, they explain that organizations should focus less on “exceeding expectations” and “delighting customers”, and more on resolving issues quickly and effectively:

“Two critical findings emerged that should affect every company’s customer service strategy. First, delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does. Second, acting deliberately on this insight can help improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and decrease customer churn.”

The article found the Customer Effort Score more accurately predicted customer loyalty than the standard Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT). Why? Because CSAT is often focused on single interactions, like a support call or live chat, and the specific aspects of that interaction, like how knowledgeable or friendly the agent was.

Just to be clear, these factors are important. Every customer service team should measure agent performance and monitor customer satisfaction by channel. But those metrics don’t tell the whole story.

Measuring Customer Effort

As the first customer effort metric to gain widespread attention, the Customer Effort Score made a strong case for industry adoption. But in practice, the advent of the CES has been more evolutionary than revolutionary in its impact upon customer experience management.

It the very beginning, CES was determined by survey questions like the following:

How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?”

1- Very Low

2- Low

3- Moderate

4- High

5- Very High

Take note of how the phrasing of the question implies that the onus of the outcome is the customer’s responsibility. This led to many organizations revising the phrasing and utilizing some variant of the following question:

How easy was it to get your query handled?”

The tendency amongst customer service providers was towards asking about the level of ease rather than the effort associated with transactions. They found that ease was preferred on the grounds of it providing results of superior accuracy and being more intuitive both to survey respondents and those utilizing the KPI within their organizations.

Then, the CEB Customer Contact Leadership Council also unveiled its own ease-based metric, branding it the “Customer Effort Score 2.0”:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

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

1- Strongly Disagree

2- Disagree

3- Somewhat Disagree

4- Neither Agree nor Disagree

5- Somewhat Agree

6- Agree

7- Strongly Agree

The CES 2.0 KPI then reports the percentage of customers that at least somewhat agreed with the statement. They make the case for this approach on the basis of statistical analysis that CES 2.0 is a stronger predictor of customer loyalty and is interpreted more consistently by respondents in different industries and in different languages, making it more robust in benchmarking exercises.

The 3 Best Times to Analyze CES

The problem with these CES surveys lies in the fact that most of the time, someone answering a survey falls in the extreme happy or extreme angry category, and response rates are nearly always low. There is never enough data or enough answers throughout the spectrum to truly and successfully measure every area where customer effort may be a concern.

One of the major benefits of using analytics to measure the Customer Effort Score is that it can be used to target user satisfaction with processes, people, or technology quickly and accurately across the entire spectrum of customer and agent interactions. Customer effort analysis might uncover problems with the digital journey where people are trying but unable to self-serve, or it could very well be high due to individuals being unable to assist them in the contact center.

CES is particularly useful for testing the effectiveness of your customer service. Customers who have frustrating or unhelpful customer service interactions are likely to take their business elsewhere. By following up directly after an interaction, you can find out if a customer experienced a difficult service phone call or chat. Many businesses today identify negative experiences in near real-time and have a Customer Loyalty and Retention team contact the customers back to make sure their issues are resolved.

NICE Nexidia Makes the Metrics Easy

Customer experience is a constantly moving target, which is why it’s important to continually measure your Customer Effort Score – and act on any negative feedback that comes your way. Keep an eye on any trends in the data, and consistently work to make the process easy.

CES is an extremely useful indicator to add to your suite of customer experience metrics, and the NICE Nexidia Customer Engagement Analytics platform is a simple way to integrate it. The platform combines structured and unstructured data across all customer touchpoints within an organization to provide a single solution that delivers unprecedented benefits for the customer experience as well as the entire business in real-time.

As the only company analyzing and correlating all levels of each customer engagement, NICE Nexidia brings a unique added value. It adds context to each interaction, allowing for a granular understanding of every element of the journey. NICE Nexidia’s interaction and journey analytics solutions drive customer retention and customer experience with tangible, measurable results. To learn more about these solutions, read our latest Sentiment Whitepaper that discusses the many ways sentiment can be used for improved customer satisfaction.

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