Many businesses spend a lot of time and effort trying to satisfy and even delight their customers. Yet evidence suggests this might be the wrong approach. According to an extensive Harvard Business Review study, how easy it is to interact with a company can be a better predictor of customer loyalty than overall customer satisfaction. The study concluded that delighting customers doesn’t actually encourage loyalty – but reducing customer effort (in other words, how hard it is for the customer to get their problem solved) does build loyalty.
So if you aren’t already measuring your customer effort score (CES), you could be missing a trick.
What is CES and when should you use it?
CES is an indicator that measures how easy it is to interact with a company. It typically takes the form of a very quick one-question survey that asks customers how easy a given experience was for them.
It’s a bit like the net promoter score (NPS), which asks customers how likely they are to recommend your company to others. But instead, you ask them how easy it was to solve their problem, interact with the company, or do whatever it was they were trying to do.
The CES survey is most effective when it’s used after specific customer service touch points, such as speaking to someone in the call centre, or resolving an issue via an online helpdesk. Anytime a customer has contacted your company – online, by phone, email, whatever – you can ask them how easy it was or how much effort it required to resolve their issue or complete the task at hand.
In this 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.
CES is therefore a useful indicator to add to your suite of customer experience metrics.
How do you measure CES?
Let’s take the example of a helpdesk service ticket. Once the ticket is resolved, a brief survey would ask the customer a question like, ‘How easy was it to resolve your issue today?’ or ‘How easy was it to deal with the helpdesk today?’ And if you really want to drill down to individual performance, you could even ask something like, ‘How easy was it to deal with Chad today?’
The customer then rates the interaction on a scale from difficult (or, depending on the wording of your question, high effort) to easy (or low effort). This can be rated on a five-point scale: https://www.callcentrehelper.com/how-to-calculate-customer-effort-94671.htm
1: Very difficult
3: Neither difficult nor easy
5: Very easy
But the rating system is entirely flexible. Some companies go for a more detailed seven-point scale, while others offer three simple options only: easy, difficult or neither. You could even have the customer choose from smiley (or frowny) faces!
To calculate your CES, you simply subtract the percentage of people who gave a negative rating from the percentage of people who gave a positive rating (discounting the neutral answers). This gives you an easy-to-understand score that you can track and measure against in future.
What are the pros and cons of CES?
Let’s start with the positives. CES is an incredibly easy metric to deploy and track over time. And because it’s linked to very specific touch points, it’s a great way to collect real-time feedback and quickly identify service or product areas for improvement.
On the downside, because CES is so specific, it doesn’t give you an overall picture of your relationship with your customers. For example, perhaps the customer who just gave a negative rating usually has a great relationship with the company and is otherwise happy, but they just had one bad experience? That’s why CES should always be used alongside other customer experience metrics to gain a broader picture.
Also, CES doesn’t tell you why an interaction was particularly easy or difficult, which means it can be hard to identify what exactly you need to do differently in future. Luckily, a quick and simple tweak will help you overcome this pitfall…
Getting the most out of CES
I’ve found that CES works best when the survey is expanded ever so slightly to gather insights on why the customer felt the interaction was easy or not. So instead of asking just the one question (How easy was it to deal with our company today?), you ask three questions:
1. How easy was it to deal with our company today?
2. What was it that made it easy [or difficult or neither]?
3. What can we do to make it easier in future?
This three-question approach is the one I use when I work with businesses. But, if you wanted to, you could simplify it further down to two questions:
1. How easy was it to deal with our company today?
2. Tell us why you gave that rating
The first question allows you to calculate a CES score that can be tracked easily. And the follow-up questions (or question) allow the customer to give free-form answers that can be analysed to glean valuable insights about what makes your interactions easy (or not), and help you identify areas for improvement. Using what you learn, you can make changes that will boost your CES in future.
CES can be a powerful indicator of customer loyalty – which, after all, is a critical marker of success for any business. But with a small tweak to your CES survey, asking one or two follow-up questions, you can access much richer insights that will help you improve future customer interactions.
Where to go from here
If you would like to know more about KPIs and performance measurement, check out my articles on:
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Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.