Article | 10 min read

Customer Effort Score, explained (+5 ways to improve it)

Learn the best ways to make life easier for your customers by tracking your Customer Effort Score.

By Court Bishop, Contributing Writer

Published November 13, 2018
Last updated March 28, 2022

In today’s digital world of instant gratification, convenience is king. Movies, music, and meals are always just a couple of clicks away. Practically everything you used to go to a brick-and-mortar location for can now be placed in your online shopping cart.

As the buying experience becomes more effortless, the customer service experience has to keep up. After all, a consumer base that’s used to getting what it needs in real-time doesn’t want to listen to hours of hold music.

If you want to retain more customers, ensure you’re making life easier for them by tracking your Customer Effort Score—then find new ways to improve it.

What is Customer Effort Score (CES)?

Customer Effort Score (CES) measures the amount of effort a customer has to expend to get what they need from your company—whether that’s resolving an issue, finding an answer to a question, or completing a specific action. The ultimate goal of CES is to provide customers with a low-effort experience.

Companies determine their CES through surveys that typically ask buyers to rate the ease of their interaction on a scale of “very easy” to “very difficult.” A high CES indicates low customer effort or mostly easy interactions. A low CES score indicates high customer effort and, most likely, a lot of unhappy customers.

Why Customer Effort Score matters

CES becomes powerful with context. By tracking the metric across support channels and interactions, you and your team can determine which experiences are seamless and which are causing friction.

Your CES may suggest that the majority of your customers struggle with one action but not others. You might discover that customers find it “very easy” to reach your contact center by phone but “somewhat difficult” to navigate the self-service options. This information can help you make the necessary adjustments to improve customer loyalty and retention.

What are Customer Effort Score surveys?

Customer Effort Score surveys are short questionnaires sent to current customers to gauge how easy or difficult it was for them to complete a specific task. There are typically three types of CES surveys companies use:

  • A 0–10 scale (where 0 equals “very difficult,” and 10 equals “very easy)” or a Likert scale of five to seven choices ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”
  • A straightforward agree/disagree questionnaire
  • A simple questionnaire with an emoji or emoticon rating system 😃 / 😐 / 🙁

The calculations for the scale surveys differ from the agree/disagree and emoji/emoticon surveys (more on this later).

Keep in mind that CES isn’t the only way to gauge customer effort. Other customer service metrics you should monitor include customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score® (NPS).

When to use Customer Effort Score surveys

There are three scenarios in which it’s particularly beneficial for teams to calculate and track CES scores:

  1. Directly after a customer’s interaction with your support team. This will allow you to assess whether agents are making it easy for customers to solve their problems.
  2. To supplement your product team’s user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) testing. CES will provide this team with feedback about how simple it is for customers to navigate your product.
  3. When a customer interaction (e.g., downloading a white paper) leads directly to a purchase or subscription.

Regularly sending CES surveys will allow you to identify difficult aspects of the customer experience that should be improved.

How to create a CES survey

Collect customer feedback via a short-and-sweet CES survey soon after an interaction. Here are a few examples of Customer Effort Score questions to include in a survey:

  • On a scale of [0–10], how easy was it for you to resolve your issue?
  • [Name of your business] was able to fix my problem quickly and accurately.
  • How much effort did you put in to find the answer to your question?
  • On a scale of [0–5], how simple was it for you to [request a demo]?

With Zendesk, you can use app integrations to trigger a survey immediately after specific customer interactions—like a ticket update or issue resolution.

If your CRM doesn’t have this built-in functionality, there are several free tools you can use to create and send customer effort surveys. Both Typeform and Survicate have CES survey templates you can customize and use to collect customer effort data. You could even use Google Forms to build a CES survey.

Whatever tool or template you use, always include an open-ended question so your customers can provide valuable feedback to your teams.

CES survey examples

Get inspiration for your own CES survey with these great examples.

customer effort score

customer effort score

customer effort score

Image source: Typeform

customer effort score

customer effort score

customer effort score

Image source: Survicate

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

Customer Effort Score calculation

Once you receive the CES survey results, it’s time to calculate your Customer Effort Score. If you sent a 10-point scale or a Likert scale survey, use this CES formula to find your score:

Customer Effort Score formula

Sum of CES scores ÷ Number of survey responses = CES

If you’re using an agree/disagree scale, subtract the percentage of negative responses from the percentage of positive responses to determine your CES.

Percentage of positive responses – Percentage of negative responses = CES

If you’re using an emoticon/emoji scale, you’ll also subtract the percentage of negative responses from the percentage of positive responses to calculate your CES. (Ignore neutral answers.)

Percentage of positive responses – Percentage of negative responses = CES

Say you send out a survey, and 300 respondents complete it. Of these responses, 250 of them are positive, and 50 are negative. First, you’ll determine the percentages of each type of response:

  • [(250 ÷ 300) x 100 ] x 100 = 83.33% positive
  • [(50 ÷ 300) x 100] x 100 = 16.66% negative
  • Now, find your CES by subtracting the negative percentage from the positive percentage:

  • 83.33 – 16.66 = 66.67

The higher the CES, the easier it is for your customers to get what they want and need from your company. When the customer experience is effortless, buyers are more likely to stick around. So, a good Customer Effort Score can help reduce churn, too.

What is a good Customer Effort Score?

It’s critical to remember that a high CES is a good CES. But also bear in mind that there isn’t an established benchmark or industry standard for CES. You’re only competing against your own previous scores. Regardless, CES scores are important customer satisfaction metrics to track regularly.

If your CES is lower than you’d like it to be and isn’t increasing over time, you and your support team should focus your internal efforts on answering the following questions:

  • How many different places did your customers have to go to find an answer?
  • Was the issue resolved after one ticket? Or did the customer need to reach out again about a similar or related issue afterward?
  • How long did it take to go through each touchpoint of the customer journey to resolution?
  • Were there processes or obstacles that got in the way of resolving the issue?
  • What were the resources, workflows, or skills that enabled a quicker resolution?
  • Do your agents have the resources they need to provide accurate solutions?
  • How are you currently tracking and implementing improvements based on customer and agent feedback?

By addressing these questions and getting ahead of any issues, you’ll have a jump-start on raising your CES.

5 ways to improve your Customer Effort Score

From overhauling workflows to providing additional customer service training, there are various ways to boost buyer satisfaction and reduce customer effort.

1. Give agents the tools they need to delight customers

Create an effortless experience for your agents so they can offer the same to your customers. Providing your team with a strong tech stack will help make this possible.

Zendesk, for example, allows agents to create prewritten responses to common support inquiries. These easy-to-use macros can be deployed with just one click, ensuring fast customer responses.

Your team should also have an internal knowledge management system so they can quickly look up information and provide solutions. Zendesk’s Knowledge Capture app enables agents to search for knowledge base articles in a ticket view and suggests articles based on the language of the ticket.

customer effort score

The AI-powered Knowledge Capture app surfaces help center articles that agents can easily insert into ticket responses.

Once you adopt support tools, collect and act on your agents’ feedback about potential improvements that could empower them to be more helpful to customers.

2. Practice solution-oriented support training

Regularly review examples of interactions as a team and see if you can collectively spot opportunities to lower customer effort. Call listening, for instance, is a good way to coach phone support agents. Recorded calls can also be used as examples for additional training. If agents feel uncomfortable sharing their calls, consider conducting this coaching one-on-one.

Here are a few other training tactics that could help improve CES:

  • Ensure agents are familiar with your products and services. Consumers don’t like being transferred from agent to agent, and they certainly don’t like waiting. So, it’s never a good strategy to put a customer on hold while your agent finds a more knowledgeable team member who can answer questions about your company’s offerings.
  • Give agents the authority and autonomy to solve customer issues. If support agents must consistently ask for permission to make decisions that will solve customer issues, it will cause bottlenecks and delays in the resolution process.
  • Empower agents with soft skills. Customers want to interact with friendly, supportive agents who will listen to them, solve their problems, and communicate effectively. Make sure your teams are practicing these soft skills, or risk decreasing your CES.

3. Offer self-service options

Are your agents often spending time working on password resets and answering basic invoice questions? Use AI-powered chatbots to handle common support requests instead.

Bots can answer most simple questions instantly, making interactions faster and more convenient for your customers. They also free up your support team—especially when combined with other self-service resources such as FAQ pages and knowledge bases—to assist customers with more complex issues.

By reducing wait times and providing ample resources for customers to find solutions on their own, you’re eliminating unnecessary friction and empowering your buyers to get the solutions they need.

4. Implement an omnichannel support strategy

Today’s consumers desire omnichannel customer service: the ability to seamlessly move conversations from one support channel to another. Delivering this type of experience is critical to lowering customer effort and increasing retention.

The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022 found that 91 percent of customers will spend more with companies that offer their preferred option to reach customer service. Customers are also increasingly opting for social messaging apps when connecting with companies. Support inquiries via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and regional favorites like WeChat and LINE jumped 36 percent in 2021—higher than any other communication channel.

Zendesk’s unified agent workspace provides your team with a single resource to access every customer ticket and every communication channel. Agents can easily toggle between these tickets and channels, so relevant context is never lost. When agents have all customer information readily available in one workspace, it makes it easier (and faster) for them to take care of customer issues.

5. Dive into customer data

Evaluate your customers’ feedback so you can better understand the reasoning behind their CES rating. If needed, follow up with buyers to ask about the difficulties they experienced when using your product or service.

Segment your CES data to identify areas for improvement, too. For example, it’s a good idea to compare the CES for each customer service channel. If customers find it “very easy” to get answers by calling customer service but find it “difficult” to use your help desk, it’s clear which channel you need to focus on.

You can also categorize your support requests by task, like “Account Creation” or “Shopping Cart.” If a task’s CES indicates that it was high-effort, analyze customers’ open-ended survey responses to determine where a roadblock may have occurred.

Reducing agent effort also reduces customer effort

There’s a direct connection between agent effort and Customer Effort Score. Many of the tools that make life easier for your support agents—such as macros, self-service options, and unified workspaces—also make life easier for your buyers. When agents are empowered to resolve tickets quickly and conveniently, it’s the customers who reap the rewards.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

How to structure your customer service department

Learn more about the key steps for structuring your customer service team with this free guide.

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