Customer Effort Score: What You Need To Know

Written by Kayla Brehm | Aug 17, 2015 12:00:12 PM

What is it?

A metric system created by CEB, a best practice insight and technology company, Customer Effort Score (CES) measures how much effort a customer personally has to put forth to resolve a ticket. CEB argues that the lower the effort a customer puts in to each issue, the higher the customer loyalty.

For example, I recently purchased a backpack online, but noticed that I was charged twice. After calling customer service, I was immediately connected with a representative who resolved my issue right away. I put in very little personal effort to get my problem resolved, and because of such, I’ll be coming back.

Unfortunately, not all customer service interactions are that easy. Think about the last time you called your cable or internet provider. Most issues aren’t resolved after one interaction and that’s a large reason why customers start looking to competitors.

CES is structured to help identify these pain points and get your front line in shape. Here’s how.


How does it work?

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

Now in its second phase, CES (v2.0), asks customers to take a look back on their interaction and rate the above statement on a scale of 1-7. Because it examines a specific transaction, it’s best to include it in a survey or email after each conversation.

96% of customers reporting high-effort experiences become more disloyal in the future, compared with only 9% of those with low-effort experiences (CEB). That’s a significant difference and it shows that the easier you make the customer experience, the greater the chance that they'll return.

Using my example above, I would rate my experience at the backpack company a 6. Yes, I had to call in to get my issue resolved, but it was done so quickly and efficiently, with very little effort on my part.


Why effort matters.

It’s simple: your customers are your business.

Customer retention is essential for any company to survive. Customer loyalty, and in turn, customer service, plays a key part in making that happen. According to Kissmetrics, 71% of customers have ended their relationship with a company due to poor customer service.

Customer Effort Score is a great way for companies to stay on top how they’re doing with each customer service transaction.

Let’s revisit my previous interaction with the backpack company. If during my phone call I was transferred to another agent and had to explain my issue again, or dial in to another department, I would have had a significantly different experience. Customers want to know that they’re being taken care of and that they’re in good hands.

 The good?


CES puts a spotlight on system flaws and tells you where your team needs to improve. If each survey is filled out post-transaction, managers can narrow down what to work on. Are certain issues harder to handle than others? Do your agents need more training? CES can help improve your frontline.

Customer Loyalty

Customer retention is essential for your business’s survival and growth.

Consider the following:

  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60–70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% (Jill Griffin)
  • Acquiring new customers can cost 6-7 times more than retaining existing ones (Bain and Co)
  • “94% of customers who had low-effort experiences reported that they would repurchase from the company, while only 4% of customers experiencing high effort interactions reported an intent to repurchase” (The Effortless Experience)
  • 88% of customers with low-effort experiences reported an intent to increase spending with the company, compared to just 4% of those with high-effort experiences (The Effortless Experience)

Customer loyalty is important. Identifying how much work you're making your customers do throughout the customer service process can shed light on how you’re team is really doing. You want to create promoters!

The bad?

Versions 1 & 2

It’s new, and like any new product or system, it’s not perfect. CEB outlines their struggle with the first version of the Customer Effort Score in The Effortless Experience. The first iteration asked customers “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to get your issue resolved.” The book identifies the flaws and inconsistencies developed from the first version, and their path to improvement and Version 2.

“Some customers misinterpreted the CES question as asking not how difficult their resolution experience was, but how hard they personally tried to resolve the issue on their own. Some customers felt the question had accusatory tone...The word “effort can also prove hard to translate for companies that serve non-English-speaking customers.” (Effortless Experience,158)

Rating System

Most people have trouble with numerical-based rating systems because of the ambiguity of their meaning. What low effort means for one person may not be the same for someone else. I may give out a 5 for an okay service, but others will give a 7.


Most companies love customer satisfaction surveys because it gives them insight into how they stack up against others in the industry. NPS, for example, has lots of benchmarking reports available for companies to use.

CES is still the new kid on the block, so benchmarking isn’t quite there yet. CEB recommends looking at the distribution of scores, rather than the average.

“The better way to examine CES is against a normal distribution-- in other words, some (10-20 percent) interactions score as very high- or very low-effort, but most should be somewhere around the mean. Looking at the distribution to understand areas of opportunity can be far more instructive than just considering how your average CES compares to others in your space.” (Effortless Experience, 160)


Now that you’re a master at CES, it’s important to understand that it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for other metrics out there. At its most basic level, CES examines the service experience, instead of the overall relationship. CEB argues that the service experience is the strongest indicator of customer loyalty.

  1. Net Promoter Score (NPS)- overall feeling of a customer towards a company
  2. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)- Satisfaction of a customer towards a company or specific product
  3. CES- personal effort towards a specific transaction


Big Picture


How to use

To get the most complete understanding of the customer’s experience, try pairing CES with either NPS or CSAT. In doing so, you’ll be able study the customer’s overall feeling towards the company alongside their experience at a service level.

Insert the CES question post-chat or even in an email following a customer service ticket.


Use CES to improve CX

Improvement at an organizational level takes time. If, after using CES, you notice that you need to change a step in your system, make sure your whole team knows WHY. Hold a team meeting and have everyone share their own personal stories involving customer experience.

Did they have a really great experience once? What about a bad one? Why?

The Effortless Experience also notes that teams have had success with keeping notebooks of good and bad tickets. What did they do to reduce customer effort?