Customer Effort Score, explained (+ 10 tips for increasing it)

Learn the best ways to make life easier for your customers.

By Patrick Grieve, Contributing Writer

Published November 13, 2018
Last updated August 30, 2021

In a digital world of instant gratification, convenience is king. Movies, music, and meals are always just a couple of clicks away on your phone. In fact, practically everything you used to go to the store for can now be placed in an 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 having everything at the touch of a button lacks the patience 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—and then find new ways to improve it.

What is Customer Effort Score?

  • Customer Effort Score definition: A customer service metric that gauges how much effort a customer must expend to resolve an issue, get an answer, or complete a task.

A Customer Effort Score (CES) is a way of measuring how easy it is for customers to get what they need from your business. That could mean anything from returning an item, to updating their shipping information, to troubleshooting a product issue.

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 your Customer Effort Score matters

Common sense dictates that customers like it when you make things easy for them. But what you may not realize is just how much they like it—particularly when compared to other factors.

In 2010, the Harvard Business Review published the counter-intuitive article “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers". The piece showed that reducing customer effort was a higher indicator of customer loyalty than improving delight. HBR argued that businesses should focus on making it simpler for customers to resolve their problems, which would reduce customer turnover (as well as customer service costs).

But a lot of companies focus most on customer delight because they’re committed to always going “above and beyond.” While that’s certainly an admirable goal, in reality, customers are more likely to punish a business for a frustrating experience than to reward them for a positive one.

Think about it: how often do people vow to never fly a particular airline again after their luggage got lost and was nearly impossible to track down? Versus, how often do people promise to only fly a certain airline because a flight attendant gave them an extra warm towel? Customer loyalty is easier to break than create, and just one difficult, high-effort experience can be the breaking point.

Your Customer Effort Score is a way of measuring how close your customers are to that breaking point. The more you can decrease your Customer Effort Score, the more you can reduce churn.

How to measure your Customer Effort Score

Effortless customer experiences require elbow grease to get right. Typically, you’ll start by collecting customer feedback via a survey sent out after a customer support interaction. Make it short and sweet; simply ask the customer how easy it was for them to resolve their issue (and include space for any optional comments).

To get your overall CES, calculate the average number based on all your survey responses.

Of course, you’ll also need to segment your CES data to identify areas for improvement. 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.

How to improve your Customer Effort Score

Continually tracking and segmenting your CES will allow you to identify difficult aspects of the customer experience that should be improved. But in a broader sense, increasing your CES means decreasing effort across the board, and there are multiple ways to do that.

When trying to reduce customer effort, you and your customer support team should focus on these questions:

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

Also remember that your CES isn’t the only way to gauge customer effort. Some other customer service metrics you should monitor include:

  • Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): A customer satisfaction score is measured through a feedback survey. It asks customers a single question, such as: “How would you rate the support you received?” Customers can select a “Good, I’m satisfied” or a “Bad, I’m dissatisfied” option. CSAT is similar to CES, but rather than ranking customer effort on a five-point scale, it simply measures the ratio of positive to negative experiences. Some CSAT surveys just ask customers to click on a thumbs-up or thumbs-down button.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): This metric is also measured via a feedback survey, which asks customers how likely they are to recommend your business to a friend or colleague. Like customer effort surveys, most NPS surveys use a five-point scale, ranging from “very likely” to “very unlikely.”
  • Number of touches between your customers and your agents
  • Number of times the average customer contacts your team
  • Ticket handle time
  • Requester wait time
  • First reply time

How do your NPS and CSAT scores compare to industry standards? Are your average ticket handle times and first reply times trending down? Asking these questions will help you keep a pulse on whether you’re providing a more effortless customer experience.

Build a picture of where you are now so you can set a realistic CES target. Continually gauging your “before and after” Customer Effort Scores will allow you to effectively determine whether the changes you make have an actual impact on customer effort.

Keep in mind that there might be some noise in the data, though. For example, your customers may be able to get quick answers but not quick resolutions. They may be writing in to ask for many pieces of information that could’ve been given to them all at once had the agent taken the time to understand what they were trying to accomplish and anticipate what they might need.

There are also outdated “solutions” that need to be reevaluated or stripped away. Scripts meant to increase satisfaction and reduce handle time often get in an agent’s way. Instead of actively listening to each customer and offering straightforward solutions, agents are often asked to go through a series of stale lines. As a result, customers end up feeling as though they were lectured to rather than helped, and Customer Effort Score suffers.

If you have the means, you may want to try examining a few randomly selected tickets, call logs, or chats each month. Having some qualitative data to evaluate may help you cut through the noise. You may even want to roll out a formal quality assurance team, so you can keep close tabs on customer effort and experience.

10 tips for increasing your Customer Effort Score

From introducing new channels and optimizing existing ones to overhauling workflows and providing additional training, there are all kinds of ways to elevate CX and reduce customer effort.

  1. Support your support team

    Create an effortless experience for your agents so they can offer the same for your customers.

    For example, Zendesk allows agents to create prewritten responses to common support inquiries. These easy-to-use macros can be deployed with just one click. Macros reduce customer effort by guaranteeing a speedy, comprehensive response and reduce agent effort by streamlining the workflow.

    Collect feedback from your team about potential improvements that could help them help customers—and then act on that input.

  2. Offer self-service options

    Are you surfacing relevant information along the customer journey that anticipates customers’ needs? Or are your agents spending time working on password resets and answering invoice questions?

    Many common support requests can be handled by chatbots, which use conversational AI to engage with customers. Bots can answer questions instantly, making the interaction faster and more convenient for your customer. The use of bots also frees up your support team—especially when combined with other self-service resources, such as FAQ pages and knowledge bases—giving agents more time to assist customers with more complex issues.

  3. Make relevant resources more accessible for agents

    Your team should be able to readily look up information in an internal knowledge base so they can quickly offer solutions. A tool like Zendesk’s Knowledge Capture App allows agents to search for knowledge base or help center articles in a ticket view, and suggests articles based on the brand and language of the ticket. This enables your support team to swiftly share answers to questions and solve tickets faster.

  4. Develop solution-oriented and proactive support training

    If you want customers to advocate on your behalf, you should encourage your agents to advocate for customers. Orientation sessions, ongoing training opportunities, and your company culture should empower and reward agents who push for improvements. Let everyone on your team know your Customer Effort Score goal and give them incentives to help you reach it.

  5. Continue training

    Regularly review examples of interactions as a team and see if you can collectively spot opportunities to lower customer effort. Call listening, for example, is a good way to coach phone support agents, and recorded calls can be used as examples for additional training.

  6. Keep tabs on what people are saying

    When people talk about their experiences with your support team, are they emphasizing how easy it was to get an answer? Or are they simply saying they were satisfied? A good CSAT score, in and of itself, will not necessarily translate to a lower CES.

    That’s why it’s a good idea to include a space for additional comments in every customer survey. It’s also helpful to seek out customer reviews of your company and try to identify common complaints.

  7. Add more convenient, conversational channels

    The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021 found that messaging experienced the biggest surge in popularity of any customer service channel in 2020. More customers are choosing to message support through a company’s own website and app or through social messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. It makes sense from a customer effort perspective, as consumers can message a brand from anywhere at any time, and there’s no risk of being “put on hold.”

  8. Implement an omnichannel strategy

    Are your agents prepared to take a call, chat, or email whenever your customers reach out? Are they able to switch channels when the customer asks to continue the conversation elsewhere? The ability to move interactions seamlessly from one channel to another is what defines a truly omnichannel experience , and it’s critical to providing effortless CX.

    Zendesk has a unified agent workspace that gives agents a single place to access every ticket and every channel—and easily switch between them. For instance, if a customer is chatting with support and asks for a copy of their receipt, the agent can use a drop-down menu to transition from chat to email and back again. Relevant context is never lost, making it a better experience for customers and agents alike.

  9. Mine the data in your support requests

    Examining data will help you discover high-effort areas. Start by categorizing your support requests into specific product areas (like “Account Creation” or “Shopping Cart”). Then, you can analyze requests in those product areas to see, for example, how many tickets are being generated, the average ticket resolution time, and the average CSAT or Customer Effort Score for each one.

    Once you’ve identified the problem areas, be sure to share that information with the appropriate teams. A lot of those details will help your product, design, and development teams make improvements to your products.

  10. Have fun!

    How you’re doing something matters as much as what you’re doing. If you and your team aren’t enjoying your work, you can bet that it’ll show. We all know that when we’re having a good time, we feel more motivated, creative, and willing to work to get people what they need.

Increase your Customer Effort Score by reducing agent effort

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

The essential customer service metrics

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