Customer Effort Score(tm) and NPS: Gangnam Style Metrics?

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Back in November, 2008 the Corporate Executive Board proclaimed the Customer Effort Score™ or CES to be “the best measure of customer loyalty.” CES is derived from a question asked of customers who have recently contacted a company’s call center or experienced some other specific transaction with that company. “How much effort did you personally have to put forth in order to handle your request?” the customer is asked, and his/her answer furnishes the basis of the CES score.

Five years later, the buzz around CES is starting to build.

Okay, call me a contrarian, but in my humble opinion, the CES is just the latest fad in customer experience and loyalty measurement (see Net Promoter Score® or NPS for an additional example of such faddish metrics). CES simply taps into the concept “ease of doing business” in the context of a specific transactional experience. Unsurprisingly, when my Maritz colleagues and I have had reason/opportunity to capture both perceived effort and perceived ease of doing business in the same customer survey, we’ve observed the correlation between the two measures to be very strong.



Firms measured “willingness to recommend” long before Fred Reichheld introduced NPS, yet Fred and his supporters would have us believe that they have given the world something truly new.

Not really.

The act of degrading a continuous measure of willingness to recommend into three ordered categories (two of which are used to create an NPS), clearly has created excitement in the customer experience and loyalty measurement community. But let’s make no mistake here: The intuitive appeal that has so many firms adopting NPS is completely attributable to the concept of “willingness to recommend.” A Net Promoter Score® introduces nothing new but a specific (and often problematic) transformation of a willingness to recommend measure. Otherwise, best keep moving, because there is nothing to see here.

As with NPS, the Customer Effort Score™ is just a specific manifestation of a concept that has been in play for a long time — namely, customer perceptions of how easy it is to do business with a firm. Asking a customer how many times s/he contacted a company to resolve a problem or complaint will yield another indication of how easy to do business with that company is. Ask the preceding question and a question about perceived effort, and you will get two measures that are very likely to be strongly and positively correlated. CES is the species — Ease of Doing Business is the genus. CES is focused on a specific transactional experience. Ease of Doing Business can be similarly focused, or it can be asked in a way that taps into a customer’s generalized or cumulative experience with a brand or firm.

Regardless of whether you measure effort or ease of doing business, at some point, you will need to drill down into the root causes of customer perceptions: What specific technologies, business processes and/or employee behaviors made doing business with the company easy or difficult? Without answers to the preceding question, a measure of effort (or ease of doing business) will not be very actionable. And if it does not drive actions that improve the customer experience, what is the point of capturing effort, or any other measure?

One-size-fits-all customer metrics rarely stay at the top of the charts for long. The Net Promoter Score® and Customer Effort Score™ eventually will go the way of the “Macarena” and “Gangnam Style,” and after they have jumped off their respective bandwagons, many current supporters of the NPS and CES likely will be chasing the “next big metric.”



Meanwhile, firms that are truly successful at measuring and improving customer experience and loyalty will select metrics that matter to their customers and in their markets. They will integrate these metrics with other customer and business data to get a clear picture of what is working well and what needs fixing. And they will act on the basis of this information, and use measurements as a means of gauging the impact of their actions. A Net Promoter Score® and/or Customer Effort Score™ may or may not be in play in such successful firms. A carefully crafted and disciplined approach to capturing and leveraging the voice of the customer most certainly will.

Let’s hear what you think.

7 COMMENTS

  1. I am not a big fan of NPS, and had this discussion a number of times on multiple forums, the latest is in my blog at: http://www.haimtoeg.com/?p=1087, however, I find their way of breaking down the respondents and calculating the index very useful and helps convey the information well.

    As a side note, the calculation of the index does take into account all three groups. The fact that the middle group is not explicitly part of the formula does not mean that it has no impact on the result, which I think is implied by this post.

  2. …was “…the inability to derive actionable data from the would recommend question even in the simplest of customer experiences, let alone in a complex, multi-faceted environment such as enterprise technology. Namely, NPS may be a leading indicator to corporate performance, but it certainly is a trailing indicator to many decisions and actions which need to be monitored and tweaked to produce the desired results.” If the ultimate test of NPS’s value is its ability to help guide improved process and communication elements for brands, products, and companies, then, as you note, it does not meet this standard.

  3. Thanks for the comment. If you can’t obtain actionable data from NPS then it becomes a vanity metric intended to show how well we are doing and how much better we are than the competition.

  4. Great points that probably apply to almost all the “new” metrics. The problem I see in measuring customer perceptions, is the assumption, mostly unproved, that customer BEHAVIOR an be accurately be measured and/or predicted by ASKING customers about their perceptions, or even self-reporting about their supposed behaviors.

    My cynical self says that the new buzzwords and indexes capitalize on the credibility of numbers, and that the only actionable results end up putting cash in the pockets of those that invent the terms.

  5. …there are performance frameworks which yield metrics, such as customer advocacy and customer-brand bonding, that have been absolutely proven – through professional studies in industries around the world – to be more closely tied to customer behavior, and more actionable at granular touchpoint and brand positioning/messaging levels, when compared to NPS, CES, satisfaction, or traditional retention and loyalty measurement.

  6. Good point Michael…the only thing I’d add is that the “best” metric frequently varies by market type, industry, and customer type…which is why I encourage organizations to take the time to identify the one that is right for them…along these lines, I find it ironic and a little humorous that Fred Reichheld says “I don’t want to overstate the case. Though the ‘would recommend’ is far and away the best predictor of customer behavior across a range of industries, it’s not the best for every industry…So companies need to do their homework. They need to validate the link between survey answers and behavior for their own business and their own customers” (The Ultimate Question, p.29)….somehow, the preceding comment got lost in all the NPS frenzy…

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