How Three CX Leaders are using Customer Effort Score to Improve Retention

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Customer Effort Score has gained ground as a CX metric for good reason. Research indicates that when evaluating customer interactions with a product or service, Customer Effort Score, more than CSAT, or even NPS, is the strongest predictor of customer loyalty. The CES metric is a popular tool for improving support interactions, but CX leaders are finding new applications–such as improving onboarding in the SaaS sector and driving customer-centric culture in healthcare.

Why Focus on Effort?

In the book The Effortless Experience, Matt Dixon and his coauthors lay out research results that are surprising. For starters, companies tend to overestimate the value of “wowing” customers.

Research showed that exceeding customer expectations delivers only marginal benefit to retention. In fact, “meeting expectations” has about the same economic value as “exceeding expectations.“ Whoa!



Dixon argues that rather than trying to boost loyalty through customer delight, companies should focus on creating what customers really want: an effortless experience. This is the most effective way to mitigate churn or “disloyalty.”

Of course, effort isn’t inherently a bad thing. For example, IKEA customers are willing to trade a high-friction assembly experience for low prices on functional, contemporary furniture.

Nonetheless, companies that ignore points of unnecessary friction do so at their peril. If you’ve ever had to….

– Repeat your account number during a customer support call
– Spend hours at a dealership negotiating the price of a new car
– Wave down a taxi during a snowstorm

…it is easy to understand the kind of effort that eats at customer loyalty. It may provide an opening for a competitor — or a whole new industry model!

How exactly do you tackle customer effort? Here are examples of CES success from customer experience pros in three industries: software, media and healthcare.

Effortless SaaS Customer Onboarding at Watermark

Dave Hansen is the CX champion at Watermark, an EdTech software company that delivers better data to over 1,700 colleges and universities. As a part of the Watermark Client Experience, institutions pass through several phases of training and implementation to learn best practices for using and communicating about Watermark at their institutions. Upon ‘graduating’ from each phase, Dave triggers a CES microsurvey focused on objectives for each chapter of learning to the project leads.

The Customer Effort Score feedback and insights gathered from each phase have helped the training and implementation teams identify best practices, areas for growth, and opportunities to streamline the process for all clients. “These formal check ins and their direct feedback have allowed us to iterate on our processes in ways that have made significant, positive impact for our clients,” says Dave. “Plus, each implementation is pretty unique so the CES feedback also helps us make individual adjustments on the fly. It almost serves as an early warning system for our customer success team by flagging issues (local issues, training, things within our system, etc.) that could impact long-term success so that we can be more proactive.”



Subscriber Retention at the New York Times

Jeff Shah, Executive Director of Customer Care at The NewYork Times, began using the CES metric at The Times about a year ago and he is excited about what he has seen so far. Besides using it as a predictor of customer loyalty, he is using CES feedback to determine whether incoming support issues should be handled in self-service or by a live agent.

When The Times redesigned their Interactive voice response (IVR) system, for example, they only built self-service flows for common issues like reporting a missed newspaper delivery. Customers had given higher CES scores after resolving these tasks through the IVR that when they handled them with an agent. This ensured that the customer was always guided to the most effortless channel for their issue.

Jeff became a CES fan after reading Dixon’s book, and began to evangelize the metric within the organization. The NYT has a culture of innovation and was willing to try something new–especially because of the solid research behind the metric. “Customer Effort Score ties to something that the NYT cares about. It is early days, but I suspect that this focus on making our support interactions more effortless will lead to subscriber retention, “ says Jeff.

Driving Change in Employee Culture at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City

Gratia Carver, Dept. Vice President, Customer Experience has made ease the north star metric in the first of a multi-year customer experience effort at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City. While ease, trust, effectiveness and loyalty are all relationship metrics fundamental to the program, Gratia chose to start with a focus on ease because it is a concept that everyone at all levels of the organization can relate to and apply in their own roles.

“If I ask an employee ‘What do you do in your role to improve member loyalty?’, well, that is a difficult question to answer,” says Gratia. “But if I ask ‘what can you do in your role to make it easier for a member?’, he or she can answer that question. It is tangible, relatable and is directly associated with individual behaviors. Behaviors are the key to evolving a customer-centric culture.”

Gratia shared that she and her team found a fun and innovative way to demonstrate to the BlueKC workforce exactly what they are talking about. On CX Day this year, her team was in the staff parking lot manning a small fleet of golf carts. As staff arrived for work, the CX team whisked them from their car to the building—providing both a tangible experience of effortlessness and a couple of minutes to chat about the BlueKC’s focus on member ease.

Is Customer Effort Score replacing CSAT or NPS?

Today, customer experience professionals are adding CES to their toolkit of established metrics–alongside Customer Satisfaction and Net Promoter Score. One metric isn’t necessarily replacing another.



A successful Voice of Customer strategy asks customers the right question at the right time. Where are your customers in their journey? What do you want to learn from them? What question will they want to answer? How do you hope to use the feedback that customers provide?

Thoughtful answers to these questions will help you decide which metric will give you the feedback you need to improve the important moments in your customer’s journey with you.

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