The Complexity of Customer Effort


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Don’t be fooled by your customer survey responses. They may look positive, satisfaction scores may be high, but it doesn’t mean your customers are either happy or loyal.

How’s that possible?

Obtaining customer feedback is critically important to understanding and improving the customer experience, but if you only ask general questions to gather if the task was completed and satisfaction with the eventual outcome, you’re merely scratching the surface of customer sentiment. As a side effect, your organization may be subjecting your customers to ‘high effort’ atmosphere without even realizing it.

Measuring customer effort (Customer Effort Score or CES, for short) is well-suited to the call center environment or business areas dealing with transactional interactions, such as issue resolution, installations or scheduling. Typically, the audience in question will have exerted some effort to get an issue resolved or task completed. High levels of customer effort can lead to defection, so the less effort they have to expend, the better. For this reason, CES can be a very good measurement and predictor of real satisfaction with a call center transaction or issue resolution.

Historically, one of the challenges with CES is that the 1 to 5 scale, where a low score is good and a high score is bad, often does not match the other scales in a survey, making it difficult for both survey respondents and internal stakeholders to understand and align with other metrics. This misalignment is a common challenge for many companies, traditionally overcome with persistent communications. However, recently, CES 2.0 has emerged with a new question wording (“The company made it easy for me to handle my issue”) and a new scale (1 to 7, where 1 is bad and 7 is good), removing much of the perceived difficulty with the original metric and allowing for wider acceptance with organizational leadership.

Effort in Action

A major pharmaceutical company surveyed its customers only to realize the questions they asked were too basic, measuring simple, relatively low-value, transactions. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, but they weren’t uncovering the true customer sentiment.

To find out if you’re falling into this common trap, ask yourself three questions:

– Does the survey cover the most critical interactions?

– Does the survey include questions about the most time-consuming interactions?

– Does the survey take into account the most complex interactions?

For this particular company, the answer was “no” across the board, so it changed to a more complex strategy that measured customer effort and focused on more complicated customer processes. The result? Customer effort and satisfaction scores declined, however improvement efforts were now able to target the truly difficult and thorny interactions. In an effort to drastically reduce negative customer experiences, the company changed its hiring profile to recruit agents that could better handle complex questions/claims, which ultimately improved the customer effort score and retained more customers.

Make an Effort to Lower Effort

Service-focused organizations tend to have higher customer effort scores due to the nature of customer interactions, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be that way.

Here are a few simple things to keep in mind if you’re focusing on lowering your customers’ effort:

1. Be tough…on yourself. Keep the critical, time-consuming and complex interactions in mind when you design your survey. If you really want to know how your customers feel, you need to give them the opportunity to share their frustrations. It will only help your organization improve by learning what works vs. what doesn’t.

2. Invest in people. Not just customers, but employees. Building a strong team that has the emotional intelligence to communicate with your customers is critical to your business and keeping customer effort low. The better employees are at communicating and connecting with customers, the stronger your relationship.

3. Test and re-assess. Customer effort assessments can sometimes feel like an experiment, but that’s OK. Learn what works for your organization and what will produce the most honest outcomes for both you and your customers.

There’s a direct correlation between low customer effort and increased customer loyalty, so don’t neglect this part of your customer experience program. It will ultimately benefit both you and your customers in a substantial way.

Stacey Nevel
Stacey Nevel is a customer experience professional with 20 years of experience managing customer and employee feedback programs. She has a background in CX feedback measurement and management within client-side financial services companies and for last 13 years with vendor-side CX technology and consulting providers. Her role as VoC consulting director at Confirmit involves championing industry best practices among current clients, helping new clients define or re-define their VoC programs and co-authoring Confirmit's VoC Methodology. Stacey holds CEM, CXPA and Net Promoter Certifications.


  1. When you exaggerate, deal in half truths or simply outright tell folks what you think they want to hear regardless of truth, especially in print .. you jeopardize your future.
    When you boast about discounts BUT FAIL TO SHOW THE ENTIRE PRICE to avoid
    comparison shopping…your ignorance shows .. esp Costco.
    Full disclosure, transparency and yes TRUTH bring back loyal consumers.
    Marketing tricks, like requiring X-dollars to be spent for discounted milk prices at Kroger,
    or constantly moving goods around the store to force customers to weave their way
    around all the other things you need to get rid of that have occupied your shelves too long or need to be sold quickly because they are about to spoil, or be obsolete by a newer product or have a HUGE margin ….WASTE CONSUMERS’ TIME AND PATIENCE…and WASTING THE CONSUMER’S TIME IS OUTRIGHT THEFT AND NOT FORGOTTEN.
    STOP UNDERESTIMATING THE CONSUMER….Even the ol’ Baby Boomers ain’t that stupid and the MILLENNIALS will avoid you like the plague.


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