What’s Your Customer Effort (Score)?


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There’s been a lot of discussion or debate about Customer Effort Score (a metric developed by the Corporate Executive Board’s Customer Contact Council), especially relative to Net Promoter Score, about whether it’s an effective metric to use to measure the customer experience.
For those of you who don’t know, Customer Effort Score (CES) is, in short, derived from one question that you’ll add to your post-transactional survey(s) to assess the degree of effort that the customer had to exert in order to get an issue resolved, a request fulfilled, a product purchased/returned, or a question answered. (Many were first exposed to the concept behind CES in this HBR article, Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.) The survey question goes roughly like this:

How much effort did you personally have to put forth to [insert interaction here, e.g., get this issue resolved]?

  • Far less than I expected
  • Slightly less than I expected
  • About what I expected
  • Slightly more than I expected
  • Far more than I expected

Is this metric applicable to every situation or to every industry? Is it the right metric for everyone? No, of course not. I believe it has some limitations, not the least of which is, if the product isn’t working as expected, a call to support is already more effort than you expected to exert when you purchased the product! If the metric is right for you, you will need to ask some other follow-up questions (including an open-end for further, descriptive details) in order to make the findings actionable.

Also, keep in mind that certain products, certain interactions, and certain channels for those interactions require more effort on the part of the customer than others. But do they have to? Now that’s the real question!

I do like that the response choices are related to the customers’ expectations because expectations can and will vary by the type of interaction, type of products, etc. And setting expectations is key to what follows (the experience).

Regardless, is this ultimately just about the score? No! But of course, you knew that! It’s about the experience! Let me give you a couple of my own examples of customer effort, as well as share with you some tips to help minimize customer effort and improve the customer experience.

Example #1: Product Exchange

I love to shop online. There, I admitted it. “Hello, my name is Annette, and I’m an online shopaholic!” Recently, I was looking online for a very specific type of blouse. I found it and ordered it in the size I usually wear. When it arrived, I tried it on only to find out that the blouse is “oversized” and should have been ordered two sizes smaller! First tip: Provide accurate product information, including sizing, with the product! Expectation not set – effort begins.

I decided to exchange the blouse rather than return it. (Hopefully two sizes smaller is small enough!) I happened to be going to the mall the next day, so I thought I’d just do the exchange in their physical store. Well, lo and behold, this is an “online exclusive” item. Had I made a trip to the mall just for this, I would have been highly annoyed. So, my next tip: Provide thorough information about the product so that customers can “do the right thing” and not put forth unnecessary effort for something that should be really easy.

A return shipping label had been provided with the order, and the exchange shipping would be free of charge, so I shipped the item back. When the retailer received the return, I got an email confirmation, but here’s where the next bit of effort was required. The email indicated that my return had been received and that I would be credited $XX, minus the shipping charge. I know I clearly indicated on the paperwork that I was exchanging the item. I sent an email asking for clarification and for confirmation that this was indeed what they were going to do. Customer service responded promptly, let me know that it was indeed an exchange, and that I would be notified with shipping details when the new size went out. Well, great! But, of course, this is where the next tip comes in: Don’t use generic messaging for every situation. Personalize the communication to the specific request/interaction.

They shipped the new blouse to me via FedEx SmartPost. The shipment confirmation email included a link to track the package. Of course, I’ve checked it daily now (for three days), and #fail on FedEx’s part here; the tracking information still shows that the item hasn’t shipped. Tip: If you provide conveniences for your customer to “do it yourself,” then make sure they work and aren’t a source of additional effort! You are responsible for ensuring that your partners system support your customer experience.

Example #2: Product Return

Here’s another example of a product return, with a slightly different twist. I ordered some really cute shoes from a site I had never ordered from before. The shoes arrived, but I didn’t really care for the fit and needed to return them. The packing slip included very clear instructions on how to return/exchange an item, including implications for said return, which in this day and age of online shopping, are quite ridiculous. #1 If you return the shoes, you will only receive a store credit. #2 If you return the shoes, you will be charged a $5.95 restocking fee. (Really?)

Here’s where the effort comes in. First, remember those clearly-defined return instructions. Well, they state that I simply need to use their return label for the exchange. I tore (figuratively) the boxes and stuffing apart to find a shipping label, but there wasn’t one. I have emailed them twice to ask how I should proceed or if they can provide me with another one. It has been six days, and I have not received a response yet. So my next step is to call them. Tip: Make sure a simple process remains simple. Have your quality control check to ensure that everything that should be in the box before it is sealed and shipped to the customer is there.

The second bit of effort here is the exchange. Honestly, I simply want to return the shoes and done. But since I’m only offered a store credit for a return (minus the BS restocking fee), I might as well find an exchange immediately. Problem is, there’s not really anything else I’m interested in. So now I need to spend time combing their entire site to find an appropriate exchange. More effort than I really wanted to expend at the moment. Will I buy from them again after that? Probably not. Tip: Revisit your policies. If they are too restrictive, that’s a problem. Such policies create effort that kills loyalty. Don’t let your policies get in the way of the customer experience.

Mind you, I’m an experienced online shopper. Remember… online shopaholic. My local UPS and FedEx drivers, as well as my mailman, all know my taste in clothes, shoes, home furnishings, etc.! So when it comes to online purchases and returns, I do have a certain set of expectations about the amount of effort I ought to put forth to complete the transactions. This is one of the reasons Amazon tops my list of fav online shopping sites. Effortless. Accurate. Swift. Yes!

I’ll save my last example for my next post. It’s a doozy. I’ll just preface it by saying it’s an airline example. Enough said for now!

To wrap it up, some tips to minimize customer effort and to maximize the customer experience. Remember, not only does minimizing the effort make for a great customer experience, it also has an impact on your bottom line. It means less effort for you, as well!

Accuracy: provide accurate information about your products, services, policies, etc. Make sure all messaging is accurate, and confirm that everything that should be in the box, is.
Thoroughness: if you provide all of the necessary forms and information needed for a customer to complete a transaction or interaction, then no additional effort is needed to chase down forms, etc.
Consider Expectations: when you’re designing and defining your policies, consider the customer’s viewpoint and what their expectations may be about that interaction; if you need to, set appropriate expectations.
Self-Service: if you are trying to make an action/interaction self-service, ensure that it is truly self-service. Again, provide clear, thorough, and accurate information so that customers can complete everything on their own.
Communication: I can’t stress enough how key communication is to reducing customer effort. Not just any communication, but clear, accurate, personalized, and timely communication.
Consistency: if you offer multiple channels for customers to shop or interact with you, be sure the experience is consistent across channels. Share information internally so that the customer doesn’t have to start from scratch when moving from web to phone, for example.
Responsiveness: it goes without saying that if you respond in a timely manner, the customer doesn’t need to follow up with you or chase you down. Effort averted.
Partnerships: ensure that your partners process facilitate the customer experience, not hinder it.

Who cares about your Customer Effort Score? Again, it’s not really the score you need to focus on; but if you’re using that question, heed the qualitative data around the reasons for the score. Otherwise, take a look at your processes, your communications, your messaging, your systems, etc. Anything that impacts the customer experience… and tell me: have you designed them from the customer viewpoint? Or were they designed to make things easier, or to make more money, for the company?

To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin. –North American Indian Proverb

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


  1. I’ve been hearing about CES for some time, thanks to a great headline Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.

    Nice headline, but I’d encourage everyone to actually read the article, because it doesn’t apply to the entire customer experience, just service interactions.

    Leaving aside for the moment that some companies (e.g. Zappos) do in fact create loyalty from amazing customer service, I think the authors have a point. But it’s not anything new.

    If you study the Kano model you’ll find that not everything can create delight. Doing the basics really well (like fixing problems) won’t create loyalty because it’s expected. Trying to exceed “hygiene” expectations isn’t worth a lot.

    But other factors can earn delight and are well worth pursuing.

    Take a look at this chart from GfK Customer Loyalty, included in my recent article What Really Drives Customer Loyalty? It’s Not Just About the Experience!:

    You’ll notice that drivers of dissatisfaction and loyalty are not the same, and they change from year to year.

    My take: it’s critical to understand what will “delight” customers. It may not be customer service, but nevertheless if you want real advocates you’d better figure out how.

  2. Thanks, Bob, for sharing the graphic and for adding a different perspective to that HBR article.

    I agree… I don’t think I know anyone who liked the title of the HBR article! Nonetheless, my point was about effort (not the article) and, whether it’s effort to research a product, purchase it, get it serviced, or whatever, if you want to keep your customers, then make the experience effortless. If you listen to customers, if you design processes from their viewpoint, then there’s no reason a customer should ever jump through hoops to get it done.

  3. I completely agree that companies should strive to get all the friction out of the processes. That’s a big factor in Amazon’s success.

    However, companies should also take the time to figure out what drives “delight.” Maybe “easy” is enough, but probably not. In my research, interactions with people are still incredibly important in creating memorable experiences.

    One problem with the make-it-all-easy strategy is that it could make a company about as inspiring as using an ATM. We expect it to work, so the company gets no credit when it does (certainly not delight)… only blame when it doesn’t.

    I’d say for most companies the “easy” strategy is great for building satisfaction (actually minimizing dissatisfaction), but not so good for building advocates.


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