Why Customer Effort Score is the most critical support KPI and how you can improve yours

Written by Emily Peck on Mar 11, 2021

You’re stuck in traffic on the way to the airport. You message your airline asking if your flight is on time, saying you might miss it. The airline responds immediately with a one-touch option to rebook on the next available flight. You don’t have to call to speak with an agent or wait in a line at the counter when you arrive. You’re rebooked on the next flight in an easy tap while you sit bumper-to-bumper. 

Or, imagine your printer sends you a message when you’re about to run low on ink. The company messages you with the ability to reorder the exact cartridge that you need in one click, saving you from the frustration of actually running out or the painstaking search to find the right cartridge.

In both of these scenarios, the companies anticipate the next contact point and remove friction from completing a task. Increasingly, this is what your customers expect. Effort is becoming a crucial differentiator and the core way to compete on CX. This shift in customer expectations has made Customer Effort Score (CES) one of the most important KPIs for customer service and experience teams. Companies looking to turn customer support into a competitive edge need to be tracking CES. 

Here’s everything you need to know about CES.

Customer effort is the biggest indicator of loyalty

The most important thing that support organizations must focus on is making it easy to resolve issues. Effort is fast becoming the catalyst to loyalty: 96% of customers with a high-effort service interaction become more disloyal compared to just 9% who have a low-effort experience1.

An interaction is “high-effort” if a customer has to switch channels, repeat themselves, follow up at a different time or transfer to other departments. Interactions are “low-effort” if a customer can resolve issues in a single interaction and a company removes obstacles and anticipates issues in advance. In a Harvard Business Review study of 75,000 people, researchers found that “delighting customers doesn’t build loyalty; reducing their effort—the work they must do to get their problem solved—does.” The amount of effort a person has to put in impacts future behavior, the research revealed2

  • 81% who report high effort will talk negatively about a company
  • 94% would repurchase if an interaction was low effort 
  • 88% would spend more following a low-effort experience 

Customer effort has knocked CSAT off of the top of the podium in terms of anticipating loyalty. According to Gartner, “customer effort is 40% more accurate at predicting customer loyalty as opposed to customer satisfaction,” the long-standing holy grail of support KPIs1

Anticipate the next contact: Preventing downstream issues is a core way to reduce effort

Resolving issues in a single session and preventing downstream issues are the keys to reducing customer effort. 

Support teams usually focus on decreasing resolution time for a single interaction. This shouldn’t necessarily be the top priority. A longer interaction that provides a more thorough and anticipatory resolution and eliminates future contact not only improves the customer experience but reduces cost. In general, low-effort interactions cost 37% less than high-effort interactions. Low-effort experiences reduce costs by decreasing up to 40% of repeat calls, 50% of escalations and 54% of channel switching1

To anticipate the next contact, smart support AI agents can analyze historical data to identify when customers follow up and with what specific questions as soon as the customer makes contact. The AI agent can then alert a human agent on specific topics to bring up during a conversation, actions to recommend or questions to ask. This allows agents to preemptively educate customers or advise on how to avoid a call back before the conversation ends. Or the AI agent can create this more advanced flow without needing any human agent help, resolving not only the initial issue but anticipated downstream issues.

In a very basic example, if a customer is canceling their cable service because they are moving across town, an agent can offer appointment times to install cable in their next residence. In a more frequent example, retailers have been making great progress into making eCommerce returns effortless. Many companies include pre-paid return shipping labels within the original package, so if an item does not work out, a customer can simply put the label on the same box and drop it at a shipping store. 

When to use Customer Effort Score

Trigger a CES survey immediately following an interaction, such as: 

  • At the end of a customer service experience – including an email resolution, or live chat or messaging conversation 
  • After a customer signed on or subscribed following a free trial period 
  • Following a person experiencing a new service (such as virtual try-ons, contactless delivery, etc.)

You can also send a CES survey after a single customer has interacted with your support team a certain number of times (i.e. 3 or 5) to get an aggregate understanding of their perception of ease of service. This helps to reduce bias from a single experience, balance out human emotion that a customer could be feeling on a particular day, etc. 

How to measure your Customer Effort Score

Like customer satisfaction surveys, CES is measured by a simple question that is sent immediately following an event or interaction. Typically, companies ask something along the lines of “How easy was it for you to get the help you wanted today?”. The customer ranks the effort on a 5 or 7-point scale, from Extremely Difficult to Extremely Easy. 

How Customer Effort Score compares to CSAT and NPS

The other key customer metrics that companies use to get a pulse of customer sentiment are Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) and Net Performer Score (NPS). 

CSAT is sent immediately following an interaction (like CES), but measures if the person was satisfied with the experience, not how easy it was. While effort is a core aspect of the overall experience, CSAT focuses broadly on if a person’s expectations were met. One common way to measure CSAT is to ask: “How satisfied are you with your recent purchase/support interaction/service?’ Extremely Satisfied → Extremely Dissatisfied.”

NPS is another popular KPI for support teams. Rather than looking at short-term satisfaction like with CSAT, NPS is an indicator of long-term loyalty. With NPS, companies ask how likely a person is to recommend a product or service. Customers are categorized as “Promoters”, “Passive” or “Detractors.” 

CES, CSAT and NPS are all very valuable metrics. As ease of an experience becomes increasingly critical, however, incorporating CES measurement will be critical to indicate customer happiness with your customer support. 

How to make sure chatbots don’t negatively impact Customer Effort Score

By design, chatbot tools aim to provide immediate answers to customers across channels. This eliminates friction and extra time typically associated with talking to an agent. However, not every chatbot delivers on this promise. Some poorly designed bots actually add more friction, forcing more customer effort…. and frustration. 

To ensure your chatbot makes a positive impact on your CES, move away from rules-based chatbots to AI-powered bots that leverage natural language understanding (NLU) to understand what your customers are saying. Rule-based bots can only answer straightforward questions with a limited set of replies. Unfortunately, humans tend to ask even the same simple questions in a wide variety of ways. Cable company Comcast found that customers were asking even basic questions in more than 1,700 ways.

Above all, a customer talking to a chatbot should always be able to escalate to a conversation to a human agent – at any time. If a chatbot gets stuck, as is common with rules-based bots, a person is more likely to grow frustrated. Sometimes specific needs are better handled by an agent. In those cases, a bot should pass off a conversation within the same channel the customer is already on. 

In Closing: Effort needs to be a core focus to turn CX into a differentiator and drive future revenue

The customer experience is becoming even more critical. Companies are punished for poor experiences through poor online reviews, grievances posted on social media, or customers deciding to never purchase from a brand again. How easy it is for a person to get the support they need is what sets apart good and bad experiences. Brands that want to win their customers hearts and wallets must start measuring customer effort score and work towards consistent improvement on this metric.

Want to learn about the other top customer service KPIs? Check out our blog now.


  1. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/unveiling-the-new-and-improved-customer-effort-score/
  2. https://hbr.org/2010/07/stop-trying-to-delight-your-customers