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What is CES? Pros, cons, how to calculate it, and when to use it

Nina Godlewski
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Feedback from customers is valuable information for sustaining and even growing your business. One of the best ways to get that feedback is by sending your customers satisfaction surveys. Depending on what information you’re hoping to get about your customers, a customer effort score survey, or CES survey, might be the right survey for you. 

Only about nine percent of customers who have low-effort experiences end up being disloyal to brands, while about 96 percent of customers with high-effort experiences end up being disloyal, according to research from Gartner. So you should want to know how much work your customers are putting in and whether you can ease some of that work on their end.

What is CES?

Similar to a CSAT survey, the Customer Effort Score, also known as a CES survey, asks the customer to rate their experience on a scale. This scale usually ranges from 1 to 5 known as the standard CES. Or you can have a scale of 1 to 7, known as CES 2.0. It can also be worded from strongly disagree to strongly agree, with an option for undecided in the middle of the range.

CES survey example from Etsy
Source: Etsy

The goal of this survey is to determine how easy or difficult a certain customer experience was for the customer. That’s why CES is commonly used by customer success teams. The prompt would ask customers to select the option that best explains how much they agree with a statement. That statement would probably be something like: “Completing my purchase today was easy” or “It was easy to resolve my issue today.”

How to calculate CES

As we now know, CES is on a scale that is up to businesses to determine. So there’s a bit of calculation that goes into finding your CES. We’ll cover one of the ways to calculate it with your survey responses.

Step-by-step guide to calculate CES:

  1. Segment out the positive scores. These scores are any for “somewhat agree” response or higher
  2. Add the number of top scores up
  3. Divide the positive scores by the total number of people who responded
  4. Multiply the result by 100 to calculate the percentage

We can look at these steps using real numbers so you have a concrete example of the calculations. Let’s take the example of a business using the CES on a scale of 1 to 5. 

The first step is to add up all the scores of somewhat agree or higher. Assuming you surveyed 100 people, let’s say 60 of them gave you a score of 4 or 5. Then you would divide that number by the total number of people you surveyed, in this case, that’s 100 people. Then, to make it a percentage, you multiply by 100. Thus, your CES would be 60 percent. 

Graphic showing how to calculate your CES score

CES pros and cons

One study found that companies that can increase an individual’s CES from 1, four points up to 5, on the CES 2.0 can also increase that customer’s loyalty by 22 percent

CES pros

CES cons

  • Lacks some context around the overall customer experience
  • Unclear about the reason for low scores

When to use CES and examples

The easier the interaction, the more satisfied the customer, and the more likely they are to stay loyal. As we mentioned earlier, about 96 percent of customers with high-effort experiences end up being disloyal. The lower the effort the customer has to put into an interaction, the happier they generally are.

After resolving an issue, customer support interaction

A good time to send a CES is following a customer support interaction. If you were working to resolve an issue with a customer you might send a CES asking about their experience. Doing so would give you an idea of how well your customer support team was able to help the customer. It would also give you insight into how satisfied they were with the solution they were given.

Example of an issue with a customer that may end with a CES survey
You might send a CES survey to customers after resolving an issue.
You might send a CES survey to customers after resolving an issue.

You might send a CES after the interaction above to see how satisfied with this result your customer is. The benefit of this is that solving their problem could improve their CES. While they may have had to put in more effort to resolve the issue, if you can successfully resolve it for them, you may be able to regain some trust from them.

After a purchase

Another time you would probably present a customer with a CES survey is after they make a purchase. Following a purchase, you can ask about a number of experiences the customer had.

Depending on what you’re looking for some insight into, you can change your survey question. For example, you could ask how easy it was for the customer to complete their checkout. Or maybe you would ask how easy it was for them to find what they were looking for. Depending on what you want to know about or want to improve you would adjust the question.

CES survey asking how easy it was for a customer to complete checkout
You might send a CES survey after a customer completes a purchase.

After a customer has used a product

If you’re curious about an actual product you might ask your customer to share their experience using it, or setting it up. Think of any time a customer buys a piece of furniture that needs to be assembled at home. There’s room for improvement on the product and on the instructions for setting up the product.

The CES question for this instance might revolve around the set up. An example of that could be “Setting up this item was easy” and customers could choose their place between agree and disagree. The explanations for choosing that rating could then lend insight into where your product could be improved to promote more positive reviews.

CES: The bottom line

When it comes down to it, you’d use a custom effort score to find out where the negatives are in your customer experience. You might find that customers are particularly struggling with one part of the shopping or purchasing experience.

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