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Understanding and measuring your Customer Effort Score (CES)

There’s a reason why moving junk food to a hard-to-reach shelf might help us eat less of it: the location is impractical, it’s going to take effort to reach it, and—unless the motivation is really strong—most of the time we end up not actually bothering.

Sometimes, online businesses are exactly like that hard-to-reach shelf: something impractical that requires extra effort and make people lose motivation and leave.

The good news is that there is a simple way to find out if that’s the case with your business: all you have to do is ask your visitors and customers how much effort they have to put into doing business with you. This is the Customer Effort Score (CES), and measuring it can help you make accurate predictions of future business success or failure. 

User research
UX design and analysis
PX insights

Last updated

15 Sep 2021

Table of contents

What is Customer Effort Score (CES)?

Customer Effort Score (CES) is a metric derived from a customer satisfaction survey that measures a product or service’s ease of use to customers. A Customer Effort Score reflects the amount of effort a customer had to exert to use a product or service, find the information they needed, or get an issue resolved.

Customers are asked to respond to a statement like “[Name of the organization] made it easy for me to handle [name of issue]” with a 1-5 or 1-7 scale rating, where 1: strongly disagree and 5 or 7: strongly agree. The less effort required, the better the CES—and, arguably, the higher the customer satisfaction. 

How to measure your CES

CES data is collected by surveying customers in real-time after a single action (e.g., customer completes a purchase) or interaction (e.g., customer receives help from the support team) with a business. The survey can appear directly on a website page, or be emailed as soon as the action is completed.

Customers are typically asked to rate the ease of their experience through a numerical 1-5 or 1-7 scale, but more creative and visual solutions can include an emoticon anger-to-happiness scale.

The collected answers are then averaged to give an idea of how much effort a certain process requires of customers.

What is a good customer effort score?

There is no universal benchmark for a good CES because different ranges are used to measure answers: some businesses measure using a 1-5 scale, others 1-7, and others just use happy and sad faces and dispense of numbers altogether.

Regardless, as a general principle: the higher the CES, the better. A high CES score means that your company provides an effortless experience for customers, while a low CES means that people find your processes arduous or your customer support ineffective—and you need to make improvements or risk losing customers and sustaining a high churn rate.

Editor's note: at Hotjar, we use an on-page CES poll to measure how much effort it takes for people to use our tools on a 1-7 scale (1=difficult, 7=easy).

Here is a snapshot of the results:

At first glance, it all looks good: almost 48% of our customers give us the highest score and consider Hotjar easy to use. This is, by definition, a good CES—but here's another way to look at it:

Another 48% of our customers are not yet having the easiest experience. And that's where the biggest opportunities for optimization lie, and where our efforts are being invested.

It’s all in the question: a note for CX metric pros

When CES was first introduced in 2010 by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), the question read “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request?” and the scoring system went from 1 (very low effort) to 5 (very high effort). Back then, a low CES was a sign of success.

What changed? One theory is that the formula put the bulk of the responsibility of a low effort onto the customer; a couple of years later, CEB proposed a new formulation: “[Name of the organization] made it easy for me to handle my issue,” which puts the responsibility right back onto the company and has since become the new CES standard.


How CES compares to NPS® and CSAT

As a measure of customer effort, CES is useful to calculate the likelihood of customer retention and business growth. In general, customers want to expend the least amount of effort to complete a task or solve a problem: if you’re making them work too hard, there is a good chance they will go to a competitor next time.

The drawback of CES is that the score is tightly focused on evaluating a single process or customer interaction, so it doesn’t give a full picture of the entire customer experience—which is why CES is used in tandem with two other customer experience metrics, Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), to get a more holistic picture of customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Net Promoter Score® (NPS)

NPS is a loyalty score calculated by asking customers how likely they are to recommend your service or product to someone else on a scale of 0-10. The score is calculated by subtracting the percentage of customers who answer the NPS question with a 6 or lower (known as ‘detractors’) from the percentage of customers who answer with a 9 or 10 (known as ‘promoters’).

NPS can be used to evaluate anything from a product to a course to a company’s hiring process. It’s a measure of overall consumer happiness: if customers are pleased with your products and services, they are much more likely to recommend them to their friends and family.

As a number, NPS is useful for getting an overall perception of customer loyalty but doesn’t provide much in the way of nuance or detail—because it measures overall attitude towards your brand, including everything from customer service to product quality to price, it can’t pinpoint what specific aspects the user likes or doesn’t like. For this reason, NPS assessments are often paired with open-ended follow-up NPS questions to gather more information.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)

CSAT is a measurement of short-term customer satisfaction with a product or service. It’s measured using a simple survey with a single question along the lines of

  • “Were you happy with your shopping experience today?”

  • “How would you rate the support you received?”

  • "How would you rate your overall satisfaction with the product/service you received?"

Answers can be binary (yes or no, a happy face or a sad face), or expressed on a rating scale. CSAT scores are usually reported on a percentage scale of 0 to 100, where 100% is the obvious holy grail of complete customer satisfaction.

CSAT scores are usually positive, so a sudden spike in negative scores can tell you that there’s an issue that needs immediate attention.

Like CES, CSAT is a snapshot of a moment in time: a single interaction or action the customer engaged in. It can tell you how a single process is working but doesn’t measure overall customer loyalty or happiness—although you can ask follow-up questions, like the one you see in the screenshot above (“Add a comment about the quality of [service] you received”), that allow you to dig deeper and focus onto potentially problematic areas.

Why you should pay attention to your CES

Measuring customer effort is crucial for determining customer satisfaction and future behavior. Studies have shown that making life easier for customers is a faster and more effective way to win their loyalty than providing extra frills or ‘wow-worthy’ customer service—especially when you learn that the leading source of customer frustration is something as basic as having to wait for a response when a problem or issue appears.

1. CES predicts future customer purchase behavior

The easier it is to purchase something, the more likely a customer will return to buy again. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that a good Customer Effort Score is one of the strongest predictors of future purchase behavior: 94% of customers who reported low effort said they would likely purchase a product again.


2. CES indicates likelihood of customer referral

Easy transactions and interactions are great indicators of whether a customer is going to refer your product or service or, worse, badmouth you. The same HBR study also found that 81% of customers who reported massive effort said they would speak negatively about the company to others.

3. CES reliably predicts customer loyalty

Low customer effort is a better predictor of customer loyalty than customer satisfaction is. Once again, the HBR piece—provocatively titled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”—argued that customers want reliably low-effort service more than they want special perks or to be ‘delighted’ by a brand. A separate Gartner study found that 96% of customers who had high-effort experiences reported being disloyal; only 9% of those with low-effort experiences did.

The 3 best times to send a CES survey

One major benefit of a Customer Effort Score survey is that it can be used to target user satisfaction with specific processes by asking questions immediately after an important touchpoint at different stages of the customer journey.

Here are some key times to send a CES survey:

1. After a purchase

Send a CES survey directly after a customer has made a purchase on your website to get an idea of how easy or convoluted the purchasing process was for them.

2. After a subscription sign-up

Send a CES survey during the onboarding process after a customer has signed up for a subscription service to gauge whether they are finding your services easy to use.

At Hotjar, we use a pop-up on-page survey that appears two weeks after sign-up, by which point the customer has usually started using key features. We ask: “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: Hotjar is easy to use?” and offer a 1-7 scale for the answer.

We also pair the ranking with a couple of open-ended questions to get a better idea of how the product is working for the customer. Depending on whether their answer was negative or positive, we ask a slightly different question: “What should we do to make Hotjar easier to use” in the former case, and “What’s the main reason for your score?” in the latter. These are examples of feedback we received, which are helping us continuously build a better tool:

3. After a customer service touchpoint

CES is particularly useful for testing the effectiveness of your customer service. Customers who have frustrating or unhelpful customer service interactions are likely to take their business elsewhere. By following up directly after an interaction, you can find out if a customer experienced a difficult service phone call or chat.

HubSpot recommends sending a CES survey 20 minutes after closing a support ticket so that customers have a chance to see if their problem was actually solved:

Pro tip: notice how HubSpot pairs the CES question with an NPS survey targeted to the customer support professional, so the team can find out if the user’s issue was with the help agent (a service issue) or their original problem (a product issue).

Different types of CES surveys

Although CES surveys are ultimately very simple, there are several different ways to structure them based on the type of scale you want to use and the type of customer feedback you want.

a. Numbered scales

With a numbered scale poll, you pose a question such as “How easy was it to solve your problem today?” and respondents answer by ranking the ease of use on a numbered scale. Typically, the higher numbers indicate very easy (low effort), and the lower numbers indicate more difficult (more effort). This can be confusing for some, so it helps to color code the scale from red to green for clarity.

b. Likert scale

The Likert Scale is a psychometric scale often employed in research questionnaires. When using this survey method, you would make a non-question statement, such as: “the checkout process was easy to navigate.” Users would then rate how much they agree or disagree with that statement on a 7-point scale:

  1. Strongly Disagree

  2. Disagree

  3. Somewhat Disagree

  4. Undecided

  5. Somewhat Agree

  6. Agree

  7. Strongly Agree.

The answers are usually numbered 1-7, and sometimes color-coded from red to green for clarity.

c. Emoticon ratings

If you run a lot of CES surveys on minor aspects of your site, consider employing this simple metric. It’s intuitive and takes literally seconds to answer, increasing the likelihood of responses. In this scenario, pose a question like “How easy was it to use our service?” or present a statement like “[Brand] made it easy to solve the issue” and ask users to respond with the emoticon that most represent their feedback:

Another variation on this would be a thumbs up versus a thumbs down binary.

Interpreting the results

The way that you calculate your CES will depend on the type of scale you used in your survey.

  • Numbered poll: add all the responses together and divide them by the number of respondents to get an average

  • Likert Scale: average the responses by assigning a number between 1-7 to each answer. The higher the average, the better your CES

  • Happy/Unhappy emoticons: calculate the percentage of people who answered with a happy face out of the total number of people who answered happy or unhappy. Ideally, you want a high percentage of happy faces and a very low percentage of unhappy ones.

If the CES is high, congratulations! You can move on without changing your process for now. Continue to collect feedback and monitor your CES over time.

If your CES is suboptimal, make a plan to identify the root issues and fix them. Customer Effort Scores can only tell you that a process is causing customers to extend a lot of effort; they can’t tell you why. The fault could be a troublesome employee, a glitch on the website, or something else entirely: this means you need to investigate further by asking follow-up questions as part of the survey, polling users in greater depth, performing usability testing, or conducting customer interviews.

Once you’ve identified the issue, make corrections and then continue to test your CES to make sure there is an improvement over time.

Getting started with your CES survey

To help you get started right away, we created and shared a CES survey template you can follow when you use Hotjar.

🔥How it works: click this link or the image below to see a live version of the survey (if you submit your feedback, we'll see it!). The survey will direct you to a Google Doc template where we listed all the relevant questions, so you can simply copy-paste them into your own survey as they are or tweak as needed.

Final word of advice: customer experience is a constantly moving target, which is why it’s important to continually measure your Customer Effort Score—and act on any negative feedback that might be coming your way. Keep an eye on any trends in the data, and consistently work to make your process so easy that customers can’t imagine walking away from you.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.

Customer Effort Score FAQ