Hamac sieste CES

The birth of the Customer Effort Score

During the act of purchasing or using a product or service, delivering satisfaction is not the only criterion to be used when it comes to measuring customer satisfaction. The effort to obtain the product or service is also highly important in this respect. For years, brands that wish to improve the experience of their customers have been focusing on delighting them, with the aim of exceeding their expectations.

In 2010, Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman, three American students, created a sensation with the publication of their article “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” in the famous Harvard Business Review, July-August 2010, and presented the Customer Effort Score (CES), a new indicator that measures the amount of effort that customers need to expend to achieve satisfaction. According to the research carried out by the academics, it is the lack of effort that a customer has to expend to get what he wants that will really make him loyal. It is therefore more profitable for a company to reduce the efforts of its customers than to try to exceed their expectations.

The Customer Effort Score is obtained by means of questions such as : “What level of effort did you have to expend to process your application ?”.  The scale used ranges from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “a low level of effort”, 5 meaning “a high level of effort”, the intermediate notes being used to qualify the judgment. One of the elements that made the CES a success is that by evaluating only his own efforts, the customer does not need to decide which interlocutors he has to deal with. The emotional dimensions are thus set aside, favoring a more functional and probably more objective perception of customer satisfaction.

The CES, for whom and for what ?

This indicator focuses on the customer’s assessment of a contact he has initiated: a request for information, a complaint, and the follow-up of an account management issue.  It is therefore particularly adapted to measuring the customer relationship quality of a call center or a sales outlet. The 2015 AFRC Barometer of Customer Effort, produced by Médiamétrie, reveals that the e-commerce sector is a major winner compared to other sectors of activity. Thus, for a product bought on the Internet, 74% of French indicate that they did not make a special effort. Conversely, in insurance, contract termination remains one of the most difficult stages in the customer journey for 41% of those insured.

Since it allows us to identify the moments of the customer journey that require a great deal of effort, the CES offers the possibility of making rapid operational decisions, these being precisely those on which the company ought to concentrate all its efforts.

And to understand why and when the customer feels that he had to expend significant effort, it is necessary to add an open-ended question to the CES, such as: “What can we do to improve your experience? “, which allows us to collect verbatims, to classify them into categories, and to identify where the problem lies.

CES limits

The positive aspect of the CES which was previously noted, namely the fact that the emotional dimension is avoided for this indicator, can also be considered as a limitation, for customer satisfaction is often a balance between an emotional dimension and the functional dimension of his relationship with a brand.

On the other hand, the CES measurement does not cover all dimensions of the relationship with the company, such as contacts initiated by the company (information campaign, direct marketing, etc.). It is a partial measure of the customer relationship. It is therefore preferable to be cautious with the use of the CES, in particular with what is intended to be said using this indicator, and the measures to be taken following the results.

The CES and NPS are complementary

Whilst the CES is today an indicator that is particularly valued by companies, taken in isolation it does not allow the actual state of the customer relationship to be determined and can in no way be a substitute for substantive work. In a satisfaction survey, it is interesting to associate the NPS (Net Promoter Score) indicator, which gives a good image of customer satisfaction, with the CES, and to ask open-ended questions to collect valuable verbatims.  The customer relationship is much too complex to be summed up in a single figure … which cannot be exploited !


The CES (or Customer Effort Score) was born out of a simple observation: the effort expended by a customer to obtain the desired product or service is more important for customer satisfaction than delight with the product or services that exceed expectations. This indicator, which measures the customer’s effort to obtain satisfaction, is particularly adapted to the field of services. However, the fact that it sets aside the emotional dimension of a customer relationship, often a complex liaison, sometimes has its limitations and it is necessary to associate the CES with other indicators to obtain meaningful data.