Using Online Surveys to Track Customer Effort

Philip Cleave
May 17, 2019

Customer Effort Surveys can be an effective approach to collecting customer feedback. They are simple to set up and analyse, and flexible. They’re effective because they focus on a specific element of customer experience that’s been shown to be key in predicting returning business.

They’re based on the idea that by making your business easier to deal with, customers will be more likely to return, but how do you work out how to do that? With online customer surveys of course…


Back in 2010, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers“. The authors carried out extensive research into the effect of differing factors on customer behaviour. To brutally summarise, they came to the following conclusions:

  • Delighting customers so that their every wish was fulfilled did not increase customer loyalty.
  • Reducing their effort – the work they needed to put in to resolve an issue or complete a transaction, did increase loyalty.

This goes a little against the conventional wisdom of customer service. But, looked at from another angle, this makes a lot of sense. Customers are often busy and appreciate things that offer value without demanding a lot of their time, attention or energy, which are usually being called on by multiple sources at anyone time.

So, it does hold water that giving customers as pain-free an experience as possible would be a driver of loyalty. Customers would be more keen to come back to a company that delivered with a minimum of fuss and allowed them to get on with their day.

Comparisons with Net Promoter® Score

As a three-letter acronym, ending in “score”, comparisons with NPS are almost inevitable. In some ways both metrics measure the same thing but examine different points of the thought process. NPS asks about the likelihood of the customer recommending the business (and by inference, satisfaction and likelihood of returning business), assigns that a score, but doesn’t ask about the whys and wherefores that led to the customer making that decision. CES instead assumes that the effort expended is going to be the main driver of why a customer will or will not return, so asks about this specific aspect of the interaction.

Which you choose to measure is a question of preference and what you feel best suits your business or organisation. Certainly, Net Promoter has some drawbacks in contexts which don’t apply as much to Customer Effort. The classic NPS question of “how likely are you to recommend <organisation> to a friend or colleague” can have drawbacks when used around interactions that people see as unpleasant or unnecessary by default.

Nearly all business exist to solve some problem, need, or challenge that people may experience in return for money. However, not all problems fit this format, or are even ones we might wish that our friends and family would also need to solve. You may have got good treatment at the fracture clinic but it’s unlikely you’d want to recommend that a friend visits them.

Collecting Customer Effort data

Unlike NPS, customer effort score isn’t based around a fixed format of a specific question and a specific way of answering it. This does mean that it doesn’t have the same capability for benchmarking that NPS does. It does mean though that again the needs of your organisation can be placed at the fore.

So, to collect the data, we recommend using a “Semantic Differential” question, with the ends of the scale being “very easy” and “very difficult” and a scale of 1-7 or 1-5. While that deals with the actual survey, the method of distribution should be chosen with immediacy in mind. Of course, because it’s not a standardised metric you can change this format. For example, if space is at a premium or your customers prefer simpler questions with fewer answers, you can choose a different question format to suit their needs.

Because this data is most valuable when the experience is fresh in the respondent’s mind, then the ideal delivery method is as a pop-up, web intercept, or exit survey. By embedding the question as part of a purchase confirmation, or the onscreen notification that a support request has been
closed, the question can be asked and answered almost as soon as the interaction you want to measure has taken place.

Calculating Customer Effort Score

The actual calculation of the score is very simple – It’s just the mean, or average, of all the scores collected. SmartSurvey’s Key Analysis feature shows you this. You can also easily calculate it in a spreadsheet by adding all the score together and then dividing the total by the number of scores received. See our ces score calculator for an example.

Getting more out of it

If you’re measuring the effort that your customers put into their interactions, it’s logical to connect these scores with particular interactions. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • A single survey with several tracking links,
  • Different surveys, for each interaction
  • A single survey using custom variables to store a reference number as part of each survey response.

So, combined with the filtering features, you can have a score for the whole organisation while still identifying the “pain points”. where customers are finding things more difficult than they think it should be.

You can find a guide on how to set up a Customer Effort Score question on the SmartSurvey Knowledgebase. So why not give it a try? It’s quick and easy to get started and find out what using this metric can do for your business.


Get started and create your first survey

If you would like more information then please get in touch.