Brandon McFadden is Kustomer’s Customer Success & Support Manager, you can follow him on Twitter at @brandontonio. Read his post on using CES to help your product and service teams work better together here. The following was adapted from a workshop delivered at Support Driven Expo in Portland, OR.
After recently writing a piece about using CES to help your product teams, I received some questions asking, among other things, what CES even is. So I wanted to go over that here.
Customer Effort Scoring is one of the most effective ways to understand how your audience feels about their experience, and has some distinct advantages over methods like CSAT and NPS. The principle is simple: you’re asking your customers how difficult it was to solve their issue or complete a transaction. Like NPS or CSAT, it only takes one question to get the information you need. Below we can see two examples of CES survey questions:
So what makes a Customer Effort Score such a useful metric? The answer is rooted in human nature, specifically feelings. 96% of customers don’t complain when they’re unhappy, however they’re four times as likely to defect to a competitor if they have a problem. So while finding out if your customers enjoy their experience is critical, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. Here’s the kicker: 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. So even if your service is best-in-class for your industry, if your customers have unknown, higher expectations and your service feels lacking, they’re going to retain that feeling going forward. So the real question for the data-driven team is: How do you quantify feelings?
That’s why CES is so useful—it can tell you how your customers really feel, where other methods focus on intent and how your customers see themselves instead of addressing the feelings that drive their actions. While your clients may give a high CSAT score, what they’re saying is “I really liked talking to your team, they are AMAZING!” (and who doesn’t want to hear that?) but what they might also be thinking (feeling) is, “Why did I even have to call in the first place?” Most people don’t want to speak badly about or hurt the career of an agent, especially when they solved the problem, but they will hold a negative experience against your brand as a whole when their expectation was that the fix should have been easier—or if they never expected to have this problem to start with. To make matters worse, this usually only manifests itself when it is time to recommend your service/product. Lesson? Your agents might be doing great work (of course they are, you hire great people), but that doesn’t always lead to more referrals and repeat customers.
Typically this is where NPS seems like it should provide the other half of the picture you’re missing from CSAT. If customers are satisfied but not willing to recommend you, then something in your experience is lacking, right?. There’s nothing wrong with that assumption, but NPS also has pitfalls of its own, once again sabotaged by feelings. Often, customers will say they would recommend you to their friends, but in practice, they don’t. Interestingly, the problem is found in the NPS question itself: “How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend?”. When we think of our friends, we think of people just like us, same skill aptitude, same patience, same willingness to put up with the “why did I even have to call about this” issues. But in reality, when it comes time to make the actual recommendation, they balk. They think “oh, they aren’t as technical as me” or “they likely don’t have the same patience with that issue like I did”. So while maybe they would recommend your product in general, on a one-to-one basis, they might have lingering doubts about a difficult experience and don’t feel their personal friends would have the patience to deal with your service.
What NPS and CSAT don’t do well is make it easy to identify your customers’ hidden frustrations and reluctance to advocate for you in the real world. Neither help you pinpoint the parts of your product or process that cause the most frustration, not simply have the most quantity. This is why 82% of US companies report that they are “customer-centric”, while only 18% of US customers agree. Clearly, there’s a disconnect between how companies see themselves, and how customers see them. But if their NPS and CSAT scores are high, why should they think otherwise?
Ultimately, this is because customers are thinking: “If you really cared about me, then why are you making it so hard to do something I think should be so easy?” It’s probably a question you’ve even asked yourself when you’ve been on the phone with customer support. Fortunately, with CES, these feelings are able to be captured and quantified.
Let’s look at an example of the Customer Expectation Gap in action. I recently had two experiences where my expectations and the reality were way off, giving me two very different opinions of the organizations I was dealing with after the fact. Those organizations were Amazon and the DMV—about as different as you can get. One is “tech” and optimized to solve your problems, and the other is the DMV.
I’m pretty sure that if I offered you the choice of getting a new license at the DMV or requesting a refund from Amazon—you would choose Amazon every time (and for good reason, their support is fantastic). While I didn’t have to choose in the moment, I did have to get a refund for a Netflix gift-card purchased through Amazon (silly me, didn’t coordinate with my brother). Given their renowned and very streamlined buying experiences, I thought the process would be just as easy. In a way, you could say that they trained me to think this would be just as easy as buying. This, frankly, is the blessing/curse of tech. We spend endless time making things easier, automating, reducing effort—meaning it hurts that much more when this doesn’t happen with Support resolutions. Inversely, around the same time, I needed to replace my license at the New York City DMV—a much-maligned experience and a staple of 90s stand up—albeit for good reasons. I expected this to be an all-day ordeal (ok, maybe half day), because it had been before in multiple states over the past 20 years for me. I had been trained to expect the worst.
However, getting my refund from Amazon was the real bureaucratic nightmare, stretching across four calls and two 15-minute chat sessions, and taking over 2 days to resolve. On the other hand, the DMV was a breeze. I booked ahead online, found an “express office”, checked-in on a screen, followed an express lane to an automated machine, and was done in less than 30 minutes. Now, I’ve been bragging about the NYC DMV to my friends (who think I’m crazy), and certainly haven’t recommended ever getting a gift card from Amazon. The funny thing is that If I had called up Amazon expecting a hassle, I wouldn’t have remarked on it, and if I had known that the DMV had become so cutting-edge (kind of), then maybe I wouldn’t have been wowed. So as you can see, it really is the combination of how I felt about the experience, my expectations, and the relative effort I had to expend that determined whether or not I became an advocate.
To be clear, none of this is to say that you shouldn’t measure NPS and CSAT. You absolutely should, and they are crucial metrics for understanding your business. But if you want to know how your customers really feel about your experience, they leave too many gaps. With CES, you can fill those gaps and get all the context you need to identify where your experience is weak, and how you can improve it. So maybe start by adding a 2nd CES question to your post-issue CSAT survey, you may just be surprised by the results. Remember, it’s not about what your customers say—it’s how they feel that creates impact at the moment of their referral, making repeat purchases, and when they decide to churn. If you would like to learn more about how you can act on this information, feel free to check out the companion piece: How CES Can Help Your CX and Product Teams Work Better Together.
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