What is customer effort score (CES) and how does AI help improve it?

Natalie Smithson
AI enthusiast | Tea addict | Focused on using AI assistants to win the working week

What is customer effort score?

Customer Effort Score (CES) measures how easy or how difficult your customers find it to interact with your company’s services or support. If it’s difficult, customers can quickly become frustrated or dissatisfied, which can increase your escalation rate or customer churn. Low CES is good, implying a seamless customer experience, which can lead to increased customer satisfaction scores, greater loyalty, and good customer retention for overall healthier profits.

How do you calculate CES?

To calculate CES, you’ll first need to decide which specific part of your business you want to measure. This could be anything you’re focused on right now to hit key customer service goals:

  • How easy it is for customers to get technical support
  • How easy it is for people to use your product
  • How easy it is to find information on your website
  • How easy it is to place an order

Once you know what you’re measuring, ask your customers to rate how easy or difficult they found it to complete this task on a scale of 1-5, with 1 and 5 being the extremes at either side, and 3 neutral in the middle:

1 = Extremely easy
2 = Easy
3 = Neither easy or difficult
4 = Difficult
5 = Extremely difficult

You can explicitly mention “effort” in your question: ‘How much effort did it take for you to book an appointment today?’ or simply ask people how easy it was for them to complete the task.

Illustration of rating score for the question How easy did you find it to book an appointment today?

Once you have your results, you want to determine the average score, so add up all the scores received and divide it by the total number of responses.

Say 10 customers give effort scores of 2,  3,  2,  1,  4,  2,  3,  2, 1, and 3.

That’s a total score of 23 (2 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 4 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 3).

Divide this by 10 (total responses).

23 ÷ 10 = 2.3

Rounded to the nearest number, your CES score here is 2, meaning, on average, most people find it easy to get help or information, or complete a task.

Why does CES matter?

Naturally, you want it to be easy for customers to get the help they need or information from you. Booking and buying should be easy too, to encourage people to use your services again or push up your repurchase rate, but if other metrics you track are too high or too low, CES can give extra insight into why you might have issues cropping up.

Say Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) shows customers aren’t overly happy with your product or services, or Net Promoter Score (NPS) confirms they’re unlikely to recommend you, a high CES can suggest customers aren’t happy or speak negatively about your business because you’re simply too difficult to use or to buy from.

Once you’ve determined where a problem might lie, you can set about fixing it. This can then help improve CES, CSAT and NPS as well as other customer service goals, like reducing average response time or increasing your upsell or cross sell rate.

Illustration showing FRT going up = CSAT up, NPS up, Upsell up, Cross sell up, Customer churn down

By reducing the effort customers need to make to enjoy all you have to offer, you can simultaneously increase customer loyalty, since you’re showing people you value their time and their business, resulting in long-term, richer relationships to ultimately increase profits and boost your brand reputation. To make all of this easier, business owners are now turning to AI as their ally.

Rethinking CES in the age of AI

Speak to anyone who’s ever had to contact customer support about a problem and they’ll tell you a story about the time they spent ages in a call queue, got passed between departments, cut off, were given the wrong information, or didn’t receive a reply to their email. Having to make repeated calls or send multiple emails, explain their situation to more than one person or start over in a support enquiry thanks to an inefficient process or incorrect information results in high effort for customers. That’s why business leaders are using AI to help eradicate these issues.

Adding a next-gen AI assistant to your support team means business leaders in all sectors, from travel and insurance to retail and local councils are reducing effort for customers to better serve their needs:

Screenshot of a screen from AI Studio where you can connect your AI assistant to various customer service tools, like Zapier, Trello, Jira, Hubspot, Dropbox, ShipStation, Freshdesk, Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp, Make.com

How to track the impact of AI on CES

If you introduce an AI assistant to your team, be sure to compare your CES results before and after so you can clearly recognise the difference an AI assistant makes to your organisation. Before introducing theirs, Barking & Dagenham Council knew only 20% of customers were satisfied with trying to find information on their website, but using an AI assistant, satisfaction shot up by 67%.

Leisure providers, Mytime Active, who have a wide range of classes and activities across many different locations were finally able to put relevant, up to the minute information at the fingertips of their customers with no effort involved at all, transforming their customer service operations.

“The ability to take information directly from our site and present that to customers has delivered major change. Our timetables and opening times change on a regular basis and we know our AI assistant will present the latest updates when the customers ask."

John Branigan, Director of IT & Transformation at Mytime Active

John Branigan

Director of IT and Transformation at Mytime Active

Since an AI assistant is always online and engagement with customers happens in real time, you can also ask people why they give the effort score they do. This can help pinpoint areas of improvement you haven’t yet considered and move past specific pain points to reduce CES and increase customer satisfaction.

Get started today

Using our advanced platform, AI Studio, you can launch an AI assistant in minutes, and it’s just as easy to set up question and answer sequences (we call these flows), including a request for a CES rating at the end of every exchange.

Illustration of AI Studio platform setting up CES flow
  1. Sign up for or log in to AI Studio
  2. Go to the Content tab and check you’re on the Flows tab
  3. Create a new flow called ‘Ask CES score’
  4. Add a Question: ‘How easy was it for you to find out the information you were looking for today?’
  5. Add Valid options 1-5 (Extremely easy, Easy, Neither easy or difficult, Difficult, Extremely difficult)
  6. Click Show options to user (so they can quickly choose a response)
  7. Hit Publish


What's a good CES benchmark?

On a scale of 1-5, where 1 is ‘Extremely easy’ and 5 is ‘Extremely difficult’, a score of 1 or 2 for effort means customers are having an easy time of things. However, with AI now frequently being used to help reduce CES, business leaders are also finding it easier than ever to quickly improve processes, improve customer engagement, and enhance every interaction. This makes maintaining a low CES far more achievable, as AI optimises customer experiences and reduces friction points, ultimately leading to improved satisfaction scores and loyalty.

How can CES impact customer Lifetime Value (LTV)?

CES can have a significant impact on customer Lifetime Value (LTV) by influencing customer loyalty, your satisfaction score, and customer retention. Low CES shows reduced customer effort and a positive experience, which can lead to an increased repurchase rate as well as better upsell and cross sell rates for longer-lasting relationships with your brand. This improved overall experience and loyalty can contribute to higher LTV through more frequent sales, less customer churn, and increased customer advocacy, which you can track using Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Can CES help identify opportunities for product improvement?

Yes, CES can help identify opportunities for product improvement by pinpointing areas where customers come up against challenges or difficulties, so you can make enhancements in product design, usability, and overall customer experience. Using AI, you can learn about any difficulties in real time and at scale.

How can you maintain a good customer effort score?

To maintain a good customer effort score, simplify processes by minimising unnecessary steps, offer proactive support by using AI assistants for immediate issue resolution and real time engagement, open up opportunities for support staff to do their best work alongside AI and use every method available to innovate in customer service today, as well as act on customer feedback to make constant improvements and refinements to stay ahead of your competition. These practical steps help maintain positive CES.