The Customer Effort Score, complementary or an alternative to the NPS?

Thu 11 Jul 2019

For several years now, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) has been the flagship measure of customer satisfaction despite its limitations (see the article “NPS: how to make good use of this measure of excellence“). Recently, the Customer Effort Score (CES) has stolen the spotlight from it. Many see it as a better indicator of customer loyalty.
Should the NPS be abandoned in favor of the CES?

What is the Customer Effort Score?

The CES arose from the observation that it is more profitable, in terms of loyalty, to minimize customers’ efforts rather than exceed their expectations[1].

The CES’s main asset is to refine the intention to recommend the brand (the NPS), by measuring the effort that the customer must make to carry out an act with the brand (search for information, purchase, access to customer service, interaction with advisers, etc.). 

These two indicators measure two different concepts – effort and recommendation – while having the same purpose: customer loyalty.

How can the CES be measured?

The CES is calculated from a scale of 1 to 5 where the customer is asked to “assess the level of effort they had to make in a brand contact?”, 1 meaning “no effort”, and 5 meaning “a very significant effort”.

The concept of effort must be qualified

The effort is intrinsically linked to the customer journey. The perception of effort can differ greatly from one person to the next. It can be physical, financial, cognitive, time-based, relationship-based, process-based, etc.

To characterize the actual nature of the effort, the CES thus needs to be combined with the other questions of the satisfaction studies in place, including an open question.

The CES is better measured on the spot

It is a good idea to use the CES in surveys immediately following the interaction with the brand. At this time when the customer’s memory of his/her experience is still fresh, the score will highlight if the effort is (too) significant.

By cross-referencing this information with the customer profile and contact point, companies will be able to find the breaking point. The aim is to identify experiences where simplification remains a major issue in order to initiate corrective actions.

CES in the Telecom sector: efforts to be made

In France, the Médiamétrie study[2] offers, for four service sectors (E-commerce, Transport, Health, Telecoms), a comparison of the level and type of effort made. The results show that throughout the customer journey, the time spent is the common effort of the respondents, regardless of the sector.

The e-commerce sector is the best ranked, with the lowest level of relational effort (2.3/5). It also benefits from a positive perception of almost the entire journey.

With an average CES of (2.7/5), the telecoms sector presents major challenges in terms of listening and support. Customers mainly refer to difficulties when they call the customer service department to make complaints or to resolve an incident (after-sales service).

So, NPS or CES?

If the NPS does not get past its usage limits, should we stop using it? Not really.

The NPS has the merit of quantifying customer satisfaction and perceived value. However, this indicator is sometimes not appropriate to indicate a customer’s intent or action in certain scenarios. It is therefore essential to consider it as a complementary tool to a traditional satisfaction survey. The NPS is an indicator of the company’s growth potential and not a single and sufficient tool.

A link with the Customer Effort Score (CES) is required to make its use more operational. The role of the CES would be to provide a more functional and probably objective perception of the quality delivered to customers through the effort that they make to obtain satisfaction from the brand.

From the point of view of those involved in the studies, it is the combination of complementary indicators that works best to predict the intention to buy again, and consequently, loyalty.


The CES has become the new automatic response of organizations, but again, an isolated indicator does not reveal the real state of customer relations. It cannot therefore replace background work. It can thus be interesting to couple the NPS and the CES, in order to not only measure the ease of dealing with the brand but also the emotions it generates.

[1] Source: In 2010, Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “Stop Delighting your Customers” where the authors Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman shook up a consensus that had gradually settled around “Customer Delight”, and kicked off a now increasingly popular indicator: the Customer Effort Score (CES).

[2] The AFRC Customer Effort Barometer, carried out by Médiamétrie, makes it possible to measure, based on the CES, the effort of consumers in their customer journey according to several criteria, such as the financial, physical, cognitive, or relational effort, the waiting time or the cumbersome nature of the journey. The Barometer also examines in which situations consumers are happy to use virtual assistants, or on the contrary, prefer human contact in their customer journey. Four sectors are analyzed: Telecoms, E-Commerce, Health and Public Transport.


Niima Bercovitz

Market intelligence and project managment

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