A Primer on the 3 Most Important CX Metrics: NPS, CSAT and CES

Increased competition in nearly every market is leading businesses of all types to search for ways to attract and retain their ideal customers. Customers have unprecedented access to information about products and services. And with a few clicks, they can compare your company with your competitor’s offering, and learn how others perceive you. As competition and buyer empowerment compounds, customer experience (CX), is proving to be the only truly durable competitive advantage.

Not only does exceptional customer experience make customers happier, it drives desirable customer behavior. More purchases and renewals. More referrals and positive word of mouth.

When you start your CX efforts, you need to consider how to measure it. But “it” is a multi-layered concept, and to truly understand customer experience at scale, you may need to track three very important metrics. Together, these can give you insight into where you stand and how to improve your CX:

  1. Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  2. Customer Satisfaction (CSAT)
  3. Customer Effort Score (CES)

Of course, no single metric is going to give you a complete picture, and you will have to discover how to adapt the big three to your business case. Nonetheless, these tried and true customer experience survey methodologies are used across industries, and are a great place to start as you grow your program.

What Is Customer Experience? A Quick Definition to Get Us Started

Customer experience (CX) is the cumulative impact of every touchpoint throughout the customer journey. CX managers first determine what a positive customer experience entails for their target clients, theorize and implement changes they believe will have the most impact, and use results to optimize each customer interaction.

With new technology and social media, we have more ways than ever before of interacting with our customers. And, that means, we have nearly infinite opportunities to delight them—or disappoint them. But focusing only on individual touch points, even if your goal is to maximize satisfaction with each one, is a mistake. Because customer experience isn’t just about the customer’s experience in the moment; it’s about how these touchpoints fit into the context of their end-to-end journey with your company.

The End to End Customer Journey: How do you track it with the right CX Metrics?

How Do I Measure Customer Experience?

Measuring customer experience (CX) requires a layered approach that can include in-depth user interviews and gathering data at key points of contact, as well as tracking metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), and Customer Effort Score (CES).

The Three Most Popular CX Metrics

What Is Net Promoter Score (NPS)?

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a CX metric that surveys customers based on one question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Customers who are promoters score 9 or 10. Passives score 7 or 8. Detractors score 6 to 0.

NPS Survey Powered by InMoment

NPS is such a valuable tool for measuring not just customer experience, but also customer loyalty, because it transcends single experiences. It is often referred to as a brand or relationship metric. The NPS question asks the customer to draw on the sum total of their experiences with your company, not just the most recent, making it a good indicator for repurchasing (and growth). As a result, it is often considered a “board level” metric.

It is paired with an open-ended follow-up question, like “Care to tell us why?,” so you also get rich qualitative feedback that can guide improvement efforts from product to support to marketing.

While NPS surveys are sometimes deployed once or twice a year, a good, modern NPS program will use “drip NPS” to keep an ongoing pulse on customer sentiment, so you can react in the moment, instead of after the fact.

If you are launching a customer feedback program, the Net Promoter cycle is a great place to start. However, NPS surveys are high level. How do you learn more about the experience you provide at specific touchpoints or transactions along your customer’s journey? This is where CSAT comes in.

What Is Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)?

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is the most popular transactional metric. A CSAT survey asks a customer how satisfied they are with a recent interaction—often a purchase or a customer service call—on a rating scale. CSAT is flexible and highly customizable.

You can also ask multiple questions in the CSAT format to create a longer survey (and then average those responses for a composite CSAT score), but we recommend you keep it simple.  An open-ended follow up question allows your customers to tell you what attributes of satisfaction are working—or not working—for them.  

CSAT Survey
Above is a 2-step CSAT survey on a mobile app powered by InMoment

You can also try other survey formats. Here is a smiley-face based CSAT survey embedded in an email:

Simple CSAT Survey in an Email

In the realm of CX, a short CSAT survey is most often used to gauge customer satisfaction with interactions with support personnel. It’s a great tool for identifying support agents who may need more training or to quantify the impact of your last team-wide training effort.

Customer satisfaction metrics are useful for gauging the ‘happiness’ resulting from recent interactions, which is valuable information, especially when you’ve been making changes and need to track the results. You will need to dig into the qualitative feedback you receive to understand which attributes of satisfaction are most important to your customers and which are areas that require improvement. In the food delivery example, those attributes could be promptness of delivery, quality of food, price/value, etc.

A related survey is PSAT or Product Satisfaction Score. This is an adaption of the CSAT survey that is popular with software developers and advocates of product-led growth. An example is an in-app survey that asks a software user “How satisfied are you with [this product or feature]?”  The specific, contextual feedback that users provide in a PSAT survey helps to prioritize a roadmap of product improvements.

What Is Customer Effort Score?

Customer Effort Score (CES) surveys ask the customer “How much effort did you have to expend to handle your request?” and is scored on a numeric scale. It’s a customer service metric that is used to improve systems that may frustrate customers.

Essentially, CES advocates believe that when it comes to customer service or support, “effortlessness” is the most relevant attribute of customer satisfaction. In fact, Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) customer experience research confirms that exceeding customer expectations results in little change in loyalty. The CES survey helps you identify and remove obstacles, and solve problems, so your customers can find success with ease.

Here is an example of an in-app CES survey:

Here is another common way to ask the Customer Effort Score question in a survey:

CES Survey example

A CES survey is typically deployed after a support interaction. But, for SaaS businesses, the CES survey can also help gauge the effort the customer must expend to onboard with you, the process of installing and becoming trained in the use of software. Onboarding can be self-service or high touch, and likely a combination of both. These steps that lead to a customer’s first experience of value are critical to success.  CES survey feedback can help you get it right.

According to the Harvard Business Review, CES can predict repurchasing even better than CSAT, making it a go-to, critical metric for SaaS companies, that depend heavily on successful onboarding and customer success to lay the foundation for repeat purchases.

How Do CX Metrics Work Together?

If measuring customer experience requires a comprehensive view, these three metrics help you get there. Net Promoter Score delivers the big picture of customer loyalty and relationship over the long-term. CSAT & CES are typically transactional metrics that can help you analyze key touchpoints in the customer’s journey. CSAT can measure overall satisfaction on a number of attributes so you can discover and refine those that are most meaningful to your customers. And, Customer Effort Score dials in on one attribute, effort, and is incredibly useful for smoothing the customer’s path to their desired outcome. 

You’ll always need Net Promoter Score, “The One Number You Need to Grow.” However, the numbers you need have grown. CX improvement takes focus, but modern survey platforms can help streamline the process. The reward is market success. When you edge out the competition through world-class customer experience—think JetBlue, Starbucks, Charles Schwab, and Trader Joe’s—your customers will reward you with repeat business and brand advocacy.

And remember, scores can only get you so far. They are a great starting point, but as you grow your customer experience program, you’ll be able to aim higher than just putting a few points on the board. You’ll be able to leverage the insights you gain from your program to influence big-picture business goals like customer acquisition, customer retention, customer lifetime value, and cost reduction across the business. Read more about how CX programs can influence your business here.

How Can I Improve Customer Experience?

Optimizing to improve customer experience begins with establishing a starting point with your current metrics, then designing your program, listening to customers, understanding the insights through analytics, and leveraging those insights to form an action plan. After you take these actions, you measure the response to your improvements and determine the success of your efforts. And once you’ve completed the cycle, it’s vital you do it all over again (this is what our experts at InMoment call Continuous Experience Improvement).

This series of designing, listening, understanding, transforming, and realizing is meant for agile companies and can be a challenge if you’re using dated methodology.

For example, a traditional approach of sending out feedback surveys only once or twice a year (often via bulk email to all customers) means that it can take a long time to see results, and response rates can be low. However, always on listening through various channels like social media, online reviews, and targeted surveys deliver results in real-time, which is especially vital for rapidly evolving businesses.

Once you have access to nearly instant customer feedback, the challenge becomes digesting it and taking action. And that’s where a partner with industry-leading, action-enabling text analytics (like InMoment) comes in.

Unlocking the insight from qualitative feedback is key to making the most of your CX metrics. Machine learning enables you to auto-categorize the topics and emotion in open-ended feedback, and do so at scale in real-time. Pair that with operational data about your respondents—like role, location, account, associated revenue—and you’ll be able to diagnose the “why” behind your scores and quickly prioritize improvements that will drive your business forward.

Customer experience isn’t just about making the customer happy during a single interaction, though it is important. In fact, each interaction is a small part of an equation that spans the entire relationship you have with that customer. With that in mind, you’ll want to start by taking stock of each potential interaction with your company, website, products, self-service support, and customer-facing representatives.

Improving the customer experience is truly a team effort, so you’ll want to systematically go through each touchpoint to see who is in charge of it, how well it’s working now, and what improvements are feasible to make in the short term and the long term.

Your Next Steps

Want to dive in deeper to discover what CX Metrics are right for your business? Check out our eBook on the subject!

EBOOK

Three Rules for Choosing the Right Customer Experience Metrics

Metrics are a must for any experience program, but not every metric has meaning. The truth is, it’s not about what metric you’re tracking; it’s about whether or not the metrics you’re tracking actually reflect your business and drive your success forward.

Download the free eBook today for a comprehensive guide from our experts on how to choose the right CX metrics for your program.

Download eBook

How to Use CX Metrics to Find Bottlenecks to Product Led Growth

We are all competing in the End User Era now.

Investor Blake Bartlett coined the term “End User Era” to capture an important shift that is happening on an organizational level across industries: “Today, software just shows up in the workplace unannounced. End users are finding products on their own and telling their bosses which ones to buy. And it’s all happening at lightning speed.”

Companies like DocuSign, Slack, Zoom, and Hubspot are examples of SaaS companies that are thriving in the End User Era. Their success is rooted in products that end-users love. Product Led Growth codifies this end user-focused growth model. PLG relies on the product itself as the primary driver of customer acquisition, conversion and expansion. This approach goes all-in on end user ease and productivity to drive growth, and is a radical shift away from the acquisition growth model so familiar in the software industry.

Customer experience (CX) metrics have an important role to play in this strategy—something we explored in-depth in a previous post: Customer Experience in the Era of Product Led Growth.

Customers Will Tell You Where Your Product Led Growth Bottlenecks Are

Metrics are essential to understanding progress on the product led growth curve. Typically the PLG model evaluates business and pipeline health based on user actions (clicks) and subscription revenue.

This is where CX metrics are so valuable. Voice of customer data illuminates the “why” behind the clicks and the cash. Classic CX surveys like NPS, PSAT, CSAT, and Customer Effort Score(CES) monitor customer sentiment—providing critical insight into behavioral and revenue metrics.

By analyzing the open-ended comments that accompany the rating-scale questions you can identify positive and negative themes in what customers are saying. Based on what you learn, you can confidently prioritize improvements to your product that will remove bottlenecks, the enemy of PLG success.

At the core, product led growth is about taking tasks that would traditionally be done manually and putting them into the product to create efficiency and a better customer experience. Step back and map out all of the steps in your funnel from acquiring an initial lead all the way through to turning that lead into a paying customer who sees value in the product. Where are the bottlenecks?

How do you know where your bottlenecks are, and whether you are eliminating them?

Let’s explore each metric to understand how it can help you identify and address bottlenecks, with real-world examples from our customers.

Net Promoter Score (NPS): Loyalty and More

Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys ask customers to evaluate how likely they are to recommend your product or company to a friend or colleague, this “propensity to refer” is an excellent predictor of future growth.

Unlike the other metrics covered here, which are flexible and easily customizable, true NPS surveys follow a very specific format when it comes to asking the first (of two) questions. By asking that first question in a specific way, using a standard scale, companies can compare their NPS scores to industry benchmarks. The second question, which gathers qualitative data regarding improvement opportunities, can (and often should) be customized.

NPS Surveys ask two questions…

  • Question #1: “How likely are you to recommend this product or company to a friend or colleague on a scale of 0-10?”
  • Question #2: “What can we improve about this experience?” (if they rated you 0-8) or “What did you love about this experience” (if they rated you a 9 or 10).

The first question allows you to calculate your Net Promoter Score, which is a number between -100 and +100 and serves as a benchmark for progress. For detailed information on how to calculate NPS, and what the number really means, take a look at our Net Promoter Score post.

The second NPS survey question is just as important, if not more so, than the score itself because this qualitative data tells you what you need to do to improve end user experience.

Why is NPS key to Product Led Growth? Traditionally viewed as an indicator of growth (as mentioned above), NPS is also a crystal ball when it comes to retention. NPS gives you a glimpse into the minds and hearts of your end users. It can provide a constant stream of feedback about bottlenecks and that will help you create products that enable the ease and productivity you are going for.

In short, NPS captures what’s most important to users, whether it’s documentation, training, or aspects of the product itself. NPS is typically the foundation of any CX program, and since you don’t want to get overwhelmed in the beginning, there’s nothing wrong with making NPS your sole CX metric at this stage.

NPS Example: DocuSign

Docusign logo
DocuSign uses NPS to gather feedback on product features and pinpoint any bottlenecks in the experience. They achieve this by customizing their NPS follow-up question (the one that asks users to explain their score). In the in-app survey pictured below, Docusign asks “Tell us about your experience sending an envelope.”

Wootric NPS Survey in DocuSign

Guneet Singh, Director of CX at DocuSign, believes that regardless of which metric you use, it’s vital to understand how customers feel about your product at key points in their journey. In other words, don’t wait to conduct an annual survey—gather continuous data and refine your product based on that feedback.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): Because Support Is a Bottleneck

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), like NPS, is another metric you can use at various points in the customer journey. The classic use case for CSAT is following up on a support interaction, where you can ask customers about their experience:

  • Solving their specific problem
  • Working with a particular CS agent
  • Working with your company in general

CSAT surveys can use a scale ranging from “very satisfied” or “very dissatisfied,” often followed by a question that asks the user to share the reason behind their score.

What makes this touchpoint so vital from a PLG perspective? Support calls, by definition, are a point of friction—nobody contacts customer support when things are going right.

Product Led Growth endeavors to eliminate support interactions altogether. When was the last time you reached out to customer support at Slack or DocuSign? Chances are, it’s never happened. That’s the seamlessness you’re going for.

This touchpoint is a rich source of insight into frustrations that customers face. Product teams that prioritize end user experience pay close attention to feedback from support as they improve product and design new features.

CSAT Example: Glassdoor
glassdoor logo
Glassdoor, the popular site for job listings and anonymous employer reviews, uses Customer Satisfaction surveys to gather feedback on support interactions. When a support case is closed in Salesforce, end users receive a personalized CSAT survey via email.

Carmen Woo, Salesforce Solution Architect and Senior Application Engineer, holds the cross-functional CX technology vision at Glassdoor. “What is intriguing about our use case is that we use machine learning to analyze feedback. Comments are tagged by topic themes and are assigned sentiment to capture the emotion behind the user’s words.

“The [InMoment] platform allows our Support team to segment feedback by agent and other relevant business drivers to uncover insights that contribute to optimizing our support function, and it can also reveal bottlenecks that are best addressed by improving product features or design,” says Carmen.

Product Satisfaction (PSAT): Adoption and Engagement Bottlenecks

PSAT surveys are highly flexible, and they can be structured the same way you structure Customer Satisfaction survey questions—asking customers to rate their level of satisfaction with a product using a scale from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied” (e.g., 1-3 or 1-5) or through a binary response (e.g., “happy face” or “sad face”).

PSAT surveys are best delivered within an app, when customers are using your product and can give you fresh, timely feedback. The customer sentiment derived from PSAT surveys is the necessary complement to behavioral metrics. Sure, you can see in the clicks that users are not adopting a feature, but why? PSAT helps to answer that question and guides optimization efforts.

PSAT Example: HubSpot

Marketers that use HubSpot, the popular CRM software, may recall responding to a Product Satisfaction survey when using a new feature for the first time. PSAT gives Hubspot immediate feedback on whether a new feature is delivering value to the end-user.

Even if you’ve done extensive user testing, getting feedback on a feature within the context of a user’s experience of the whole product is valuable. Is there friction? Should the feature be tweaked in some way?

This approach, which is a key aspect of lean UX design, ensures you don’t go too far down the rabbit hole with a product feature that sounded great in theory but didn’t serve your end-users in the real world. New features can bring complexity — the bain of end user ease. By continually asking for feedback in-product, you can better calibrate that balance and maintain a frictionless, easeful end-user experience.

Mobile CSAT survey for banking app
Example InMoment PSAT survey in a mobile app.

Customer Effort Score (CES): Identify Bottlenecks in Onboarding

A seamless onboarding experience is key to widespread adoption. If end-users have to work too hard to get up and running, they’ll give up and try a competitor’s product. Even if you have an enthusiastic champion within a company, if they have to prod others to adopt or spend time convincing them of your value, their own enthusiasm will wane. As such, it’s important to evaluate how much effort end users must put into getting started.

Customer Effort Score (CES) asks how difficult it was to accomplish a given task using a predefined scale (e.g., 1-7 or 1-5). Here is an example of a CES survey:

Customer Effort Score Survey in Intercom Messenger
Example InMoment CES Survey in Intercom

CES surveys are frequently used to follow up on support calls, but they’re also extremely valuable when evaluating the onboarding experience. Success teams know that the seeds of churn can be sown in the onboarding phase. They have been using feedback from CES surveys to both (1) follow up with that customer to fix the problem and (2) develop tasks and processes that will prevent future customers from experiencing the same bottlenecks.

However, in the context of PLG, addressing onboarding feedback isn’t just the domain of the Success or Support team. It is vital input to UX teams that seek to eliminate tasks that would traditionally be done manually and put them into the product to create efficiency and a better customer experience.

CES Example: Watermark

Watermark is in the EdTech space, and they’ve taken a comprehensive approach to optimizing user experience. Here’s how they do it, starting with Customer Effort Score surveys.

Watermark has a complex onboarding and training process, so they gather data at the end of each of three phases of training using CES surveys. The feedback goes to the implementation and training teams to both (1) improve the process and (2) identify customers who may need extra support. Then, of course, they look for larger trends and modify their onboarding experience accordingly.

Watermark also measures NPS & CSAT.  NPS is measured across six product lines, and Watermark studies the correlation between NPS and renewals. Higher NPS scores predict a greater likelihood for renewal, and improving products based on NPS survey results is key to Watermark’s customer retention strategy. CSAT surveys, triggered from Salesforce Service Cloud when a case is closed, help to evaluate and improve Customer Support.

And as Dave Hansen, the CX champion at Watermark, points out, they dig into the data to identify points of friction. “The feedback we’re getting tells us that there isn’t necessarily an issue with our overall solutions,” says Dave. “You may have issues running a certain report, or you may have issues with the way you have to click through to something.”

Product Led Growth Strategy Is About End User Experience

The four CX metrics covered in this post (NPS, CSAT, PSAT, and CES) offer insight into end user experience and augment behavioral data with the voice of your customer.

Remember, don’t allow scores to be your sole focus. There is gold in the open-ended feedback you receive. Without analyzing the open-ended feedback you receive, the metrics are just benchmarks that you’ll aimlessly try to identify bottlenecks through guesswork. In the end, that won’t get you very far.

Product Led Growth is all about creating a smoother experience in the moments that matter. CX metrics and voice of the customer comments help technology companies do just that.

Get the ebook, “CX FOR EVERY STAGE: How to Scale Your Voice of Customer Program from Startup to Enterprise.’ Learn how to improve user experience for product led growth and loyalty.

3 Most Common CX Metrics Questions (And Their Answers)

Customer experience (CX) metrics are a CX program’s bread and butter. NPS, CSAT, and CES have historically been the main tools every program utilizes to have a systematic way of establishing a voice of customer (VoC) source and leveraging those findings to improve customer experiences. But it’s not easy—a CX metric score alone can’t create transformation.

CX metrics aren’t one-size-fits-all. Certain CX metrics are more fitting for specific industries—and even then your brand might not need to use the same metrics as your direct competitors. Case in point, there’s no one golden method to measuring CX metrics, which is actually why many businesses struggle to create a success framework. 

In our decades of experience helping brands to build programs (and the success frameworks that accompany them), we’ve noticed there are a few common obstacles companies face. Here are the three most common CX questions we get all the time: 

CX Metrics Question #1: What Metrics Can You Use to Determine Industry and Organizational Maturity?

Before you can answer this question for your company, there are three things you should answer first:

  • Are you measuring a customer experience—and is it satisfaction or NPS—or a metric that aligns with the goal you have?
  • What are you doing with it? How are the metrics of field services, retail, call-center, first-contact resolution, etc. used?
  • From an employee perspective, are you doing something beyond a basic employee engagement study? Or do you have an employee pulse metric by division, region, or queue?

There’s no one-size-fits-all metric that determines maturity—and should there be? Instead, you need to focus on where your company is on the journey toward your specific goals. Success, then, is determined by how close you are to achieving that goal, instead of a set of objective metrics that may not even relate to your business.  Truly mature organizations are aligned on specific business goals and have metrics directly attached to those individual goals. They frequently check in on those metrics and take action to move the needle and tie that success back to their experience programs.

CX Metrics Question #2: How Can You Tie Metrics Directly to CX and VoC Programs Versus Other Internal and External Factors?

The important thing is to look at your organization and how they talk about success—and learning to speak that language. Are you a finance, operations, or retention-focused organization? And how are you integrating operational, technical, and financial data with customer survey data?

Organizations that are technically or engineering focused often look for an extreme amount of precision. But survey data doesn’t always lead to one answer—or the answer you expect. The real question is, “how do you pull information together and communicate that collectively?” As much as the mathematical connections are crucial, so are the practical ones.

Ultimately, metrics can be tied either statistically or practically, but the latter is much more realistic for a business. For example, the broader benefits when enabling an entire organization is hard to quantify but there could be specific benefits your program has contributed to make a project more successful. Maybe the insights your program provided can take accountability for 10% of the project’s effects. Then you can say, “it wasn’t all from our VoC or CX program but we get credit for that 10%.”

Want to learn about the 4 areas where we see CX practitioners tie their efforts to the bottom line most successfully? Check out this infographic!

CX Metrics Question #3: When It Comes to Survey Analysis, What’s the Best Practice to Analyze Which Attributes Are Affecting NPS?

Let’s say your organization leadership is focusing in on NPS—where you are, what drives it, and so on. So, you try structural equation modeling, key driver analysis, or heavy duty analytics. That approach is equatable to killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer. Instead, you want to break methodology down to core factors—using statistical analysis or text analytics—to see what themes come out and categorize them according to where your organization is.

Now, at an executive level, you might not want to communicate the “R-squared” of the modeling. Usually, executives just want answers to the questions, “what’s driving NPS?” and “what should I do with it?” Your job is to articulate the answers in a clear and simple way throughout the organization. That will drive your success from the top down. But of course, you should still have in-depth analyses prepared in your back pocket if you encounter someone who is statistically oriented.

Wrapping Things Up

You probably still have a bunch of questions of your own. Like, “what are the best practices to make sure you’re appropriately capturing feedback across the customer journey?” Or, “how do you focus on the experiences that make the biggest impact to the bottomline?” 

If you’re looking for more resources and insight into CX metrics and ensuring your CX program delivers business value (ROI) to your organization, watch this webinar with third-party analyst firm, Forrester, to learn the answers.

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