CSAT vs NPS vs CES: The different metrics for measuring customer experience

Madeline Jacobson

May 7, 2024

Customer experience leaders love an acronym. Look no further than three of the most widely used CX metrics: customer satisfaction (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS), and Customer Effort Score (CES).

So what’s the difference between CSAT vs NPS vs CES, and should your business track one (or all) of these metrics? Let’s get into what they measure, how they’re calculated, and the pros and cons of each   

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

What is NPS?

A Net Promoter Score is based on the answer to a single question: “How likely are you to recommend our brand to a colleague, family member, or friend?”

The customer rates your organization on a scale of 0 to 10 (and sometimes has the option to add more information in an open text field). The scoring is based on the idea that customers fall into one of three categories: promoters, passives and detractors. 

Promoters rate your company as a 9 or a 10. These are loyal customers who are likely to recommend your products or services to others.

Passives rate your company as a 7 or an 8. While they aren’t enthusiastic about what you have to offer, their needs are being met. This customer will switch to a competitor if the process is easy, particularly if the competition is more affordable.

Detractors score between 0-6. They are dissatisfied with your brand and the customer experience. They might be actively searching for competitors to leave you for. Detractors have likely complained to their friends, coworkers, and family members about you, and they might take to social media next. 

How is NPS calculated?

To calculate your NPS score, subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. For example, if 10 percent of respondents are detractors, 20 percent are passives and 70 percent are promoters, your NPS score (70-10) is 60. The higher the NPS score, the better the customer experience. 

NPS formula visualization: % of promoters minus % of detractors

Pros of NPS:

  • It’s simple to administer and track because it’s based on an answer to a single question.
  • It’s a widely used and well understood metric across industries (73% of CX leaders worldwide use NPS). This makes it easy to use for benchmarking.
  • It’s considered a strong predictor of loyalty, and improving your NPS correlates with increased upsell revenue.

Cons of NPS:

  • Companies may abuse NPS by linking it to bonuses for frontline employees, causing employees to care more about getting high scores than successfully serving customers.
  • Customers may misunderstand the question and think it’s asking them to rate how often they would actually recommend the company, not how willing they would be to recommend it. 
  • Because it’s based on a number-based answer to a single question, NPS lacks nuance. It can quantify your promoters and detractors, but it doesn’t tell you why they responded that way–or what your business can do to earn more promoters.

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

What is CSAT?

A customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey asks customers to rate their satisfaction with a specific interaction, product, or event. It typically uses a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is very dissatisfied and 5 is very satisfied.

One of the biggest differences between NPS and CSAT is that CSAT is intended to measure a customer’s feelings about a single interaction, not their overall experience with the brand.

How is CSAT calculated?

To calculate CSAT, only responses of 4 (satisfied) and 5 (very satisfied) are included, as it has been proven that using the two highest values on surveys is the most accurate predictor of customer retention. Divide the number of satisfied (4 and 5) customers by the number of survey responses, then multiply that number by 100 to get your CSAT score.

CSAT formula visualization: number of satisfied customers divided by number of survey responses times 100

Pros of CSAT:

  • Like NPS, CSAT is a widely used metric, making it easy to track and benchmark in any industry.
  • CSAT gives you an indication of customers’ feelings about specific interactions (such as a customer service phone call), helping you pinpoint areas of the business to improve.
  • CSAT surveys are easy to deploy at any stage of the customer journey, making them potentially useful for detecting friction points.

Cons of CSAT:

  • Due to low survey response rates and sample bias, CSAT surveys don’t give you an accurate picture of overall customer satisfaction.
  • CSAT is intended to help businesses understand specific interactions so they can make improvements, but delays in survey responses sometimes mean that by the time the business gets that information, it’s too late to act on.
  • As with NPS, CSAT lacks nuance. Some surveys do give customers the option to add more feedback in an open text field, but the response rates for these open fields are very low.
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Customer Effort Score (CES)               

What is CES?

The customer effort score (CES) measures how much effort a customer endures to have their needs fulfilled by your company. It’s a customer service metric that aims to improve systems that frustrate customers. The idea is that customers will be more loyal to brands that are easier to do business with. In other words, less customer effort leads to a more positive customer experience. 

CES surveys might ask how much effort a customer had to exert to get an issue resolved, a request fulfilled, a service purchased, a product returned or a question answered. 

Companies that use this scoring method are more focused on reducing customer effort than exceeding customer expectations. Research featured in the book The Effortless Experience found that the biggest factor impacting customer loyalty is how easy or difficult a company makes it to do business with them.

How is CES calculated?

CES uses a numeric scale with a higher score representing a better customer experience. For instance, a survey might ask, “On a scale of 1-7, how easy was it to get an answer to your question?” For a seven-point scale, responses of five or higher are considered good scores. Businesses calculate their overall CES score by taking the average of all their responses.

CES formula visualization: Sum of CES scores divided by number of survey responses

Pros of CES:

  • Research suggests that CES is a strong predictor of customer loyalty.
  • CES aligns with what customers are often seeking from their interactions with businesses (i.e., when a customer contacts you, they want to have their issue resolved as effortlessly as possible).
  • Businesses can use CES to pinpoint the types of interactions, products, or issues involving the highest amount of customer effort.

Cons of CES:

  • CES isn’t as widely used as NPS or CSAT and may not be as well understood by the business.
  • As with CSAT, CES is typically focused on a single interaction or experience. It won’t give you insights into the customer’s long-term relationship with your brand.
  • Customers that had either extremely frustrating or frictionless experiences are the most likely to respond, leading to sample bias in survey results.

Which CX metric should your business use?

NPS is the best choice if you want to understand how customers feel about your brand as a whole, CSAT is the best choice for tracking customer satisfaction in the moment, and CES is best for gauging how much effort a customer puts in to get their needs met, while also predicting customer churn. 

CSAT, NPS, and CES all have their place in the world of customer experience KPIs. Each gives you a different perspective on your CX. However, each of them also has limitations. The biggest challenge of looking at any of these metrics on its own is that it lacks nuance (you get the “what” but not the “why”). When measuring these metrics through surveys, you may also have low response rates (and biased respondents).  

Fortunately, there is a way to overcome survey limitations and answer both the “what” and “why” questions. 

Enter AI-powered predictive scoring models

Even if your customers don’t fill out a CSAT, NPS, or CES survey, they’re still telling you all about their experience whenever they interact with your business. And it’s now possible to use AI and customer conversation data to predict how every customer would have scored their experience.

Tethr currently offers two proprietary predictive scoring models: CSATai and the Tethr Effort Index.

CSATai predicts a CSAT score for every customer conversation based on the words the customer used in context. Within the Tethr platform, you can drill down to interactions with positive or negative satisfaction scores (and apply other filtering criteria) to pinpoint the controllable factors impacting your customers’ satisfaction. 

The Tethr Effort Index (TEI) operates similarly, enabling companies to track customer effort at a conversation level and immediately drill down into high-effort interactions that are likely to create disloyalty and churn. 

These predictive scoring models represent a massive improvement in customer experience measurement. No more waiting for low-response rate surveys or trying to decipher thin customer verbatims to figure out how to improve the customer experience. CSATai and TEI let you see predicted scores after every customer conversation is completed, speeding up time to deliver critical customer interventions and eliminating the need to wait for survey responses to trickle in. 

This blog was originally published in February 2020 under the title “How to measure customer effort: NPS, CES, CSAT, and more.” It was most recently expanded and updated with new information in May 2024. 

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