A Beginner’s Guide to Customer Satisfaction Metrics

There are many ways to gauge customer satisfaction levels – and just as many ways to waste time and money on gathering unusable data.

If you’re new to the topic, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You just want to find out what your customers are thinking, but the acronyms and formulas are tripping you up.

We’re here to help. This guide will walk you through the three most important metrics you can use, comparing and contrasting them. The goal is to help you get started and avoid some common pitfalls.

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CSAT, a tool for day-to-day communication 🌞

CSAT stands for Customer Satisfaction, and it’s a widely used, reliable metric for understanding recent customer experiences.

Examples:

  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate this interaction?
  • How satisfied are you with the product?
  • Did you find the answers you were looking for?

CSAT surveys are short and easy to implement. They usually use 1-5 or 1-3 scales, though there are also binary surveys (where the options are only YES and NO). Instead of numbers or stars, you can also use emojis.

In addition to the scale, you can add an optional open-ended question.

  • What stood out to you about this interaction?
  • What do you like best about the new product?
  • How could we improve our product?

When to use CSAT surveys?

CSAT surveys make the most sense in two situations, both of which you can automate on most ticketing systems/service desks:

💫 After a lifecycle stage is complete – It’s important to request feedback whenever the customer reaches the end of a lifecycle stage (onboarding, project deployments, sales, etc). You also want to offer them a CSAT survey at the end of their time as a customer. This lets you measure the effectiveness of each service you provide.

🔔 After completion of a service request – Individual service requests or tickets should be closed with CSAT surveys as well. By requesting feedback after you’ve deemed a ticket complete, you can measure how effectively your customer service staff helped that specific customer.

Examples:
You can offer a survey…

  • immediately after closing a ticket in a helpdesk (such as Zendesk, Autotask, or ConnectWise);
  • via email during the middle of a deployment;
  • as a follow-up from an account manager after completing an onboarding form.
Add CSAT questions to your email signatures to ensure accountability for every team member.

How to calculate CSAT

You get your CSAT score by adding up all the positive ratings you’ve received and then dividing that by the total of feedback responses.

CSAT Score = (% of positive ratings received) / (# of feedback received)

Examples:

8 positives / 10 feedback received = 80%

7 positives / 10 feedback received = 70%

Sentiment mapping — what counts as a positive/negative rating?

If you’re using a 5-point scale, the usual approach to sentiment mapping is:

1/5  – Negative
2/5  – Negative
3/5  – Neutral
4/5  – Positive
5/5  – Positive

Similarly, on a 4-point scale, you’d view 3 or 4 stars as positive, 2 stars as neutral, and 1 star as a negative rating.

What does your score actually mean?

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, CSAT scores have been showing a steady decline since 2018. At the moment, the average score across industries is 73.2%.

To understand whether your CSAT rating is satisfactory, you have to compare yourself to your peers and competitors.

  • In the computer software industry, the current average is 76%.
  • Online retailers score an average of 78%.
  • Fast food restaurants also have an average CSAT score of 78%, while the average score for full-service restaurants is 80%

More national benchmarks are available here.

You can also use CSAT as a (relatively) reliable indicator of your growth. Sudden plunges in your CSAT score can mean you need to change course. If you see a sudden growth you don’t understand, you might need to fine-tune your questions to find out what you’re doing right.

The pros of using CSAT

Why is this metric so common?

CSAT’s biggest strength is its 👍 ease of use. The questions are short and the rating scale is intuitive.

That means you’ll get responses from 🌎 international audiences. People don’t need to speak your language well in order to understand the question and the scale. It’s also easy to translate CSAT questions to other languages.

Since it only takes a few moments to fill out a CSAT survey, 👌 customers don’t tend to find it intrusive. Response rates may not be high, but you can ask CSAT questions multiple times during a customer interaction.

Because of this metric’s 🦋 versatility, you can experiment with it and find ways to reach customers who usually click away from questionnaires.

The cons of using CSAT

If you’re looking for clarity about your brand, CSAT alone isn’t enough. You have two main hurdles to worry about:
  1. Customer bias. When filling out CSAT questions, customers are inclined to be generous. They don’t want to rock any boats or get a service agent in trouble, so they’ll give you high ratings without thinking it through.For an international customer base, you have to account for cultural differences too. A high rating in Iceland might not mean the same as a high rating in Argentina. Studies show that there’s a regional bias even within a country – for example, London residents consistently leave lower scores than people from other parts of the UK.
  2. Your own bias. When you’re designing your survey question, you may let your own biases seep in inadvertently.
Examples:
  • Rating scales with low granularity: when the only options you offer on your questionnaires are Good vs. Bad, you’ll likely receive positive responses, but little useable data.
  • Making assumptions about what part of the customer experience matters to people the most.
  • Using the names of agents in questions about customer service. This creates the impression of a demanding manager looking over the agent’s shoulder. At Simplesat, we use 1st person for these questions, e.g. How did I do in this interaction?
Over time, you can recognize and eliminate some of these biases. But for the best results, you should employ at least one more metric in addition to CSAT.

NPS, the best way to measure loyalty 🤝🏻

A common question people ask on CSAT surveys is “Would you recommend us to others?” But the respondents to this are often misleading. Respondents often say yes casually, but in practice, they prefer a competing brand.

If you only have CSAT data to work with, you may not notice a looming threat. Some customers are happy with individual interactions and products, but there’s still a cumulative dissatisfaction there. When they cancel, you have no idea what happened.

This is where NPS comes in, or Net Promoter Score. This metric is built on exploring that all-important question: how do your customers think of your brand as a whole?

The million dollar question…

The NPS survey asks:

“How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend?”

The customer then chooses a number between zero and ten, with ten being the best score possible.

Once the responses come in, customers are grouped into three categories.

😍 Promoters

Promoters are the customers who rate your company at a 9 or a 10. These customers think your company is an all-star and they’re ready to spread the word to their friends.

😌 Passives

Passive customers rate your company at a 7 or 8 on the survey. These people are neither very dissatisfied nor very satisfied.

😤 Detractors

Anyone who rates your company at a 6 or below is considered a Detractor. These are the customers most likely to spread negative feedback about your company and least likely to provide repeat business.

Calculating NPS

Once you’ve categorized your customers, you can calculate your NPS. 

First, calculate the percentage of each category. For example, divide the number of Promoters by the total number of respondents, etc.

Now you want to subtract the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters.

Once you’ve done the subtraction, you can drop the percent sign. This is your raw NPS.

Your score range lies between -100 and 100

If your NPS score is below zero, don’t panic! The better you get at understanding your customers/users, the higher the score will become.

What does your NPS score actually mean?

Again, your NPS doesn’t mean much in and of itself. But you can use it to compare yourself to your competitors.

The chart below shows some benchmark NPS information arranged by industry.

2013 US Consumer Data. Source.

When to use NPS surveys

Unlike CSAT, your NPS survey looks at the big picture.

  • Use it to gauge general first impressions, but only after the customer has had time to experience some of the ups and downs of your service.
  • After that, send out quarterly or annual NPS emails.
  • You can also send out an NPS survey after a new release or significant change. But again, you want to leave the customers some time to get used to it.

The pros of using NPS

NPS is useful because it points to people who 😡 might cancel soon if you don’t act. Regular NPS emails help reduce churn, as long as you follow up on them.

This questionnaire also 👼 helps you find your angels. These are customers who love your product and they’ll be happy to talk about it on social media. You can contact them for testimonials or quotes.

The best thing about NPS is that 📊 it is more objective than other metrics. From a distance, your customers can look back and evaluate all the interactions they had with your company. They can tell you they’re unhappy without singling out a support staff member or anyone else. 

Plus, if it’s a single-question survey, you’ll have 🎊 a higher completion rate than surveys that require longer responses.

The cons of using NPS

  • Unfortunately, there are still biases to account for here. A small change in phrasing can influence people to change their rating.
  • There is also the question of  processing NPS data. For some companies, this is an annual (or quarterly) chore that halts normal operations. NPS data takes longer to turn into useful insights, especially if you have open-ended questions on your survey as well.
  • Worst of all, you may develop a false sense of security if you rely on NPS exclusively. Remember that customer sentiment can shift rapidly, and you need to keep your finger on the pulse of your user base at all times.
  • CES, a way to see yourself from the customer’s eyes 👓

    CSAT and NPS are the two main pillars of measuring customer satisfaction. But there’s one important consideration.

    CES stands for Customer Effort Score, and it measures how much effort a customer has put in to use your product or services. 

    You and your team spend a lot of time working on your product, your website, and your help documentation. It’s only natural that you lose sight of what it’s like to use it, from the average person’s perspective.

    What do CES surveys look like?

    The survey format is identical to CSAT surveys.

    CES questions ask how easy a task or experience was. This metric typically uses a 5-point or 7-point scale.

    Examples:

    • On a scale of ‘very easy’ to ‘very difficult’, how easy was it to interact with [company name]?
    • [company name] made it easy for me to handle my issue
    • Overall, how easy was it for you to solve your issue with [company name] today?
    Your CES survey can be embedded into any email signature or ticket notification in the helpdesk or CRM of your choice.

    How to calculate CES

    Once again, the calculation is exactly the same as with CSAT.

    CES is calculated by the percentage of positive ratings divided by the total number of survey responses received.

    Examples:

    You received ten survey responses: 8 positives and 2 negatives. 8 positives / 10 feedback received = 80%

    You received ten survey responses: 8 positives, 1 neutral, and 2 negatives. 7 positives / 10 feedback received = 70%

    But there is one important thing to remember…

    Avoid confusion with sentiment mapping!

    There is a mistake that regularly pops up in the usage of CES surveys. You have to keep track of which answer indicates a positive response.

    With CSAT and NPS, a higher score generally means more satisfaction. With CES, things can get slightly tricky.

    For example, here is a multi-question CES survey we encountered a while ago.
                A. It took me a lot of effort to find what I was looking for.
                 B. I found it easy to navigate your website.
                 C. I waited too long to talk to a representative

    All the questions came with a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 – Strongly disagree to 5 – Strongly agree.

    The problem is that for questions A and C, high ratings indicate a disappointing experience. For B, a high rating means a satisfied customer. 😵

    This is an easy mistake to avoid, as long as you keep it in mind when designing your questions or your approach to calculating the CES score for each question individually.

    • For questions A and C, the positive responses would be those rated 1 and 2.
    • For question B, you want to look at the ones with a 4 or 5 rating.

    When to use CES

    CES surveys are best used after an interaction or transaction. This could be a purchase, support request, or a self-service experience.

    The key is that you want to ask the question while a specific experience is fresh in your customer’s mind. 

    That helps avoid self-perception bias (for example, customers who consider themselves to be tech-savvy might give you an unrealistically positive score in retrospect… they simply don’t want to remember that they struggled with your product/service/website).

    Why CES matters

    CES data places the focus on the customer experience. You can use it as a starting point to map the customer journey and pinpoint the problems your users may have with your business.

    With CES, you can understand why customers are happy with your service/product — and more importantly, why they aren’t. This is a great way to identify the little inconveniences that might drive your customers into the arms of your competitors. Adding open-ended questions to CES surveys is always a good idea!

    With both CSAT and NPS, you learn ways to dazzle your customers ✨. But it’s just as important to prove to them that you care about their time and comfort, and that you want to provide them with an easy-to-use service.

    Keep improving your arsenal

    Customer satisfaction surveys aren’t the be-all and end-all of communicating with your clients.

    You need to keep an eye on reviews, engage in social media listening, and make sure your support team knows the right questions to ask. Over time, your customer success team can start working on customer health score questions too. 

    But with CSAT, NPS, and CES, you have an automated and objective way to track your customers’ opinions. When you have numbers showing your progress, it gets easier to set clear goals and make decisions.

    Do you really need all three? 😕

    Some successful businesses make do with CSAT alone. Without it, you’re flying blind.

    But in our experience, NPS is just as valuable in the longer term. It helps keep churn down and gives you direction.

    A good collection of CSAT questions covers most of what CES does. But if you keep getting less-than-impressive NPS results, it’s time to take your CES more seriously.

    It’s not a sprint, it’s a journey 🌄

    As a rule, people aren’t too keen on sharing feedback. Don’t get discouraged if you get a low response rate (10-20% counts as average for CSAT responses). Small changes in wording or formatting could be all you need to convince more customers to give you their opinions. If you use different channels and approaches, you will work out what works best in your niche.

    Take time to perfect your surveys and use them to your full advantage. Over time, customer feedback collection will be an effortless part of everything you do.

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