Jan 9, 2022

Read Time 6 min

An Abbreviated Guide to Customer Satisfaction Surveys (NPS®, CSAT, CES)


If you’re new to customer satisfaction surveys and have searched the topic online, then you already know that there’s a trove of information on the subject. As your research primer and to help you get up to speed, we created an abbreviated guide that covers three of the most popular survey types: NPS®, CSAT, and CES.

We stick to the basics and use bulleted lists (the exception being this introduction) with the goal of making this guide as useful and condensed as possible. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it’s a helpful starting point to familiarize yourself with customer satisfaction surveys before deciding to dive deeper into the nuances of each type.

What is a customer satisfaction survey?

A survey that gauges customer sentiment, satisfaction, and feedback to improve the customer experience and ensure customer loyalty

Now, let’s explore the three most popular survey types:

NPS (Net Promoter Score)

marketing pony NPS

The NPS basics:

  • Measures the likelihood of a customer recommendation
  • Asks the question: How likely is it that you would recommend [Company] to a friend or colleague?
  • Uses a standard rating scale of 1 to 10
  • Responses are categorized into three groups: Promoters, Passives, and Detractors (more below)

The NPS calculation:

  • NPS = % Promoters – % Detractors
  • Scores fall inside a range of -100 to +100
  • Example: You have 57% Promoters, 23% Passives, and 20% Detractors (57% – 20% = NPS of 37)

What’s a good NPS?

  • Any score above 0 means that you have more promoters than detractors – this is what you want
  • At the most basic level and based on global NPS standards, any score above 0 is considered “good” (+50 is excellent and +70 is “world-class”)
  • But remember, benchmarks depend on your industry, company size, business maturity, and more
    • Example: consumer products usually score higher on NPS than B2B products
  • If you don’t have access to industry or competitor scores, the best thing you can do is benchmark against yourself to drive improvement

What does NPS tell me?

  • Score indicates customer loyalty (you have my vote of confidence) and potential business growth (I’d endorse you to an outsider)
  • Shows trends in customer opinion over time

What are Promoters, Passives, and Detractors?

😊 Promoters (customers who answer 9 or 10)

  • Loyal enthusiasts
  • Likely to renew and refer your product/services to others

😐 Passives (customers who answer 7 or 8)

  • Satisfied but unenthusiastic
  • Particularly vulnerable to competitive offerings

☹ Detractors (customers who answer 0 to 6)

  • Unhappy customers
  • At risk of churning
  • Brand damage potential through negative word-of-mouth

When to send NPS surveys

  • Survey anywhere from once a year to once a quarter. Aside from a routine cadence, here are suggested surveying opportunities:
    • Before/after a subscription renewal
    • End of a free trial
    • After customer onboarding or training
    • After X interactions with Customer Success
    • After a new product launch
    • After a closed support ticket
  • Measure regularly – not just once. Opinions and products change over time.
  • Ask a follow-up NPS survey question. Example: What was the most important reason for your answer?
  • Don’t send the survey too early in the customer lifecycle. Give your customers time to experience your product.
  • Don’t batch and blast NPS to all customers. Instead, send based on lifecycle or behavioral triggers. This ensures a uniform comparison across journey phases and customer events.

CSAT (Customer Satisfaction)

Customer Satisfaction Score

The CSAT basics:

  • Measures customer satisfaction
  • Most often, asks some form of the question: How satisfied are you with your experience with [Company?]
  • Rating scale is not standard and varies across industries and companies. Here are two common examples:
    • 3-point rating scale: (1) Dissatisfied, (2) Neutral, (3) Satisfied
    • 5-point rating scale: (1) Very unsatisfied, (2) Unsatisfied, (3) Neutral, (4) Satisfied, (5) Very Satisfied
  • The smaller the scale, the greater likelihood of increasing responses (fewer options = lighter cognitive load = less likely a customer is to abandon or not attempt the survey)
  • But with a more limited rating scale, you lose the gradation of customer sentiment due to broader categorization

The CSAT calculation:

  • CSAT % = # of “Satisfied” responses / # of total responses x 100
  • Example: You have 116 “Satisfied” responses out of 241 total responses (116/240 X 100 = CSAT of 48%)

What’s a good CSAT score?

What does a CSAT score tell me?

  • How satisfied/happy a customer is engaging with your product/service or team following a specific interaction
    • Example: An interaction with an airline’s support center to change a flight
  • “Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator of company financial performance. Stocks of companies with high ACSI scores tend to do better than those of companies with low scores,” according to the ASCI

When to send CSAT surveys

  • Directly following the customer interaction that you want to gauge. This will minimize outlying factors from influencing the rating.

CES (Customer Effort Score)

The CES basics:

  • Measures the ease or difficulty of an experience
  • Most often, asks some form of the question: Overall how easy was your experience interacting with [Company]?
  • Rating scale is not standard, but typically is 1 to 7

The CES calculation:

  • CES = Sum of individual ratings / # of total responses
  • Example: You have 5 total responses with ratings of 5, 5, 7, 3, 6 (26/5 = CES of 5.2)

What’s a good CES score?

  • The short answer: it depends
  • Without an industry standard, it becomes more difficult and nuanced to define a “good” score but generally the higher the score the better – aim for a CES score that falls within the “easy” range (in this example, that’d be 5 to 7)

What does a CES score tell me?

  • Signals the probability of customer adoption and renewal (convenience drives loyalty)

When to send CES surveys

  • Directly following a self-service purchase or customer success/support interaction – whether it’s via email, chat, website, or phone

Follow the golden rules of customer survey follow up

  • Always follow up after a customer submits a response, even if it’s just with a simple email
  • Customers will not continue to provide feedback if they don’t feel heard and appreciated
  • For customers with “positive” scores:
    • Investigate why they’re having a positive/convenient experience
    • Ask them to share their experiences on review sites
    • Have them join a referral or advocacy program
    • Show your appreciation by sending a small thank you
  • For customers with “neutral” scores:
    • Look into the features they use to identify what might be causing friction
    • Offer advice and knowledge resources for those frequently used features
    • Over-service these customers to show that your service isn’t easily matched
    • Ask them what can be done to make the product and their experience better
    • Remember that satisfaction isn’t the same as happiness
    • Be aware of their renewal date, and intimately know their competitive options and the factors that could most likely sway them
    • Neutral/passive customers are open to alternatives (and are often price sensitive), so approach their renewal with a clear plan
  • For customers with “negative” scores:
    • Respond as soon as possible acknowledging their feedback
    • Ask questions about their experience and address their concerns
    • “Negative” customers are more likely to become your next “positive” customers – even over “neutral” customers
    • Your strongest “negative” customers are not all that dissimilar to your strongest “positive” customers; they’re both vocal and passionate – something is just missing from the “negative” customers’ experience
    • Follow-up to resolve issues and provide updates on feature requests
    • Re-survey in a few months to see if anything has changed

Learn more about how you can use surveys and the power of customer feedback to improve your product and customer experience.


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