What makes the the worlds #1 Customer Experience brands?

#1 CX Brands

As I quite literally travel the world talking, listening and working with individuals and organisations who have an interest in Customer Experience, I am regularly asked who the world’s ‘best’ Customer Experience brands are. ‘Who is good at CX?’ is a pretty typical question. It is a good question to ask and one that I can most certainly answer ‘in my opinion’. However, having been asked the question so many times, rather than me just citing my opinion, I thought I would go a significant step further and ask as many people as possible for their opinions.

In January 2015, I conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their ‘#1’ Customer Experience brands are and most importantly WHAT makes them their #1. In this blog post, I am delighted to officially reveal the findings of the research. Some of the findings may surprise you……some of them will not. What you can be certain of is that the findings are likely to provide validation of the things that are the most common reasons for these brands ‘delighting’ their customers.

Customer Experience is not just for the big, bold brands

The first big surprise for me was that  94 different brands were mentioned as people’s #1 Customer Experience brand in just over 200 responses . It is fascinating and encouraging to see that great Customer Experiences are not exclusively the preserve of those with huge budgets. Many of the companies named by respondents are small, independent businesses who share a similar mindset with brands we’re more familiar with. What is not a surprise though is that the top four favourite brands accounted for 40% of the responses. We’ll find out later why it is that the same brands keeping topping this kind of poll, but first, let me acknowledge the top 10 #1 Customer Experience brands coming out of the research:

Top CX Brands

Other well-known brands such as Emirates, Premier Inn, Argos, Airbnb, USAA and Sky all received endorsement as a #1 Customer Experience brand. In the interest of balance, some of the names mentioned by respondents that you are less likely to have heard of are as follows:

  • Sixthman Music Festival Cruises
  • Jabong.com
  • Dutch Bros
  • Discount Tire
  • Hatem Shahim (a barber’s shop!)
  • Dyreparken i Kristiansand
  • Spear & Jackson
  • Wegmans
  • Firebox.com
  • e-bolt
  • Container store

Different countries and a variety of industries – the sheer number of organisations receiving a mention suggests that there are many doing something right – the question is – what exactly are they doing that warrants a customer such as you citing them as their #1 Customer Experience brand? Before we find out, let us just have a quick look at the commercial performance of the top 10 CX brands coming out of the research.

The right customer experience is commercially rewarding

The sheer mention of  ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. And it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:

  • Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
  • Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
  • First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
  • John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
  • Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
  • Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
  • Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
  • Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
  • BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
  • Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day

Pretty powerful stuff. Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring pretty well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics – in fact the research identifies 13 common characteristics that are the reasons WHY these brands are #1 in your eyes. Lets us have a look at the ‘lucky’ 13!

These organisations have common characteristics

I wanted to know what it is that your favourite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis,  13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):

  • Corporate attitude 15.9
  • They’re easy to do business with 14.9
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
  • The attitude of their people 9.4
  • Personalisation 8.0
  • The product or service 8.0
  • They’re consistent 7.5
  • The way it makes me feel 6.3
  • The way they treat me 5.1
  • They’re reliable 4.4
  • They do what they promise 4.2
  • They’re quick 2.6
  • The technical knowledge of their people 2.3

We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organisational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:

characteristics of #1 cx brands

So what do the most favourite companies do, exactly?

Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.

1. Corporate attitude

It’s another way to describe organisational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:

  • put people before profits and non-human automation
  • know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach
  • test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences)
  • listen and demonstrate they understand their customer
  • pay serious attention to detail
  • empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway
  • stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them
  • ensure their staff are fully trained and informed
  • recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values

They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor”.  Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one; it shows how important the right culture is.

2. They’re easy to do business with

It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:

  • there are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to
  • it’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product
  • needs are anticipated and catered for
  • customers don’t need to repeat information
  • they can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress
  • products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer
  • they are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day
  • they are proactive in taking responsibility, eg finding products at other stores and having them delivered
  • customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through
  • information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way

3.  Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question

Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:

  • listen to understand before acting
  • give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected
  • will provide an answer and additional, relevant help
  • provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage
  • empower employees to make decisions
  • resolve issues first time and quickly
  • have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers
  • preempt problems and solve them before customers are aware
  • fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward
  • follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be
  • are not afraid to apologise when they get it wrong

4.  Attitude of the people

Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviours the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:

  • being courteous and friendly
  • a positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude
  • they are good at listening
  • it’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service
  • they are professional and not pushy
  • they are helpful and proactive
  • they are genuine and humble
  • they smile
  • hey are engaging and interested in the customer
  • they have personality, not a corporate script
  • they are patient
  • they show respect for their fellow colleagues

5. Personalisation

We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalisation right:

  • understand, anticipate and are proactive
  • keep customers informed with relevant information
  • shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback
  • create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering
  • create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”
  • make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction
  • allow their customers to control the degree of personalisation in terms of frequency and content
  • remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted

6. The product or service itself

Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business has to have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:

  • the right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation
  • well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to
  • quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it
  • obsessive about the detail
  • paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines
  • good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example
  • adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations

7. Consistency

As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:

  • look and feel the same
  • can continue easily wherever, whenever and however
  • match or build on the positive expectations created last time
  • have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance
  • provide the same reliable answers to the same questions
  • integrate with other services

8. The way it makes me feel

Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behaviour about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey espondents cited a number of great examples:

  • “get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”
  • “the packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple)
  • “interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”
  • “there is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”
  • “they make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover)

9. The way they treat me

At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:

  • demonstrate respect
  • show an empathy with customer needs
  • don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another
  • keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given
  • recognise their customers both by staff individually in-store and organisationally
  • have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store
  • create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special
  • develop meaningful loyalty programmes that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones
  • are not patronising in tone

10. They’re reliable

Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that

  • give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get; there are no nasty surprises
  • understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put their own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable

11. They do what they promise

Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it”. Customer experiences that do what they promise:

  • live up to the expectations they set
  • have employees that do what they say they will do
  • do it all consistently
  • fix it quick if they fail
  • are good at managing expectations

12. Quick

As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Quick customer experiences are ones that:

  • move at the right speed for customers
  • show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity
  • manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises
  • are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions

13. People knowledge

Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:

  • able to translate the concerns and questions
  • able to articulate complex issues in simple language
  • are not patronising
  • are proud that their knowledge can help someone else

So what?

There is no shortage of good and great experiences to learn from and they bring favourable commercial results to the companies that do have them. They don’t have to be high-tech out-of-this-world experiences; simply knowing what the basic expectations are should not be that hard and delivering them well time after time should just be the norm. This independent research also shows that it’s a combination of characteristics that matter, not one in isolation. That said, experiences, customers and balance sheets are always given an essential boost where having the ‘right attitude’ is the common thread running right through the organisation.

 Thank You!

A huge thank you to all those who participated in this research – without you giving up your valuable time and insight, I would not be able to share such valuable output.

An even bigger thank you to my friend and colleague, Jerry Angrave. Not only has Jerry co-authored this post, he also conducted the detailed analysis of the research results. A brilliant CX mind, he is also one of the most genuine Customer Experience practitioners I have ever met. You can read more of Jerry’s work at empathyce.com – I strongly encourage you to do so!

Falling out of love with John Lewis – even the best find it tough to deliver consistently good customer experiences

JL Falling

This is not the first time I have written about John Lewis. A British retailer recognised by many as the epitome of a people (customers and employees) focused brand, their challenge for a long time has been to maintain their position as a Customer Experience leader for others to look up to and admire.

Founded in 1864, the perception of John Lewis as a brand you can trust has been built over many years of hard work – hard work in adapting to the world around it and the ever changing needs of its customers. With its well know ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ slogan, the retailer will still pay you the difference if you can find an item you purchased from them cheaper elsewhere.

If you have turned your customers into loyal fans of your brand – if they have ‘fallen in love’ with your Customer Experience, it takes a lot of hard work to maintain that love – to maintain their ‘fandom’ and loyal custom. Even if something goes wrong, it is unlikely that your customer will fall out of love with you – especially if you are able to put it right quickly, efficiently and without too much effort.

John Lewis are by no means perfect – like all organisations, it is impossible to get things right 100% of the time, but in general they are well known for dealing with issues in a professional and consistent manner. However, in January 2015, John Lewis’s challenge seems to be getting ever tougher. The challenge for all businesses to maintain our undivided loyalty is becoming extremely difficult as we become ever more demanding. When you are a John Lewis, the expectation is remarkably high.

So the big question in this post is this – is it possible that the British consumer could ‘fall out of love’ with John Lewis? Could a brand with such a strong heritage and reputation lose its differentiation as a Customer Experience leader? In April last year I wrote a post that suggested the ‘omni channel Customer Experience’ is John Lewis’s greatest challenge of the moment. The story I shared demonstrated the risks John Lewis face in failing to connect the different customer channels in its business. The story I would like to share today highlights the significance of this  problem once again. Will this be the experience that sees me personally falling out of love with John Lewis?

On the 5th January 2015, I ordered a  ‘Luxury Memory Foam Mattress Bed Topper’ from John Lewis.com. I immediately received an email confirmation advising me that the item would be delivered ‘within 5 working days’ of me placing my order. I was very happy with this as the item was intended as a birthday present for Mrs Golding whose birthday was on the 13th January! Unusually for me, I was working ahead of time with a little leeway!

JL 1

Two days later I received another email. Entitled ‘Back Order Details’, things did not bode well. In fact I was actually quite astonished to open an email from John Lewis advising me that the item ordered was NOT available for delivery. The ‘call to action’ was for me, the customer, to make all of the effort and contact John Lewis by email or telephone to ‘cancel the order’!! Alternatively I could just wait for it to arrive, or have my order cancelled in 4 weeks.

JL 2

Sadly this type of ‘broken promise’ event is pretty common with online retailers – the problem is that I have higher expectations of John Lewis than I do of other retailers. I was NOT impressed. As I did not want to have to email or telephone, I reached out to Twitter to vent my frustration:

JL 3

A broken promise of delivery of a birthday present and the first suggestion from John Lewis on Twitter was for me, the customer, to contact my local store. I was starting to get a little hot under the collar now. This is really not what I expect from John Lewis. There was no other option but to pick up the phone and speak to them.

On the 9th January I called the John Lewis.com contact centre – more of my time, effort and cost in telephone calls. For the first time during the transaction, I spoke to someone who gave me faith that I was really dealing with John Lewis and not a bogus website! Zain, the contact centre agent, was excellent. Very apologetic, he did everything he could to understand what had happened and what he could do about it. I was impressed. Zain confirmed the weakness in John Lewis’s operating model. The online business did indeed not have any more of the item I had ordered in stock. The item was due into their warehouse on the 5th January but had not arrived yet. The online warehouse is NOT shared by the stores – they have their own separate stock pool. Zain had to put me on hold while he contacted the stores contact centre to see if they had any of the item available. Still with me?!

If you are confused, I will just clarify that John Lewis is not a joined up, connected, omni channel business. Its stores and online propositions might look the same, but they are separate and disparate. I was suffering as a result. The only solution Zain could come up with was to cancel my online order and reserve the item at my local John Lewis store in Chester. I then had to telephone my local Chester store to confirm my reservation. The whole experience was long winded and ridiculous. I had got to the point of almost no return!

The following day (10th January) I received a message from the Chester store advising that the item had come in to stock again – hurrah – three days before Naomi’s birthday – I could get them to send the item by next day delivery and still have it in time…………or NOT! When I called the store and suggested that they send it by next day delivery, I was advised that this was not an option. I could either have it delivered to home in five working days, or collect it from the store on the 13th January. The back story of the order was irrelevant – the fact that John Lewis were affecting my ability to get my wife her birthday present on time was not important – the computer said no (albeit very politely).

So 7 working days after I placed my online order; three phone calls and one drive to a store later, I arrived at John Lewis Chester to collect Naomi’s birthday present. Amazingly, no apology for the debacle was given by anyone I interacted with. Naomi was with me when we collected it – no-one even had the courtesy to wish her a happy birthday. To say I am unimpressed by the whole experience is an understatement.

The problem with bad experiences is that it only takes one for a customer to choose to fall out of love with a brand. There were so many failings in this experience from a retailer I once trusted implicitly that I have made the conscious decision NOT to use John Lewis online in the future. I will still visit their stores. I still believe that they have an excellent proposition and wonderful people. Yet until they join their channels together, I will shop elsewhere via the internet – this experience has left a sour taste in my mouth.

So is it possible for the consumer to fall out of love with John Lewis? You bet your life it is – they can and must not ever rest on their laurels.

Update – 15th January

Having read this post, I was contacted by John Lewis on Facebook and twitter. This morning I had a telephone conversation with a very nice lady from the customer service team. Not only did the lady acknowledge all of the issues in the experience (without excusing them), she confirmed that they would be addressing the issues with the relevant teams to mitigate the issues in the future. This is further demonstration as to why it is important for organisations to readily accept feedback like this and seize on the opportunity that comes from bad experiences. If good comes out of bad, I am always very happy with the outcome.

If you have two minutes, please take the time to complete my 2 question survey to find out your personal #1 brand for delivering consistently good customer experiences. I also want to know what makes the brand your #1! The research will be used for an upcoming blog post – many thanks for your time!

You can complete the survey by clicking here


John Lewis’s greatest challenge – the omni channel customer experience!

0 john lewis

It is difficult to find anyone who does not like John Lewis. It is difficult to find anyone who does not trust John Lewis. The UK department store with the distinctive green and white logo has been the undisputed retail King of customer satisfaction for many many years. In my 42nd year, I can still recall as though it were yesterday my mum telling me how great John Lewis are – regularly purchasing things with the confidence that if something was wrong, they would take it back without any problem. Founded in 1864, the chain is known for its policy of “Never Knowingly Undersold” which has been in use since 1925.

Many have put the success of John Lewis down to its Partnership model – a business that is owned and run by its staff has a unique culture. This no doubt has a very positive and significant effect on the way it’s people behave. The undoubted ‘trustworthiness’ of the brand is also a key factor. Additionally I would argue that it is the ability of John Lewis to deliver a consistent customer experience – a consistently good customer experience – that has seen it stand out from its competition. Being recognised as one of the best ‘customer experience’ brands in the UK is a hugely positive thing – but the challenge is to sustain that position. In 2014, I believe that John Lewis are facing head on in to their greatest ever challenge – the challenge that has already put paid to the fortunes of many retailers – the omni channel experience.

Before I go any further, let me clarify the term ‘omni channel’. The best definition I have come across is as follows:

“Technology, processes and systems integrated and aligned so that every channel behaves in the same way, to the point it makes it difficult to distinguish between them”

The bit I like about this definition is the second part – ‘to the point it makes it difficult to distinguish between them’ – the phrase omni channel has entered the business dictionary because we, the consumer, have put it there – unknowingly!. Derived from the word Omnis which can mean all or universal, omni channel is our perception of everything an organisation does. We expect to be able to interact with an organisation in any way we want – whether it be in store, online, via a mobile, or on the telephone. Not only that, we expect to be able to use all of those channels in  any one transaction. The issue for businesses is that the consumer does not see a business as a series of interaction channels. The consumer sees a business as ONE BUSINESS – and as such, they expect that when we use the channel of our choice, it connects to the same business and will result in the outcome we need and expect.

0 omni channel

Today, John Lewis’s channels are not integrated. Whilst the John Lewis online offer may look exactly the same as it’s in store offer, the two channels do not operate in the same way – and this is the greatest threat they have ever faced. At the moment, the Golding family are experiencing the problem first hand, and as usual, I would like to share our experience with you.

Two years ago we purchased some garden furniture from John Lewis – a table and six chairs. Naomi spotted the set in our local John Lewis store, and thought it would be perfect for our little garden. Whilst the table and chairs were spotted in person, we actually purchased them online as they were not available at the time in store. Last year we noticed that the table and four of the five chairs were starting to discolour. One of the chairs has still remained the pristine white it was on the day it arrived. The remainder of the set has completely rusted. Last weekend, we decided to go back to John Lewis to voice our disapproval – it is quite clear that there is an issue with the finish of the furniture.

The in store experience was good – despite us not having the receipt. Naomi was told that we should bring the table and chairs back – the assistant agreed that it was not acceptable. Naomi could not remember if we purchased the set online or in store, but she was told not to worry – bring them in. When she got home, Naomi checked back through our records. Eventually she found the online order – which confirmed the table and chairs were not purchased in store. Naomi contacted John Lewis online – by telephone – to check what we should do. The experience was very different.

Naomi was advised that she could NOT take the table back to the store as it was not purchased in store. The in store and online businesses are different she was told. Not only that, Naomi was advised that no one could help her (on the Saturday she called) – she would have to wait until Monday to talk to someone about the issue. If Naomi had taken the table in store, she was advised that they would have sent her back home with it. This is quite clearly a demonstration of a business that is not joined up. This is a demonstration of a lack of channel integration. Whether the table is legitimately ‘returnable’ is not the issue here. The issue is that we purchased a table from John Lewis. We want to return the table – what difference should it make how we choose to return it. We do not see John Lewis online being any different to the store – John Lewis is John Lewis.

As I write this blog post, the issue has not yet been resolved. I am sure that John Lewis will accept the return, and that we will either receive a refund, or be allowed to select a replacement (the rusted table and chairs is not available for sale any more). Yet despite this fact, the feeling we will be left with is one of frustration and inconvenience. I used to think that dealing with John Lewis was easy and hassle free. I always used to think that no matter what, John Lewis would sort a problem out for me. I used to think that John Lewis would do anything to put my interests first. These thoughts have been dashed. Whether their channels are integrated or not, surely they can allow customers to return a purchase made online to a store – without going through hoops?!

Earlier this year I chaired a retail customer experience conference. The conference was opened by an interview with Andy Street – the Managing Director of Jon Lewis. During the interview, Mr Street spoke of John Lewis’s omni channel challenges – he is an impressive, honest and open business leader – he said the following:

“Multi channel and omni channel are different – multi is disparate, omni is joined up. The rigour around delivery of process in the omni channel world is what drives the customer experience”

Andy Street recognises how important it is to deliver seamless omni channel experiences, and he knows that they have someway to go to achieve that ambition – I only hope we do not lose faith with the brand we ‘love to love’ in the meantime.

Customer experience is for life, not just for Christmas!

0 john lewis advert

It may have escaped your notice, but it appears as though Christmas is coming. The eagle-eyed amongst us will have noticed Christmas displays being erected as early as August in some retail locations, but it is not until November that the commercial Christmas bandwagon really get’s rolling. By the time we reach the first week of December, it is impossible to avoid it. To most, it is the start of a wondrous few weeks of festive jollity and gift giving – although we must not forget the significance of the religious meaning that started it all – I sometimes wonder if it gets a little lost!

Many retailers talk about Q4 – or the fourth quarter of the year – as the ‘golden quarter’. Why? Well because it is a three-month trading period that is paved with gold – it is the time when retailers make the majority of their annual revenue and profit. Quite simply, without Christmas, retailers balance sheets would look far less healthy. To win in the golden quarter, companies ‘spend big’ to get us to transact with them. Much of the spending goes into marketing and advertising. Over the last few weeks, the Golding household has been playing a game called ‘guess the Christmas advert’. Have you played it? It is actually fabulous fun – and most of the time, we guessed right.

Advertising at Christmas has become so big, that many companies now have official ‘releases’ in much the same way that a Hollywood movie does. The biggest ‘release’ of all this year was John Lewis. One of the UKs most trusted brands, they have become renowned for producing emotional, sentimental TV commercials at this time of year. Not only do they make us feel warm and fuzzy, they often bring a tear to the eye. This year, the advert (in my opinion) is not quite up to their usual standard – it has a wonderful backing track (which is very memorable), but very little product on display. It has had plenty of people talking about it – and maybe that is the point. If you have not seen it, have a look for yourself:


The strap line to the advert is ‘give someone a Christmas they’ll never forget’. The advertising campaign has been reported as costing John Lewis £7 million. Wow. Show’s how important Christmas is to them. Will the advert make me any more or less likely to buy my gifts from them? It will not make one iota of difference. However, this blog post is not intended to debate the effectiveness of TV advertising campaigns. I am neither a marketer, nor qualified to discuss marketing strategy. So just what is the point I am making?

Having worked in retail for 7 years, it always struck me how focussed, efficient, and competitive the industry becomes at this time of year. It is as though all retailers insert new batteries into their strategies, thinking, energies and motivation. Conferences, meetings, brainstorms are abound – all trying to come up with wonderful ways of convincing customers to ‘shop with us’. Smiles and sentiments are ‘turned up’ and we all start being terribly nice to customers. Stores and workplaces are decorated and ‘lit up’. Fabulous offers are created to provide ‘better value’. Operational performance is enhanced – opening hours are extended, delivery times are improved. Retailers compete with each other to see who can have the latest ‘cut off’ for delivery before Christmas day itself. Quite frankly, it is a time of the year completely unlike any other.

0 christmas

So here is my question – why should we as customers be treated better at Christmas than any other time of the year? I can hear some of you thinking – ‘get real’ Ian! If the majority of your revenue comes at Christmas, of course companies are going to focus their effort in the ways described. I do not disagree. What I do take umbrage at is the fact that we, the consumer, are not just customers at Christmas, although it often feels as though that is the way we are treated. We are, and have the potential to be customers every single day of the year. Whilst Christmas is a special day – it is not the only one. Birthdays occur every single day of the year. Anniversaries occur every single day of the year. In the UK, we live in a multi cultural society with many religious festivals throughout the calendar year where gift giving is important.

So why can I not have a special, ‘super duper’ late cut off delivery in June? Why can I not receive a super watt smile from a member of staff when I buy a birthday present for my daughter in May? Why can I not walk into a beautifully decorated, brightly lit store in February? To me, a consumer who just happens to work in the field of Customer Experience, I believe that we should be treated the same in February as we are in December. The customer experience is a 365 day a year phenomenon. Every time we transact with an organisation we want and need the experience to meet our expectation. It is not enough to ‘just do it well at Christmas’. In fact, it could be argued that just focussing in Christmas can be fatal for a retailer – the demise of Woolworths is an example.

Christmas is a special time in many countries – there is no doubt about that. What that means is that there is a greater volume of customers whose expectations must be met. If the present is not available or does not turn up on time, the effect is amplified. But that is no different to a birthday present, or a christening gift, or a present ordered for your son graduating from university. Whilst other times of the year may see hugely lower volumes of purchases (relative to Christmas), it does not mean that the service and experience offered should be worse.

So my challenge to all organisations is this. As you take your decorations down on boxing day and re-stock the shelves with Easter eggs, think about what you can do to maintain the smiles, and motivation, and energy that went in to Christmas. What can you do to ensure that the experience your customers receive ‘feels like Christmas’ every day – rather than for just a few weeks at the end of the year. Remind your people that ‘customer experience is for life, not just Christmas’. Someone once said that they ‘wished it was Christmas every day’ – why can’t we make it feel that way for our customer experience?

Have a wonderful and successful Christmas everyone.

Customer Promises – a great thing…if you really mean it!

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Thousands of customers of one of the UKs largest utility companies, SSE, received an interesting letter this week. If you are not a customer of SSE, you can read my copy of the letter shown above. I think the letter is interesting because it makes a rather bold statement. It makes a statement that instantly attracted my attention – ‘Aiming higher – because you matter to us’. The letter goes on to tell us, the valued customer, how talking about the importance of service is good, but not as good as taking action. SSE wants to prove to us how seriously they take customer service, and that they have even gone ‘above and beyond’ the regulator’s standards by implementing three service initiatives.

Sounds great….doesn’t it? You could argue that this is exactly what the consumer needs to see from a company in an industry that is experiencing huge levels of scrutiny, dissent and dissatisfaction from politicians, the media and customers. I think it can only be a positive thing for an organisation to openly and overtly make a promise or commitment to its customers. Honesty, openness, transparency – even decency – are all words that we find hard to associate with businesses today. So congratulations SSE, I applaud you for having the courage to promise to treat us as you would like to be treated yourselves.

BUT…..there is usually one of those in my blog posts – can we be certain that you will be true to your word? Call me cynical (and potentially many other things), but whilst hoping that they will be true to their word, I am not going to hold my breath waiting for the promises to become a reality. Many customers will not even give SSE the benefit of the doubt. A proportion of these letters (I would love to know exactly how many) will have been filed in the dustbin without even being opened. Others will have been dismissed as clever marketing by a company in a beleaguered industry. I wish this were not true, but can you blame the public for not necessarily believing something like this?

0 nat west charter

Do you remember the Nat West and/or RBS Customer Charter? Launched in a nationwide marketing campaign, airports, train stations and billboards all over the UK were plastered with messages telling us how two of Britain’s biggest banking brands were going to become our most helpful bank. 14 customer commitments were as follows:

  1. To extend the opening hours at its busiest branches
  2. Aims to serve the majority of customers within five minutes in its branches
  3. To provide “friendly, helpful service”
  4. To help customers make the right choices
  5. To provide 24/7 telephone banking services
  6. To keep customers safe when banking online
  7. Helping customers whose debit cards have been lost or stolen
  8. Continuing to be a ‘responsible lender’
  9. To keep a branch open if it is the last remaining bank in that community
  10. To teach more than 25,000 financial education lessons in schools this year
  11. To “actively support the local community” through volunteer projects
  12. To resolve customer complaints “fairly, consistently, and promptly”
  13. To publish  its most frequent customer complaints biannually
  14. To actively seek customer suggestions on how to improve

When I ask people if they have any recollection of these ‘commitments’, I am met with vague and often confused expressions. I am no sure the ‘marketing campaign’ worked. Although the Nat West/RBS Charter was big on words, it seems as though the customers I have spoken to have not really noticed any difference. I myself am a Nat West customer, and have been since I went to university. I cannot recall receiving any information about their commitments in the last twelve months. I have not been asked what I think since the day I became a customer too long ago.

I had a look to see how they are getting on with their ‘mission’ to become our most helpful bank. It seems as though they have toned down, or ‘evolved’ their ambitions since 2010. Gone are the 14 commitments, replaced by something a bit simpler – here is the RBS Group report on their 2012 performance – you can come to your own conclusion – http://www.rbs.com/content/dam/rbs/Documents/Customers/customer-charter.pdf

If you are going to make promises to your customers – you need to really mean it. You cannot make promises as part of a marketing campaign to make you sound good. You need to make a promise and stick to it. My recent research into ‘what customers want’ revealed that ‘keeping promises’ is one of the top three most important things (http://ijgolding.com/2013/11/06/what-do-customers-really-want-the-top-five-most-important-things-revealed/). Failing to deliver on promises can have very serious consequences. If you CAN do what you say, the complete opposite can be the case. Take good old John Lewis for example. Perhaps one of the best examples of an organisation that has delivered against a customer promise for a very long time.

0 jlp never knowingly undersold

We all know, recognise and potentially love John Lewis for its ‘never knowingly undersold’ slogan. The trust that this business has built up with the consumer over decades has made it one of the most successful and sustainable retailers in the UK. We can be pretty confident that John Lewis will keep to their promise – can SSE do the same and achieve a similar result?

John Lewis are not the only retailer with customer promises. Tesco have had made promises for years. Some of their promises have become so embedded in the way they work, customers do not even know they are promises any more – they are almost taken for granted. For example, ‘keeping the aisles clear’ is drummed into the psyche of all Tesco employees from day one. It seems a very simple promise – but it you do not have to ‘run the gauntlet’ down Tesco aisles in the same way you do in other supermarkets. Tesco also have a promise known as ‘one in front’ – if there is more than one customer queuing at a checkout, they will open another checkout. There are rarely long queues as a result.

0 tesco values and promises

Like Nat West/RBS, Tesco have evolved their promises – the latest version can be seen here. Are Tesco true to them? This is their attempt to openly tell us how it should feel to be a customer of Tesco. By telling us this, we can hold them to account. Do we believe them? Well that is a different matter.

So what will come of SSE’s statement of intent? Will they become the ‘John Lewis’ of the utility industry, or have they just spent a huge amount of money on a clever marketing campaign? I genuinely hope the former. I am not going to put money on it just yet though.

Pants! What is wrong with Marks & Spencer?

20 years ago, you could walk over London Bridge – make that any bridge in the UK for that matter – and be pretty sure that almost everyone traversing the bridge with you would be wearing something from Marks & Spencer (M&S). The things they would be wearing would very likely be pants (underwear for our US friends) and socks, although many of the men would be wearing an M&S suit, shirt or tie. Please do not get me wrong – I do not spend my time gawping at people and imagining what they are wearing underneath their overcoats – it is just (or was) a fact! The stalwart of the British high street was as common in the lives of men and women all over the UK, as the GE lightbulb is all over the world.

Today, M&S reported a 9.7% fall in profits – this is what the BBC have posted:

“Marks and Spencer, the UK’s biggest clothing retailer, has posted pre-tax profits of £290m for the six months to the end of September, down 9.7% from the same period last year.

Group sales were up 0.9% to £4.7bn, with much of the growth coming from the food side of the business.

Food sales were up 3.4%, or 1.1% on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the effect of new stores.

Clothing and homeware like-for-like sales, were down 4.3%, M&S said

So what exactly is going on at M&S? Can they blame everything on the current economic climate? Is there anything wrong at all? This blog looks at my view (and it is only my opinion) of the situation.

Going back 20 years, M&S were seen in the same light as John Lewis on the high street. Great products, great service and extremely trustworthy. They were predominantly a clothing retailer with a smaller focus on high quality food – it was always a special treat to get your food from M&S. So what happened? In my view, M&S became complacent – they took their customer for granted. There was almost the perception that the M&S management team sat around their board table, all patting themselves on the back, congratulating each other on how wonderful they were.

As a result of their complacency, M&S did not change. It did not evolve its proposition for years – until it was too late to avert the damage. Ten years ago, M&S started to decline – nothing dramatic, but slowly people stopped coming. As the business continued to invest in its food offering, there was little focus (or so it seemed) on its core non food proposition. M&S stores 10 years ago still looked like they did ten years earlier. They had become stagnant – the experience was not evolving with the climate around it. Online retailers were starting their charge, whilst M&S trundled on doing the same thing it had always done.

M&S did appear to recognise this. They started to introduce new clothing ranges – Signature and Per Una to name two – ranges of clothing that maintained the excellent quality that M&S had always been known for. However, it felt as though the inability to move with the times meant that M&S had started to lose a generation of consumers. Today, as M&S continues its decline, my key question is – what is M&S?

Is M&S a bank? Is M&S a supermarket? Is M&S a clothing retailer? The answer is yes to all of them – but what is the collective name for a company that has many specialities, but is not necessarily great at doing them all as one? M&S has separate business units, that all have M&S in the title – but if someone asks you what is M&S and who is M&S for, what would your answer be?

I have not purchased anything from M&S’s core clothing business for well over a year now. My last purchase was a suit – a very nice one as well. In the last five years, I have been in an M&S on  maybe 5 occasions. Twenty years ago, I went in to M&S every couple of months – to buy underwear, casual clothes and work clothes. My frequency of visit has changed as I am no longer sure that M&S is designed for me. Every time I walk past an M&S, the average age of customer entering and leaving looks to be in my parents age range. Looking through the windows, I can understand why. I am told that the quality is still excellent. I am told that the ranges are great – but if I perceive the store to be for the maturer customer, it is unlikely that I personally am ever going to know.

Whilst I do not think the clothes are for me, the food definitely is – the quality of M&S’s food offering is as good as it ever was. It is still a treat to do an M&S food shop – how can M&S make it feel like a treat to do a clothes shop? What M&S needs to do  (in my opinion) is two things:

  1. Clarify their proposition – what is M&S?; what is its proposition?; why would the consumer choose M&S? Until this is clear, neither the consumer, nor M&S’s staff will know. If you are unable to associate with a brand, you will not interact with it. It is critical that M&S addresses this problem and lets the consumer and staff know about it!
  2. Get emotional – if M&S looks at the three elements that make up an experience – it will notice where its problem is. FUNCTIONAL – their functional experience is good – M&S still has what you need and is able to fulfil what the consumer wants. ACCESSIBLE – they tick this box as well – with a good multi channel offering, M&S are able to compete with the rest of the high street. EMOTIONAL – this is the issue – the consumer has forgotten what M&S is and what makes it special. Unlike John Lewis who have maintained their emotional link to the consumer, M&S needs to re-build theirs. What do you remember about M&S? Many people will say ‘it used to be…….’ – they need to say ‘it still is……’

As the British high street continues to struggle, it desperately needs reliable trusted brands to both maintain consumer confidence AND give the consumer what it needs. M&S, like John Lewis, is a brand that we should all be proud of. t is a brand that must never take its customers for granted again. It is a brand that needs to show its customers that it cares. If it really is ‘Your M&S’, let us see it behaving like it.

Do you agree or disagree with my point of view? As always, I welcome your comments and views.

John Lewis – are they still the best when it comes to customer experience and service?


For years, John Lewis along with Amazon and First Direct have been widely heralded as the shining examples of how to deliver excellent customer experiences. Recent benchmarking studies from Nunwood (referenced in this marketing week article – http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/the-brands-that-run-rings-around-their-rivals/3030720.article) and Temkin Group (http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/report-2012-temkin-experience-ratings-uk/) back up what most of us recognise – that John Lewis are still believed to be leaders in customer experience and customer service in the retail sector.

But…..there is always a but…….are these benchmarking studies right? Taking John Lewis as an example – are they really that much better than any other retailer? To stimulate some thoughts on the subject, lets think about what I believe are the three components that make an experience (as taught by Bruce Temkin – http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/?s=experience+components):

1. EMOTIONAL – how do John Lewis make customers feel?

2. FUNCTIONAL – does the John Lewis customer journey do what customers want?

3. ACCESSIBLE – how easy is it for customers to do what they want?

Considering each component, it is strikingly obvious that the critical advantage that John Lewis have over many of their competitors is number 1 – EMOTION. John Lewis is a brand that, driven by the passion of it ‘partners’ and a compelling brand promise ‘never knowingly undersold’, has emotionally linked the words TRUST and RELIABILITY into the psyche of the British consumer.

In developing any customer experience strategy, it is important to ask the question – ‘why would a customer buy my products or services?’ Can you have great products and poor service? Can you have excellent service but nothing on the shelves? Or are you able to WOW your customers by delivering products that people WANT, at an AFFORDABLE price, in a CONSISTENT customer journey, while consistently INNOVATING and modernising?

Creating an emotional link with customers demonstrates the ability to identify the WOW moments in the customer journey – the compelling brand proposition that leaves customers in no doubt as to why they keep coming back – and telling all their friends to do the same. For years John Lewis has consistently built its reputation for having a rock solid customer journey – reliable, dependable, trustworthy – quite simply – they have become the rock of the British high street, while at the same time evolving their rock solid multichannel solutions. Others, such as Marks and Spencer, have arguably failed to do the same.

Innovation has allowed John Lewis to address the other two components of the ‘experience’ – from a FUNCTIONAL perspective, John Lewis have entered the digital age extremely effectively – their online capability is as reliable as its bricks and mortar proposition – and critically it is seamless – the website looks like the store and vice versa – you know it is good old John Lewis looking after you. John Lewis have also addressed the ACCESSIBLE component – as other traditionally bricks and mortar retailers have done, linking their online model with their store model means that customers can pick and choose how they want to interact – whether it be delivery to the doorstep, or collection from a local store.

This all paints John Lewis in a brilliant light – but I’ll ask the question again – are they really that good? Or is the fact that John Lewis are always ‘top of the pops’ purely down to the fact that we THINK they are the best – something that has been embedded into our brains due to the amazing strength of the brand?

I recently visited a John Lewis store in Chester – a brand new ‘home’ store. It looks amazing – and exactly as you would expect a John Lewis store to be – clean, bright, beautifully laid out. Fantastic products were on display, an enticing cafe produced wonderful coffee aromas to make even the biggest dieter want to fall off the wagon. BUT……there is that but again……..on more than one occasion when walking around the store, I witnessed slightly disinterested staff, ‘standing around’ chatting to each other. I have heard stories of staff not being particularly helpful in other John Lewis stores, especially when being asked questions about technology. Are these isolated incidents? Have you had bad experiences with John Lewis?

To provide balance, I also recently had a table and chairs delivered to my home by a John Lewis delivery team. They were quite simply amazing – smart, polite, friendly, helpful, and did everything I would expect of John Lewis – there is that word CONSISTENCY again. A friend also told me yesterday that they placed an order with John Lewis online – but they needed the order to be collected by someone other than her –  a quick phone call to customer services was greeted by ‘of course – not a problem’ – how many retailers would be that ACCESSIBLE and easy to deal with?

They say that facts do not lie – benchmarking studies tell us that John Lewis are still right up there after all these years – is it because they are so good at maintaining a focus on the three components of an experience, or do we just think they do?

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