I have been studying the 2013 UK report by Nunwood’s Customer Experience Centre and in this post I share with you what shows up for me.
Which are the UK’s Top 10 Customer Experience brands and why?
Comparing to last year I notice that:
1. Amazon has dropped to fourth place. Why? The report suggests that this is due to two factors: reputation damage related to tax avoidance and performance of delivery companies.
2. QVC (TV centred shopping channel) comes in at no 2. It appears that in previous years the responses failed to meet the minimum required and so QVC was excluded.
3. The Co-operative Bank has not just fallen out of the Top 10, it has fallen out of the Top 100. Given it’s much publicised troubles centred on its finances this does not come as a surprise. Above all, it occurs to me, that a bank has to have a reputation for being financially sound.
4. M&S, one of the UK’s traditional and loved brands, has moved into the Top 10.
5. Four out of the Top 10 positions are held by two organisations – The John Lewis Partnership and M&S: organisations that have a reputation for caring about their people, caring about their customers and showing this through the quality-range- vfm of their products, and the quality of their service.
Which industries dominate the Top 100 Customer Experience brands?
Given that Nunwood has not done an analysis by industry, it occurred to me that it would be useful to do one. Here is what shows up:
The retail industry leads in the sense that 44 out of the Top 100 places are filled by retail brands. And 10 of the Top 22 customer experience brands are in retail (as classified by Nunwood). Please note I have not listed all of the retail brands in the Top 100 – too many brands.
The supermarkets take 3 out of the Top 10 places, 7 out of the Top 20 places, and 11 out of the Top 100 places. That is quite some domination given the relatively small number of players in this category. It’s interesting that all of the big names are in the Top 20 except for Tesco (47), Morrisons (29) and Lidl (53).
The food & eatery industry takes 14 out of the Top 100 places. None of the brands in this category is in the Top 50. It is interesting to note that Starbucks is missing from the Top 100. Could this be due to the brand damage that Starbucks has suffered due to the tax avoidance issue that has hit Starbucks much harder than say Amazon? Who says life is fair?
The travel & tourism industry takes 16 out of the Top 100 places. There is only one brand in the Top 10 (Virgin Atlantic) and three in the Top 20 (Virgin Atlantic, Butlins, Emirates). Looks like airline travel experience is not that hard to get right if you are committed to getting it right like Virgin Atlantic and Emirates. The surprise appearance (for me) is Butlins. It looks like Butlins have invested in their staff and their hotels and this is paying off.
The telecoms & media industry only takes 3 out of the Top 100 places. Do you notice who is missing? All the big brands like Vodafone, Sky, EE, BT, O2, TalkTalk, Virgin Media …… yet these are the very brands that do much talking about customer service, customer experience, customer-centricity. Seems to me that all this customer talk could just be ‘marketing talk’.
The financial services industry takes 12 out of the Top 100 places. And like the telecoms industry none of the big brands – Barclays, RBS, Lloyds, Santander – are present. It will be interesting to see how much headway the supermarket brands - M&S Bank (23), Sainsburys Bank (83) – can make in this industry. Given the shift to digital-mobile banking, it would be interesting to see what will happen when the likes of Amazon decide to go into that market.
The energy & utilities industry. Have you noticed that not one of the energy and utility players is in the Top 100? No British Gas, no EDF, no Npower, no E.on, no Thames Water, no Severn Trent ….. If the energy industry proves anything it proves this, you don’t need to pay attention to customers when you have structured the industry into an oligopoly and customers have to come to you to buy an essential product.
What does it take to be a Customer Experience leader?
If there is one thing I am clear on it is this, one cannot become a customer experience leader by bolting on customer experience trinkets to the existing way of being-doing. This is about as effective as taking a frigate, adding bits and piece of a fighter plane (say wings), and expecting the frigate to be a great fighter plane. That is just stupid. Most of us can see this stupidity when it comes to warships and fighter places. When it comes to organisations, it is amazing how few see the stupidity of taking this route. What does the Nunwood report say?
Culture and climate are the foundation stone of great experiences. Experiences are delivered through people, the above companies are focusing on creating a culture and climate that starts with meeting all of the customer’s needs, emotional, rational and transactional and then replicating across channels.
Customer experience has many moving parts the key is an integrated approach across a business. It demands an intense focus over the long term. It has to be kept on everyone’s daily agenda.
This requires customer experience to be woven into the fabric of the company, reward, performance management and planning.
Enough for today. In the next post, I will take a more detailed look at some of the more interesting brands in the Top 100. Until then I wish you the very best.
It occurs to me that we, human beings, are curious creatures.
We pride ourselves in our rationality and yet are permeated through and through with ideology and superstition. We are convinced of our individuality whilst at the same time being terrified of sticking our heads above the crowd. We are capable of amazing feats yet find it hard to resist taking the short-cut.
Allow me to share the following story with you:
Nasrudin sometimes took people for trips on his boat. One day a professor hired him to ferry him across the wide river.
During the journey the professor, wanting to impress Nasrudin, talked on-about many topics: politics, the great books of literature… When Nasrudin didn’t respond the professor asked him if had anything to say.
“I didn’t go to school and I can’t read,” said Nasrudin.
“In that case, half your life has been wasted!” replied the professor condescendingly.
Nasrudin said nothing.
Soon a storm blew up and Nasrudin boat start filling up with water. Nasrudin leaned towards the professor who was looking rather pale.
“Can you swim?”
“No. I never learned to swim. It didn’t seem that important,” said the professor.
“In that case, schoolmaster, ALL of your life is lost, for we are sinking.”
It occurs to me that in the world of business we are so bewitched by ideologies (which are invisible to us), fanciful stories and the latest silver bullets. Being so bewitched we neglect the fundamentals.
What are the fundamentals of your business? It occurs to me that this is a good question to grapple with as an organisation. And to come to an agreement. Yes, it sounds simple and you would be surprised how rare it is to come across a management team that has grappled with this question and come to an shared agreement. It is even rarer to find a shared agreement that stands up to deep questioning.
When it comes to the fundamentals as viewed from the eyes of the customer, I tend to find myself in agreement with Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan in their book Simply Better:
Customers don’t want bells and whistles and don’t care about trivial differences between brands. What they really want are quality products, reliable services, and fair value for money. Yet most companies consistently fail to meet these basic needs.
It occurs to me that Amazon does so well because the folks at Amazon are relentless on the fundamentals of internet retailing: site design, site performance, customer reviews, ease of buying, on-time delivery, quality products, valuable services (ebooks), ease of returns, value for money …
Finally, it occurs to me that the real value of Customer Experience lies in encouraging your organisation to get present to and pay attention to the fundamentals of your organisation as they show up for your customers.
Amidst the slavish devotion to customer experience and the ideology of customer-centricity I find Ryanair refreshing and instructive – including its recent change in stance towards how the organisation treats its customers. What can we learn from Ryanair and this change in stance?
Financial fortunes (not customer needs) shape management decisions
I find it instructive that trigger for this change of stance is due to a change in its financial fortunes:
- profits may miss or be at the lower end of its range of 570m euros to 600m euros (£480m to £508m);
- a dip in ticket prices and booking levels for September, October and November;
- the continued success of its competitor (Easyjet);
- shareholder concerns that customer service issues were hitting sales.
It occurs to me that what is refreshing about Ryanair’s management team is the refreshing honesty about what motivates-drives their actions. According to this article, Ryanair’s COO and deputy CEO ‘has dismissed the idea of “wholesale changes” at the carrier as it attempts to improve customer service’. Why is that? In the words of the COO
“Our model is to satisfy shareholders. There are other models to satisfy passengers.”
I say that a safe assumption, for any publicly listed company, is that the focus on the management team is no meeting the financial numbers. And any talk of customer-centricity has to be interpreting within this context.
The critical importance of the business model and how it shapes organisational actions
In order for there to be a viable business there has to be a viable business model. Using the business model canvas this means that the following business model elements have to fit together effectively: revenue streams, customer segments, customer relationships, distribution channels, value proposition, cost structure, key activities, key resources, and key partners.
If you take a deeper look at the business model canvas you cannot help but notice that right in the centre sits the Value Proposition. The organisation has to engage in specific activities to create the value proposition. These activities and the way they are carried out determine the cost structure of the business. Therefore, it is essential that the choice of customer segments, customer relationships, distribution channels and revenue streams deliver revenues that exceed the cost base and deliver a suitable return on investment.
It occurs to me that Ryanair’s COO understands the implication of the no frills airline model a lot better than the media which has been implying that the Ryanair management team have seen the light and will be making significant changes. This is what the Ryanair COO is reported as saying:
There is a balance and maybe we have gone too far one way. But the idea there is going to be wholesale changes is wrong.
We need to be better at communicating with customers, but that is no big deal.
When we take €70 from someone for having the wrong size bag we should do it with sympathy rather than glee.
Great advice for all businesses: don’t unnecessarily annoy your customers
I notice that Michael O’Leary (CEO, Ryanair) has woken up to the fact that it is not wise to unnecessarily annoy customers. He is reported as saying:
We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily annoy customers.
It occurs to me that this does not go far enough. If you are in a management position where you have the power to shape organisational behaviour then I encourage you to end policies and practices that unnecessarily annoy:
- your customers;
- the people that work in your business and create value for your customers;
- your distribution partners;
- your suppliers.
Why? Because that which is unnecessary should not be done. Doing that which is unnecessary and annoys key stakeholders is stupid: self defeating in the longer term.
It does not pay to steal in the longer term
It occurs to me that it is worth bearing the long term in mind. Whilst it is possible to escape the consequences of your actions in the short term, this is rarely the case in the long term. In the long term your history catches up with you. When I was a child my father used to tell me stories to do with human nature. One story, I have remembered vividly, it’s moral was ‘If you steal expect to get caught, sooner or later. The only way not to get caught is not to steal.”
Looking at the Ryanair situation, it occurs to me that Ryanair has been stealing from its customers for many years and this is the year when Ryanair’s management has got caught. And so is having to do something about it.
What did Ryanair steal from its customers? The humanity that one human being expects and counts on another human being to deliver: human dignity.
In response to an earlier post (The Paradox At The Heart of Customer-Centric Business) Christopher Frawley commented:
Maz, your post is both intriguing and confusing. You’ve stated what you’re against, but I’m not sure that you’ve clearly articulated what you’re for. You do make the point about business being an ecosystem that’s larger than the customer and yes that’s true.
I would argue that the decisions you make about hiring, treating suppliers, revenue models, etc. are all in service to meeting and exceeding the needs of customers – the reason you have a business at all. All the questions about how the business operates should be answered through the lens of with what will help us do the best job for customers in the marketplace.
So many have awakened to the reality that more outward attention must be paid to the customer and you may consider much of what’s being said and done simplistic (as you stated). If a customer centric business does not center itself on its customers, then what if anything is at the center and/or what should it be? Thanks.
It occurs to me that Christopher makes good points and is asking questions worth asking. So the least that I can do is make the effort to grapple with his questions and share that which shows up for me.
I say that all of us talk a lot of nonsense and mostly we are not present that it is nonsense. Why? Because we fall in with the customs and fashions of the day. Whilst thoughts may show up for us, most of us rarely think. It occurs to me that a lot of nonsense has been talked about in the Customer domain by those who have something to sell to those who buy the nonsense.
Is business about meeting and exceeding the needs of customers?
Is it a God given commandment that the purpose of business is to meet-exceed the needs of customers? I haven’t seen it any of the holy books so it occurs to me the answer is no. Perhaps a better question, given that we worship at the altar of science, is to ask if meeting-exceeding the needs of customers is a scientific law. Can you and I agree that science has nothing to say on this matter, it is silent?
Which begs the question, who says that the reason you have a business at all is to meet-exceed the needs of customers? In grappling with this question, I ask you to consider that the taken for granted view (embedded in company law in USA, UK) is that the duty of management is to run the business so as to maximise the returns to shareholders. There is no mention of customers. There is no duty towards customers other than those duties imposed by consumer protection legislation. Do you not find it interesting that consumer legislations has been enacted to stop companies misleading even abusing customers?
Do entrepreneurs risk all so that they can meet-exceed customer expectations? I have had the privilege of working with some entrepreneurs. Based on that experience, it occurs to me that the answer is no. Some entrepreneurs start their businesses to escape the rat race. Others because they see an opportunity to make a lot of money. From what I have read, Steve Jobs did it to ‘make a dent in the universe’; Jeff Bezos did it because he did not want to regret missing out on the possibilities created by the internet; Tony Hsieh did it because he loved building businesses; Chris Zane did what he did because he found himself good at fixing bicycles….
Back to the central question and let’s ask this question differently. What is the basis of the assertion that the reason you have a business at all is to meet-exceed the needs of customers? The common answer is that it is the customer that pays the wages. Let’s take this to mean that without customers there is no viable business. Agreed. Now consider this question. What happens to a business if the people who work in the business all drop dead? What happens if the employees get together and go on strike? Is this business a viable business? I say no. If you think otherwise, then ask yourself why it is that USA and the UK governments and business establishment have sought to undermine unions and union power.
Let’s consider the energy companies in the UK. It is arguable whether they meet and exceed the needs of their customers. A fundamental need is for transparent pricing plans so that customers are in a position to make the right choices. The energy companies have done and continue to do all they can to stop customers getting this need met. These energy companies make huge profits by structuring the market to meet their needs – needs of top management and shareholders.
It occurs to me that business is as much about meeting-exceeding customer expectations as my life is about breathing, drinking and eating. Which is my way of saying that in the same way that it is simplistic to reduce my life to breathing-drinking-eating, it is simplistic to reduce business to meeting-exceeding customer expectations.
You may disagree. In that case can you and I agree that I have shared with you sufficient grounds to at least question the God given status of the truth of the assertion ‘business is about meeting-exceeding customer expectations’?
Should all business questions be answered on the basis of what will help us to do the best job for customers?
To answer this question, it is worth getting present to something: customers don’t exist. How to point this out more concretely? When i-you say “all business questions should be answered on the basis of what will help us to do the best job for customers” which customers are we talking about? Are we talking about the customers which are most profitable for us? The customers on which we are losing money? The customers where it occurs to us we have the most potential to grow their wallet share with us?
In ‘Onwards: How Starbuck’s Fought for It’s Life without Losing It’s Soul’ Howard Schultz draws attention to the real world – the world of messiness. Under the previous CEO, Starbucks had expanded rapidly to please Wall St. When an analysis of the stores was done there were 100s of stores that were simply not viable. So the decision was taken to close these stores. What happened when customers of these stores found out? Some customers wrote in asking-pleading for the stores to be kept open. Why? Because the Starbucks store played such a central role in their lives. What happened? Howard and the team listened, did the maths, and closed the stores.
When the folks at Apple were playing around with the technologies that would eventually constitute the iPhone were they doing so in order to meet-exceed customer expectations? Or was Steve vested in creating-building a phone that he enjoyed owning-using? I wasn’t there so I do not know the definitive answer. The writers (that I have read) say that Steve was concerned with creating a phone that he and his family-friends would enjoy owning-using. The effect of succeeding in creating such a phone was that of exceeding customer expectations. Yet, it was not customer expectations that drove the investment, effort, or passionate commitment to creating the iPhone.
Then there is Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. As I understand, Clayton Christensen makes the claim that successful companies become good even great at building a business around a highly profitable group of customers. And in the process they ignore other customers thus creating an opening for innovative disruptors. Consider Amazon, how is it that Amazon has become the giant of book retailing? I say it is in part because the incumbents were to busy answering question on the basis of their understanding, and investments, in doing the best job for customers who bought their books – the people who turned up, looked at and bought books in the store.
Can you and I agree that the game of business cannot be reduced to any simplistic formula. Including, ‘all business questions be answered on the basis of what will help us to do the best job for customers’?
What is my big issues with customer-centricity?
Life is messy. Life is full of polarities, contradictions, and paradoxes. Business is a realm of life and as such the game of business is messy, non-linear, full of polarities, contradictions and paradoxes. This is not a realm in which simple minded thinking, simple minded formulas, and simple minded approaches are effective. It occurs to me that too many of those working on customer focus, customer experience, and customer-centricity are falling into this simple minded trap.
Consider that the success of Amazon is as much on its ability to deliver the goods to the customer quickly as it is about its website. And that Amazon lives by the principle ‘the best service is no service’ – ensuring that everything works just right so that there is no need for the customer to contact customer services.
Consider that the success and value of Apple is tied to the ability of its people to come up with ‘magic products’. And Apple invests in on helping its customers make good use of these magic products. How many folks working on the customer experience even consider these two domains?
Consider that Ryanair has been hugely successful by enabling people who would not normally fly (as they could not afford flights on the likes of British Airways or Aer Lingus) to fly. It occurs to me that Ryanair is a great illustration of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruption. By tapping this unmet need the folks at Ryanair have been getting away with treating their customers rather badly in terms of service, fairness, and charges.
Consider that Tesco was held out as the exemplar of taking a data driven, customer-centric approach to retailing. What is the case today? Tesco has been struggling since the recession whilst the likes of Waitrose, Sainsburys, and Aldi are doing rather well. So perhaps data driven retailing is not the magical formula for business success.
Consider that the John Lewis Partnership (John Lewis, Waitrose) have been growing from strength to strength – this is a business where the employees own the business and where their rights and obligations are enshrined in a legally binding constitution.