The brands that run rings around their rivals

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This year’s list of the top 100 brands for customer experience, shown exclusively to Marketing Week by Nunwood, highlights the rise of smart consumer and smart retailer.

Great customer service is the ultimate brand experience. Consumers on the receiving end of a positive retail experience may spend more than they intend, come back for more and tell their friends.

But how do you control customer service when you don’t actually have your own sales staff in a store?

This is an issue that Krispy Kreme UK chief marketing officer Judith Denby has to deal with as its products are sold in many Tesco stores as well as standalone shops.

“We try to make the Krispy Kreme experience more than just the doughnut,” she says. “Krispy Kreme does not staff the concessions, but we control as much of the sales process as we can. We deliver the doughnuts early in the morning, stocking the cabinet and merchandising it ourselves three or four times a day.

“We control what we sell and how it looks and it is presented to the customer as closely as possible [to being a Krispy Kreme shop] when it is not in our store.”

This aids the brand in offering more than just the product and has helped Krispy Kreme come tenth in this year’s top 100 brands for customer experience, according to Nunwood. Online retailer Amazon retains its top spot for the second year running just ahead of John Lewis (see league tables, below).

Delivering great customer service might not be as sexy as launching an advertising campaign or crowdsourcing your creative via Twitter, but people spend more time in a brand’s stores than they do engaging with your latest TV ad.

Along with Krispy Kreme, food brands Millie’s Cookies and Greggs are also doing particularly well for customer service, at joint sixth and eighth place respectively in Nunwood’s list.

For Denby, consumer confidence in the product is key to Krispy Kreme’s success. Millie’s Cookies is also looking at how it can differentiate itself from others in an increasingly competitive treat market.

“More coffee shops are opening which sell food and sweet treats and have nice seating areas. We’ve had to look at our proposition and make sure that it is compelling. Companies like Krispy Kreme are going into cookies so we are thinking hard about what makes us special and unique,” says Millie’s Cookies chief marketing officer Justine Noades.

Delivering a personal service, whether that is making a customer feel like an individual or customising products, is something that Nunwood strategy director David Conway identifies as vital for doing well in customer service and is what Millie’s is looking at (see Millie’s Cookies box, below).

The Nunwood list also highlights the rise of the “smart consumer” – who heavily researches and compares their purchases – and the “smart retailer” meeting their needs through a higher level of customer service.

Customer experience top 10

2011

1 Amazon
2 John Lewis
3 Virgin Atlantic
4 Emirates
5 Marks & Spencer
=6 M&S Simply Food
=6 Millie’s Cookies
8 Greggs
9 Hilton
10 Krispy Kreme

2010

1 Amazon
2 First Direct
3 Waitrose
4 M&S Simply Food
5 John Lewis
6 Virgin Atlantic
7 Marks & Spencer
8 Nando’s
9 Asda
10 TGI Friday’s

Source: Nunwood

For the full top 100 lists for 2011 and 2010, see related files at the end of the this article.

At the top of the list, Amazon – which launched iPad rival Kindle Fire last week – and John Lewis are both known for their customer service. John Lewis encourages consumers to interact with the brand through well-trained store staff, while Amazon avoids the need for its customers to have direct contact with people through making returns easy to do online.

“Amazon says the best service is no service – that is part of ’frictionless’ service. Every time someone contacts Amazon, it uses that communication to find out what has gone wrong,” claims Conway.

“There is a really strong emotional connection to Amazon, which for an online retailer is quite extraordinary. The people surveyed say they love it because of the breadth of the product, the recommendations and the fact the brand delivers goods on time or early,” he notes.

Amazon also allows people to compare the prices of products and find cheaper options, as external sellers can sell second-hand goods to Amazon customers for less than the new price. Conway says this trend of easy price and service comparison is part of the rise of the smart retailer and smart consumer.

“The organisations that recognise there is a new generation of interconnected consumers who will happily stand in a shop and compare prices on their mobile phones have done well in the research,” he says. “They are equally smart themselves, employing staff who are able to communicate with that smart consumer.”

Amazon’s new Checkout service, which allows customers to access their Amazon account on another retailer’s website, is another example of smart retailing. People don’t have to type in their address or credit card details twice, making it easier and quicker to make purchases.

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire

“We see Checkout by Amazon as a natural extension of commitment to customer service and security,” said Marc Woodall, ecommerce operations manager for watch and jewellery websites The Watch Hut and The Jewel Hut, when the service was launched in March. “Our customers trust Amazon and we trust they’ll shop more when they use the Checkout facility.”

Being a smart retailer isn’t limited to online or technology-based brands. Beauty brand Lush, number 12 on the list, does well because of its knowledgeable staff, claims Conway. “Lush has come from nowhere to a very high position. Consumers talk about the knowledge and passion of the staff. They know every detail of the products they sell and use them themselves.”

Hi-fi, home cinema and TV retailer Richer Sounds has also done well this year, jumping from 99th place in 2010 to 11 in this year’s list. Conway explains: “Its staff are willing to talk about products in a way that shows they know a lot about the subject and are able to identify the customer’s needs.”

He attributes this leap to an increase in consumers researching product and service recommendations online before going into a shop. “People find that the Richer Sounds staff are concerned about meeting their needs rather than selling the most expensive item,” he says.

Brands typically break into the top 100 by looking at the total experience of a customer. Airlines Virgin Atlantic and Emirates appear at positions three and four respectively, both rising several places since last year.

“Virgin is starting to occupy the territory that British Airways used to – a flagship British brand that people can be proud of. In the survey, Virgin’s staff are generally felt to be fantastic,” says Conway. BA is at number 54 this year, up from 60.

He adds that Virgin has become a customer service case study for other brands aiming to humanise their operations. Its in-flight staff are taught to make a show of speaking to children or holding babies, so that other passengers can see what a good job they are doing.

Conway’s final strategy for success is to look at the whole of a customer’s journey and avoid “experience myopia”. He says that all businesses need to take responsibility of the entire end-to-end customer experience rather than just their section of the sale.

Looking back to the top-ranking example from 2011, he notes: “Amazon rectifies problems whether caused by it or through third parties – the brand ’owns’ the total customer experience.”

Millie’s Cookies

Justine Noades, marketing director at Millie’s Cookies, joint sixth on Nunwood’s list of the top brands for customer experience, says it runs mystery customer programmes 13 times a year to see how it is doing in terms of service. However, real-life customers rather than ’professional’ mystery shoppers are used for this programme.

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“We want to improve the overall brand experience,” she says. “We have found that what people love about Millie’s Cookies is
the variety, choice, personalisation and the fact that we don’t come across as a big corporate brand.”

Millie’s is part of SSP, which also runs Upper Crust and Caffè Ritazza, but each separate brand has its own team, so there is less of a corporate feel. While a focus on service seems to be working for Millie’s Cookies, Noades says she is developing a project to identify the brand’s “core DNA” for the 118 UK stores. She is looking at three brand values of variety, choice and personalisation and how these can be improved further. Once these are in place, the mystery customers will help show how the brand is doing.

Personalisation is important to Millie’s, says Noades, so it offers a customised icing service. For David Conway, strategy director at Nunwood, making people feel like individuals is important. “People make informed decisions and demand customisation. This is the opposite of conventional retailing where standardisation and commoditisation are key to commercial success,” he says.

Millie’s is also looking at whether there are certain characteristics it should be looking for when hiring staff.

“We are looking at things like recruitment policies and whether there is a side to that which is about recruiting a certain type of person for Millie’s,” says Noades.

She is working on a communication plan for the brand but wants to get the store environment and other aspects right before any money is spent on above-the-line marketing.

“There is a lot to make sure we get right, first in terms of the store environment, the point-of-sale marketing and the product range, for example. We are looking to innovate in the next six months and also want to up our digital and social media presence, developing our website further.”

Methodology

Nunwood carried out 7,300 interviews with a representative sample of UK consumers over three days in mid-September.

People were asked to specify which companies they had interacted with over the last six months and then to rate brands in terms of the extent to which they met their particular needs, were easy companies to deal with and how much they met or exceeded expectations.

The answers to these questions were used to create an index out of 10 which was then used to build the league table. On average, each respondent rated 18 brands.

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