Knowledge is power for customers’ top 100 brands

Brands that offer tailored support and advice triumph in KPMG Nunwood’s customer experience ranking.

Customer Experience Top 100

For the full top 100 click here

The brands that excel in consumers’ eyes are the ones that make themselves indispensable through the knowledge they can impart, according to the results of KPMG Nunwood’s UK Customer Experience Excellence survey for 2015.

Handmade cosmetics retailer Lush has moved up three positions to claim the top spot, while online bank First Direct and department store John Lewis take second and third place respectively. All three businesses trade on the fact they can offer specialist information while understanding consumers’ individual needs.

“Customers are better informed and want to know exactly what products are made of,” says Nadya Candy, global retail standards and customer experience at Lush. “The effect they will personally experience is important but so is the impact each product has on the environment. We want our customers to know what makes us different from other cosmetic brands, so openly talk about our ingredients, where we source them from, our limited use of packaging and our fight against animal testing.”

In order to empower staff, the retailer puts great emphasis on training and development, and classes it as an integral part of the business strategy. “In the past year we created a customer experience day that we delivered to all our European managers. It focuses on customer engagement, leadership, brand values and consultations,” explains Candy. Managers then take these lessons back to staff at store level to ensure consistency across the business.

Knowledge empowers consumers

Nunwood’s analysis is based on the views of a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 consumers who must have interacted with a brand within the past six months. In order to qualify for inclusion in the top 100 list the brand must be mentioned at least 100 times. The results are based on advocacy, loyalty and how the company makes people feel, as well as how it rates on six core measures of personalisation, time and effort, resolution, integrity, expectations and empathy.

David Conway, director at Nunwood, says of the 2015 results: “The organisations that do well tend to be the ones that are hugely knowledgeable and put the consumer in control.”

Brands need to be “smarter” than the people they sell to if they are going to be taken seriously, he continues. “That means they’re constantly having to keep ahead of what customers know. It’s also about contextualising it and being able to take that knowledge and personalise it to the needs of the individual.”

Richer Sounds, which ranks 4th in the Nunwood list, refuses to employ staff for their high-pressure sales skills

Lush makes all its own products so the people behind the counter know exactly what goes into them and are able to talk knowledgeably about them – even if the retailer has come under fire for one of its latest creations, the ‘Lavender Hill Mob’ incense, which was criticised for glorifying the 2011 London riots.

John Lewis sales staff are also renowned for their product knowledge and the fact they share advice without necessarily expecting anything in return. “You can go in store and discuss a product without being talked into a sale,” adds Conway. “They use knowledge to empower the consumer.”

Electronics retailer Richer Sounds, which moves up 18 places to claim fourth position in the top 100 this year, is another example. Respondents talk about going to the shop with one product in mind but purchasing a less expensive option after talking to staff about their specific requirements.

It is this personalised service that forms the foundation of the Richer Sounds ethos. The business hires people that have a genuine interest in music and movies, as well as those with “natural friendliness”, says founder and managing director Julian Richer.

“We don’t employ people for their high-pressure sales skills; we choose team members who are friendly, enthusiastic and genuinely passionate about home entertainment. That means that our sales teams have something in common with our customers straight away, which makes it easier to build a rapport,” he says.

“We’re not just after a one-off sale; we want to be there to fulfil their home entertainment needs over a number of years, so for us the customer experience is absolutely critical.”

The right outcomes for customers

First Direct has a similar approach to recruitment and looks for personality above all else, according to Karen Walker, customer services director. “We train the skill; we hire the smile, and we don’t knock the personality out during training,” she says.

Unlike other call centres, staff at First Direct do not follow a script when speaking with consumers. Instead, they are encouraged to listen to what customers want and respond in a natural way.

“Whether that’s identifying a need from a product perspective or recognising an issue and responding to that, every conversation is different and treated as different,” she says. “We don’t offer a personal service, so you can’t speak to the same agent constantly, but we do expect every agent to give the same level of service no matter who the customer is and what they’re asking for.”

The online bank regularly monitors calls to ensure agents are appropriately trained so they are able to deliver the right level of service that results in the correct outcome for each customer. “Expectations are higher and everyone, no matter what industry, is striving to deliver fantastic service. Social media has meant that people can spread the word – good or bad – very quickly and at a worldwide scale,” explains Walker.

In order to keep up with changing demands, First Direct asks its front line staff to submit potential improvements via its online ideas community site. Walker says: “They’re the ones speaking to customers day in, day out, so they are in a great position to see how we could change things. We will help develop an idea with an individual but will ask them to own it from start to finish so they get the pride and sense of achievement of having changed something.”

Likewise, Richer Sounds encourages staff at all levels to improve the business by submitting ideas. Stores are also given autonomy to deal with customers in the most appropriate and fitting way.

Richer adds: “Our stores contain a remarkable number of budding musicians, DJs, scriptwriters and film critics. They are encouraged to support local events and respond to local demographics, on the basis that someone in Cardiff has a better feel for the immediate community than someone in London or Stockport, where our two central support offices are based.”

‘You are what you do’

Another trend that connects a number of the top 100 this year is the emergence of what Conway at Nunwood refers to as “experience brands” – those that tend to advertise less, if at all, instead allowing their actions and word of mouth to do the talking.

“It’s a new era of experience branding,” he says. “In years gone by it was all about high-profile marketing and persuasive advertising but now you are what you do.”

This has been driven in part by the need for companies to find a different way of driving their business during the recession when marketing budgets were diminished.

Conway says: “Lush doesn’t advertise, it’s all about the experience and people telling others about the experience. It’s about how things are presented and what the business stands for. There’s a whole set of things about Lush which means that customers do more than just connect with its products, they connect emotionally with the business.”

Find out more: How CRM is becoming the ‘new advertising’

Financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown is this year’s highest climber in the top 100, moving up 166 places to 18th alongside M&S Food.

This year’s top brand Lush ensures staff are knowledgeable about the ingredients in its handmade products

The company acts as a platform for individuals to buy and sell investment products. It aims to equip customers with the information they need to make decisions, recognising that the majority of them do so without a financial advisor, again showing the effect of empowering consumers with knowledge.

“We’re an investment supermarket, fundamentally,” says Danny Cox, head of communications at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Our job is to make it as easy as we can for customers to make their own decisions on investments. We provide clients with extensive information and research so they are in the same position as a professional investor in terms of the amount of knowledge they have available to them.”

This year’s two highest-placing new entries are also from the financial services sector with Coventry Building Society joining the top 100 at 22 and PayPal entering at 27. Meanwhile, American Express has climbed 41 places to enter the top 10 at joint 8th. Vice-president of customer services Jill Grafflin puts this down to a number of practices including enabling staff to deal with customer queries from start to finish (see best performing brands, below).

“Customers’ expectations have changed over recent years, particularly in light of social media,” she says. “They want their issue resolved more quickly, they expect greater transparency and they feel more empowered to speak up if things don’t go well.”

As a result, the financial services company conducts regular customer satisfaction studies among its card members to solicit feedback, but Grafflin adds that the fact they would recommend products is equally important.

Keith Moor, CMO at Santander, agrees that you cannot only listen to what customers are saying, you have to watch their behaviour too. “You have to keep track of what’s being talked about on social media, look at the conversations that are happening on forums, see what bloggers are talking about and observe what customers are saying when they come into stores,” he says. “The days of going out and asking consumers what 10 things they would like us to fix are long gone.”

Santander is one of the biggest risers this year, having entered the top 100 by climbing 84 places to 53 (see graphic at the top of the page).

Many of the things that brands can do to show their knowledge and empower customers are not new or groundbreaking ideas – more likely they will be improvements and tweaks to existing processes – but brands that fail to evolve with consumers’ changing demands will get left behind.

Santander joins the top 100

High street bank Santander has seen a vast improvement in its customer service ratings, moving up 84 places in this year’s KPMG Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence list to enter the top 100 at number 53.

However, progress is not the result of one big thing but rather a succession of smaller improvements that have helped to change customers’ perceptions, according to CMO Keith Moor. “People are generally wary in their attitude towards banks and the services they offer so they need to see lots of examples in different areas to get any credibility,” he says.

“We took a decision two years ago to invest in a purpose, helping people and business prosper; and around a set of values, making things simple, personal and fair. The entire organisation has lined up behind it, and it covers products, customer interactions, delivery, how we deal with things, how we act and our internal culture. That has really started to bear fruit now.”

As part of this shift, Santander has improved the experience across a number of channels by refurbishing nearly 300 branches and revamping its digital offer through the launch of a new website.

The bank also unveiled a mobile banking app in addition to specialist apps including SmartBank, which is targeted at students to help manage spending, and visual budgeting app Spendlytics, which it launched alongside its Apple Pay offer.

Nunwood director David Conway agrees that to be great at customer experience you have to light lots of small fires. “When you get a lot of small things right, it creates a tipping point where suddenly it works for the consumer,” he says.

Conway believes that in addition to improving the experience, being the first financial services brand to launch “a hero product” in the 123 account and backing that up with its marketing have also contributed to the turnaround for Santander.

“The other big banks are still struggling with the trust issue but Santander has appointed brand ambassadors Jessica Ennis-Hill, Jenson Button and Rory McIlroy to represent the brand,” he says

“Consumers approach celebrity endorsement in a complex and sophisticated way. They look at people like Jessica and what she stands for is so strong and powerful that if she thinks this bank is a good bank, they are more willing to give it a chance.”

This year’s best performing brands are the ones that continually invest in improving and updating their service and staff.

Lush – 1st

Lush breaker

Nadya Candy, global retail standards and customer experience

“We opened our largest shop in the world on London’s Oxford Street in April 2015 and launched over 200 products to celebrate the launch.

We also launched our first fully shoppable mobile app for iPhone. This empowers customers to shop quickly and securely on the go, with access to daily exclusives coming from the Lush Kitchen. We’ve also introduced new ways to shop our range on the app, such as the ‘shop by scent or feeling’ tool, and we’re working to upgrade it constantly with new features to give our customers the best possible experience.”

Richer Sounds – 4th

Richer Sounds breaker

Julian Richer, founder and managing director

“We have expanded our ‘install’ facility, so we can now offer customers a complete home entertainment solution from advising, demonstrating and selling through to installing equipment. Our colleagues spend many hundreds of hours per week learning about new products, which has ramped up considerably over the past year.

We have also worked hard at developing relationships with customers and visiting their homes or place of business to offer a more comprehensive and bespoke service.”

American Express – 8th

American Express breaker

Jill Grafflin, vice-president customer services

We know that when customers lose their card or have it stolen they want a replacement as soon as possible whether they are in the UK or abroad. We will do our best to get a replacement dispatched within 24 hours and in the customer’s hands within a couple of days.

We have also continued to focus on empowering our customer care professionals
so that they are able to deal with a customer’s query from start to finish, thus reducing the need to pass the call onto a colleague to deal with a related issue that we know can be frustrating for customers. – 10th

AO breaker

David Atherton, head of customer experience

We have striven to create a model whereby we control our end-to-end operations from the moment a customer goes to our website through to the delivery of a product via our own vehicles and drivers. Over the past year, we have invested more in the last mile, making sure our drivers, who are the only human faces our customers see, live and breathe our values.

Additional online services such as ‘my account’ and ‘live chat’ are driving a better experience. By storing their personal details, repeat customers can check out quicker and questions captured via live chat are fed into the website development.

To view the full Customer Experience Top 100 click here