An obsession with customer joy combined with a focus on delivering memorable, personal experiences for consumers are the defining characteristics of the companies leading KPMG Nunwood’s 2016 UK Customer Experience Excellence top 100.
Claiming the top spot is First Direct, which has wrestled back its title from 2015 champion Lush, pushing the cosmetics company into third place behind John Lewis.
Emirates climbs 10 places to take the fourth slot, followed by Amazon, Richer Sounds and Marks & Spencer Food, which rises 11 spots to secure seventh place. Mobile network giffgaff is the highest climber to claim a top 10 spot, rising 45 places to eighth, closely followed by Nationwide and Apple in joint ninth place. Ocado (13), AO.com (16), QVC (19), Skipton Building Society (33) and American Express (20) all slip out of the top 10.
Carried out between 11 and 25 July, the survey analyses 10,000 UK consumer brand opinions across a variety of metrics including personalisation, integrity and empathy.
Communicate with ‘humanity’
KPMG Nunwood director David Conway credits First Direct with prioritising the quality of its customer experience, in particular using a ‘human’ tone of voice to communicate with customers.
“First Direct is a people-focused business, where the approach is all about the humanity and removing the jargon and complexity,” says Conway.
“The bank also tends to recruit people from caring professions and 40% of new [starters] are recruited by existing staff. The workforce is, in many cases, the customer themselves. They know the product and are very clear on what they want the customer to remember from the experience.”
“Real people sit at the heart of everything and we’re always looking at how the world works for the customers we serve,”
Zoe Burns-Shore, head of brand and marketing, First Direct
First Direct’s head of brand and marketing Zoe Burns-Shore, one of Marketing Week’s 2016 Vision 100, agrees that the hallmark of the business’s customer experience is humanity. “Real people sit at the heart of everything and we’re always looking at how the world works for the customers we serve. How can a bank help them get on with the way they live their lives in a straightforward and seamless way?” she says.
First Direct has improved the functionality of its app, launching touch and voice ID. The bank has also introduced engagement and retention teams, as well as relaunching its terms and conditions in the most ‘human’ language possible.
Having mapped and optimised hundreds of customer journeys, First Direct has a constant stream of optimisation work planned over the next year. This will include a co-creation platform to help the bank work closer with customers.
Building strong customer relationships is also key at Nationwide, where face-to-face interaction plays a significant role in the customer experience, explains head of customer insight and data, Alex Bannister.
“Improving customer experience is the most high-profile obsession in the business. The whole ethos is around not being gimmicky. Every time we interact with the customer we want to create a memorable moment.”
To better understand its customer base Nationwide undertook a tracking survey of more than 150,000 people to investigate their feelings about the brand, which it fed back to the entire business.
Creating new consumer products that are relevant is another important factor, including a current account for 14- to 18-year-olds, introducing a specialist service for customers with life-limiting illnesses and rebooting its mobile app.
Travel takes it up a gear
Looking at companies by sector, the survey shows the biggest rise in customer experience satisfaction comes from travel and leisure businesses.
“The hotel sector has set the pace and airlines are catching up, competing to significantly improve the quality of the experience in club and business class,” Conway notes.
In today’s experience economy, creating memories is crucial, says Marriott International’s global marketing officer Karin Timpone, who aims to offer a consistent experience across the group’s 19-hotel brand portfolio.
Up a staggering 103 places in KPMG Nunwood’s list, Marriott, which ranks at number 30, is rolling out beacon technology to more than 500 locations for the purposes of proximity marketing, enabling it to invite members of its Rewards loyalty programme to events and sending special offers. Marriott also engages in real-time conversations with consumers on social media using its M-live marketing and brand newsroom.
Timpone and her team are applying insights from retail to create a seamless experience. “It starts when customers are booking,” she says. “We see what they have been searching for and send a message offering the right rate through their Facebook news feed, targeting the customer across devices.”
Elsewhere, train operator Eurostar (24) rockets 142 places up the list, in recognition of its investment in a new fleet of state-of-the-art trains over the past year.
Eurostar has also extended the opening hours of its customer contact centre and introduced a ‘connected concierge’ social media team that operates 24 hours a day. The customer-facing teams have undergone a new training programme to better understand consumers.
“Organisations are beginning to realise old silos don’t lend themselves to treating the customer well,”
David Conway, director, KPMG Nunwood
Chief customer officer Marc Noaro wants travellers to remember Eurostar as the highlight of their trip by taking a bespoke approach. “Personalisation is increasingly important for us and at our contact centre we have introduced a single customer view showing their journey history, previous interactions, loyalty status and personal requirements,” he says.
Marketing and customer service unites
Creating positive memories throughout the customer journey is the goal for Virgin Holidays (up 98 places to 15), according to customer and marketing director Claire Cronin, whose dual role recognises the company’s customer-centric approach.
“Travel is so competitive, with many new entrants, and is an inherently experience-led product,” she says. “Holidays are also an experience you don’t consume for months, so we want to create memories as we go along.
“Our aim is to make the holiday purchase experience more open ended and we are looking at ways customers can build their own package.”
Cronin spearheaded a deep-dive analysis of the customer journey from browsing and pre-departure to in-resort and returning home, with members of the Virgin Holidays team even flying out to meet customers on holiday.
The company is also taking the experience offline, with the launch of its V-room immersive customer experience lounges in locations such as Manchester’s Trafford Centre. The lounges include a bar to taste cocktails specific to your destination and Google Glass to give people a 360-degree view of the beach.
Brands up their game
Across the board, companies have improved their overall customer experience, Conway reports. The average rating for the top 100 is 7.33 out of 10, up from a steady 7.25 over the past two years.
He argues that as customer expectations continue to escalate it is no surprise that many brands are reacting to improve the customer journey. The biggest change over the next year, however, is likely to come from within marketing teams themselves.
“Organisations are beginning to realise old silos don’t lend themselves to treating the customer well,” Conway adds. “Therefore building organisations by customer journey will be the most significant shift.”