UK trails far behind US on customer experience

New rankings show that American brands are outperforming UK counterparts on virtually every measure.

UK brands’ need to improve their customer experience is brought into sharp relief by new rankings showing that American brands are outperforming UK counterparts on virtually every measure, and in nearly every industry.

American brands outstrip UK counterparts when it comes to customer service thanks to a strong service culture, digital sophistication and relentless focus on patriotism, according to Nunwood’s latest US customer excellence rankings.

Indeed, US businesses outperform the leading UK companies by an average of 5%, with the top 10 US brands scoring the best in the western world. The US study, which was conducted during the first quarter of 2015, scores the top 100 brands an average of 7.6 out of 10, while the leading companies in the equivalent UK study from the last quarter of 2014 scores an average of 7.25.

In order to determine the level of connection consumers have with a brand, each business is measured against six pillars – personalisation, integrity, time and effort, meeting expectations, problem resolution and empathy.

The US outperforms the UK in all pillars except for meeting expectations, where both nations score equally

“Some people think that those who have better experiences actually have lower standards or are more easily impressed but we can categorically say that is not the case,” says Tim Knight, senior partner and chief commercial officer at Nunwood.

“In fact the opposite is true. The US population has much better experiences as it has been engrained in them after decades of service culture that they should expect great interactions, so as such the challenge is even harder for US brands to impress consumers.”

As in the UK study, which saw First Direct crowned as the best business for customer service, it was a financial services firm that topped the US study, with insurer USAA securing first place with a score of 8.73.

Its “clever use of digital technology” and “genuine desire” to put the customer first are why the business resonates so well with consumers, according to David Conway, senior partner and chief strategy officer at Nunwood.

“In the UK there are certain industries like financial services that have made real progress in the past year and been able to dig themselves out of the doldrums of the 2008 recession, start to regain the public’s trust and deliver some increasingly exceptional experiences,” he says.

But equally there are industries like utilities that have failed to make any real improvement. Consistency of service is lacking in the UK, which has wider implications for customer satisfaction.

“In the US there tends to be good experience from one business to the next, whereas in the UK you could have a fantastic experience with a John Lewis or an Amazon one day and then find you’re on the phone to your utility provider the next day and the service is fundamentally different,” Conway adds.

When comparing industries like for like, the US again consistently outperforms the UK. The greatest disparity is within the utilities sector, which scores 14% higher in America.

The biggest discrepancies in terms of the various aspects of service are found in the measures of integrity (where the top 100 US brands score 7.04 on average, compared to 5.88 in the UK) and problem resolution (7.15 versus 6.08). At a time when entrenched businesses such as the ‘big six’ utility companies are coming under increasing scrutiny from consumer groups and the Government, there is a lot they could learn from their US counterparts.

Likewise, within the restaurant sector US brands perform 9% better than their UK counterparts on average. There is an 8% gap for entertainment and leisure brands, a 4% difference in both the travel sector and non-food retailers, while financial services brands score 3% higher in the US compared to the UK. The only sector that is on a par is telecoms and media.

When looking at grocery retailers, US brands score 6% higher on average. Similar changes are occurring within the sector in both territories. In the UK, budget operators Aldi and Lidl scored highly and premium food retailers M&S and Waitrose improved their scores, while industry stalwarts Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons saw their scores drop.

Similarly in the US, discounters Costco and HEB perform well, coming 9th and 11th respectively, as do higher end brands Publix (2nd) and Wegmans (8th). Aldi scored 7.84 in the UK study placing it 15th while a higher score of 8.08 in the US earns it a lower overall position of 31, again illustrating the higher base level of customer experience in the US.

“The premium brands and the discount brands are both really successful but those stuck in the middle ground are being squeezed both financially and from a customer experience perspective. It’s exactly the same in the US as it is in the UK,” he adds.

However, the overall message is that we in the UK fall far behind our American cousins in pleasing customers.