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Is customer experience a more mature concept in the US?

1st Jun 2015
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Customer experience (CX) in the United States is “years ahead of the UK”, according to Nunwood's latest analysis from the Customer Experience Excellence Centre.

The report, conducted in February of this year, identifies the approach American companies take to customer experience and reveals a number of insights for UK brands.

Crucially, it highlights a resurgence in the American service culture and an embracing of technology and innovation, led predominantly by CEOs.

Typically, these leaders have either inherited a strong customer focus from their companies' founders, or they have joined businesses with strong values that they're keen to maintain. In effect, they are "the brand custodians".

For example, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, views customers as being vital to the company mechanics. He sees them as "invited guests to a party the brand is hosting", and that it is Amazon's job to make every aspect of their experience "a little bit better" every day.

Similarly, S. Truett Cathy, founder of the US restaurant chain Chick-fil-A, aspired to make his employees dependable, polite, and caring. Current President of Customer Experience, Shane Benson, is committed to honouring his legacy. He notes that Chick-fil-A is not in the chicken business, but rather the people business, adding that "when you care about people, it changes the way you do everything". It is this type of approach that Nunwood's research highlights as the key differential between US and UK brands.  

"In broad terms, the US is probably two to three years ahead of the UK," says David Conway, chief strategy officer at Nunwood.

"We quantify the experience across six different dimensions, and if we just do a simple analysis between the UK and the US, the US is probably about 5% ahead in all these different dimensions, and we would guess that it would take two or three years for the UK to catch up."

The dimensions Conway refers to are the Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence. These dimensions denote the six fundamental characteristics of all great customer experiences, and consist of personalisation, time and effort, expectations, integrity, resolution and empathy.

The art, apparently, lies in taking a bolder approach to customer closeness. "If you look at the US, their executives sit with customers all the time," notes David Conway, "and one of the greatest turnaround stories in the US was IBM. Their incoming Chief Executive got each of his executive teams to go out and speak to five customers, and tell them to get their people to go out and speak to five customers, and then come back and tell them what the customer issues were... and we just don't do that in the UK - it's kind of 'by remote control' and by a little bit of distance..."

For the customer experience leaders, there is also a keen desire to keep the technological and social media aspects integrated in the customer experience programmes. "With social media now, there's no real excuse not knowing what your customers are talking about," Conway adds. 

"One organisation that we visited installed a digital screen in the board room that says, this is what customers have said two minutes ago - they scan social media and review sites, and that constant sense of the customer is really important..." As such, these digital aspects are not seen as separate entities, but as core parts of customer experience management operations.

One sector that is playing catch-up in this respect, in the UK, is finance - especially in the retail banking sector where recent research from Collinson Group found that 70% of executives are still unconvinced about investing in improving strategy and tech in the customer experience field.

However, below the upper echelons of business hierarchies, Collinson's research suggests the opposite. 48% of senior managers say the top priority for the year ahead is to improve customer experience, in comparison to just 29% of executive boards who state the same.

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