Customers in the United States are having some of the best experiences in the world, according to the 2015 US CEE. There are 10 times more ‘outstanding’ brands in the US than there are in the UK, with six of the top 10 businesses standing as leaders in the English-speaking world. They have raised the bar for excellence, with each of the top brands possessing a customer experience strategy that is focused on catering to the needs of the individual. Subsequently, four key themes have emerged from the 2015 US study. These are:

  • A service culture resurgent
  • CEOs as customer experience pioneers
  • Customer-driven innovation
  • Omni-channel supplanting digital

A service culture resurgent

American brands have often told customers to “have a nice day,” but during the service declines of the 90’s and 00’s, there was a slight sense of insincerity. And whilst many organisations were still sharing this sentiment in 2015, the very best companies actually meant it, demonstrating that they were willing to go out of their way to afford the individual with the best possible customer experience.

A good example would be the restaurant brand Chick-fil-A, which landed in fourth place in the US Customer Experience Excellence rankings. The company’s customer experience strategy centred entirely around the diner, with staff members being trained to put their needs ahead of everything else. Servers at Chick-fil-A were required to display Christian values in their interactions, such as compassion and humility, and although they did not necessarily have to be religious, they were expected to adhere to the company’s values of “[glorifying] God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us” and “to have a positive influence on all who come in contact” with the brand. These aspirations become apparent at Chick-fil-A when servers shielded customers with umbrellas on rainy days, or folded the last sheet of toilet paper into a triangular point.

CEOs as customer experience pioneers

It was an ethos that was put in place by the brand’s CEO and customer experience pioneer S. Truett Cathy, who once joked that “it is easier to get into the CIA than into Chick-fil-A.” Although he passed away in 2014, he was determined that every opportunity should be taken by employees to show that they care, and he once stated: “My business grew on the understanding that customers are always looking for someone who is dependable, polite and will take care of them.”

This approach was certainly one that worked well for Chick-fil-A, affording the brand an outstanding CEE score of 8.53, with equally impressive results across The Six PillarsTM, particularly in the areas of Time and Effort and Empathy.

Customer-driven innovation

Another successful organisation was Disney Parks, ranking just below Chick-fil-A in fifth place, with a CEE score of 8.47 that put it 11 per cent ahead of the industry average. And although Disney Parks was another good example of a company once led by a customer experience pioneer – its namesake, Walt Disney – the brand never rested on its laurels, and continued to make changes to the overall experience through customer-driven innovation. This was down to the former chairman Thomas Staggs, who adopted Walt Disney’s tactic of wandering around the parks interacting with visitors and staff members in the hope of finding new ways to improve people’s visits. And although Disney Parks’ 2015 performance reflects the effectiveness of this approach, it was also reinforced by the company’s impressive 70 per cent customer return rate.

Omni-channel supplanting digital

Of course, in the ever-connected world of the 21st century, a physical interaction with a brand is often just one part of the customer experience. By 2015, omni-channel had become so significant that the most successful companies recognised its importance in the customer experience strategy, and worked hard to embrace it.

This was certainly the case for the most successful organisation in the US CEE, the United Services Automobile Association (USAA.) The company understood the relevance of the smartphone in the lives of its customers, particularly for those serving in the military and their families, who make up the lifeblood of its customer base. As a result, USAA became the first financial services organisation to allow members to deposit cheques by iPhone, pioneering a facility that enabled users to take photos using their inbuilt cameras, and then email them to the bank. In addition, the brand also developed a Siri-style voice recognition app called NINA – or Nuance Interactive Natural Assistant – who possessed the ability to carry out financial tasks at the customer’s command.

Innovations such as these are an important part of any serious customer experience strategy, and will doubtless become more prevalent amongst American brands as they head into 2016. All the while, though, the focus will always be on the customer. It was a theme that typified the best companies of last year, and it will probably do so again. As for which companies will populate the US top 10, though, will be revealed in our 2016 US CEE, released in May.

For more customer experience insight, visit the KPMG Nunwood CEM blog.

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