The top 10 UK brands for customer service and experience

31 July 2018

As companies across the spectrum of business sectors come up against heightened competition, the importance for an improved customer experience offering is more clear than ever before. Among the top performers in the field are e-commerce giant Amazon, and a number of bricks-and-mortar retailers, as the sector attempts to recover from a shaky start to 2018.

Customer experience has become incredibly important, since the boom in digital transformation began its disruptive sweep of global business. UK companies which fail to maintain customer relevance could forfeit an estimated £100 billion in revenues in coming years, as all sectors face mounting competition, thanks to new innovative and agile rivals leveraging revolutionary technologies and techniques to eat into the market share of long term incumbents. For this reason, a compelling customer experience has become an integral part of any business, with nine in ten firms innovating their customer experiences compared to just one in six of their peers.

As a result of this process, top companies are finding that they often face an uphill challenge to hold onto customers, having traditionally relied heavily on brand loyalty to do so. Digital disruption has resulted in changes to consumer behaviour, combined with stagnating wages in many leading economies meaning customers are even more selective regarding where they are willing to spend their dwindling disposable income, while wielding an increasingly impressive array of digital tools and online databases to quickly and conveniently compare prices, check availability and read product reviews. In this environment, offering a top customer experience can be the difference between gaining and losing sales.

The top UK 10 brands for customer service and experience

A new study of over 1,000 UK consumers, released by professional services firm Engine, has subsequently uncovered that when asked what businesses should prioritise, 62% of customers said the focus should be on launching “simpler, flexible, and more affordable customer service options”. On top of this, 58% of those surveyed also suggested that businesses should provide better “training and performance incentives for customer-facing staff”. While businesses often rush to replace human staff with machines in order to save costs, simultaneously looking to improve customer experience, the report also suggests that doing so actually has the opposite effect. In fact, 68% of consumers are more likely to recommend a service to a friend based on the ‘quality of service’, over ‘price’ (28%) and ‘convenience’ (3%).

Conversely, just 22% of customers would suggest businesses automate elements of the customer experience through tools such as chatbots, suggesting the majority favour the human touch over a potentially impersonal automated approach to customer service. Other innovations also proved unpopular, with only 15% of consumers polled by the 2018 edition of the firm’s Customer Experience Report saying they wanted brands to focus on changes like voice assisted retail – despite reports suggesting this could become a $40 billion industry by 2022 – while under a fifth of respondents (17%) wanted businesses to use their data to create personalised recommendations.

In the five years that the annual survey has taken place, the ranking of what is most important to consumers in terms of customer experience has remained unchanged. ‘Openness and honesty’ still dominates, at 50% of respondents, followed by ‘efficiency’ (48%) and ‘reliability’ (43%), while at the other end of the priority ranking, ‘personalisation’ and ‘proactivity’ which ranked eighth and tenth, respectively.

Top 10 brands for customer experience

Among the 10 best brands for customer service and experience from 2018, retail and financial services dominate proceedings. Six retailers made the grade, including top ranking e-commerce giant Amazon, having got the balance of technology and engagement right to be named the best brand for its customer service. The disruptive digital retailer was joined by traditional high street retailers such as department store, John Lewis, which ranked joint second, UK supermarkets Tesco (third), Marks & Spencer (fourth), Sainsbury’s (sixth) and Asda (joint tenth). With the rise of German discount retailers Lidl and Aldi eating into the market shares of the top UK supermarkets, it is perhaps unsurprising to see them upping their efforts regarding customer services, a trend represented by Asda’s new entry into the ranking.

With heightened competition from innovative and agile FinTechs, financial institutions have also had to make sustained efforts to up their customer service game. As a result, five banks are present in the top 10, including three new entries. In joint second, Lloyds Bank was the member of this new contingent to have made the most rapid strides, joining fellow newcomer Santander in joint seventh, alongside returning brands Barclays and Nationwide, and ahead of new entry Halifax.

The airline industry has also seen a disruptive 2018, with a growing number of long-term market incumbents struggling to come to terms with the changing demands of customers. Reflecting this, British Airways has clearly boosted its efforts to cater to customer experience needs, ranking fifth, ahead of hospitality industry stalwart Premier Inn, in joint eighth with innovative tech giant Apple. Standing alone in ninth, Sky shows that broadcasters also value customer experience as a means to maintain custom, amid a period of disruption driven by the rise of OTT content providers such as Netflix. Rounding off the list, Sky is joined by fellow media company Virgin Media, which shares tenth with the final newcomer, Vodafone, which again is competing in a crowded telecom market.

Commenting on the findings, Joe Heapy, co-founder of Engine, said, “It’s interesting that when looking at what customers want businesses to focus on, respondents place the least importance on automation and the use of innovative technology and yet, they rank Amazon, one of the most automated tech companies as number one for customer service. This comes down to Amazon having worked hard to design a frictionless, principally digital self-service experience that puts the customer first. They then introduce the human touch to provide support when people most need it.”

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Lack of high street openings sees UK retail in precarious state

11 March 2019

Changes in consumer behaviour, particularly in favour of online shopping, are starting to take their toll on shop-fronts in the UK, while stagnant wages are hitting peoples’ willingness to go out for food and drink. As a result, the rate of closures is more than four times that for the same period in 2017, although largely reflecting of a lack of new openings.

The retail market has fallen under a cloud of uncertainty in the UK; consumer confidence has dipped, while wages have continued to malinger in negative territory. Retailers are also under pressure from disruptive technology, as consumer sentiment shifts to more online shopping and at-home leisure. While retailers have been able to weather the storm for the past years, transformations, low consumer spending and technology have begun to take their toll.

New analysis from PwC explores the current market conditions in the UK for retail shops, focused on net openings and closings. The market changes in the UK have seen the net closures to date hit 1,123 in H1 2018 across the UK’s top 500 high-streets. The rate of closures was considerably above openings for the first half of 2018, at 1,569 openings and 2,692 closures. Compared to H1 2017, more than four times as many shops closed than opened.

Openings and closures for retail industry

The study considered the most prominent areas to see a reduction in openings and net closures across the retail landscape. Overall, fashion stores were the hardest hit in absolute terms, with a total of 104 closures for H1 2018, followed by public houses and inns, which saw 99 closures in the same period. Electrical goods stores saw a net -44 decline, with a total of 8 openings for the period. Meanwhile charity shops were in a state of relative flux, with 80 openings to 117 closures. The firm notes that service sector shops, including estate agent, banks, recruitment agencies and travel agents, among others, too have begun the process of moving online.

Not all areas of retail saw closures, with coffee and ice cream shops seeing a small net increase in openings over all. Book stores – predictions of their total obliteration appear to have waned – saw a net 18 openings, while supermarkets drew the highest overall growth relative to closures, at 18 opened and 6 closed.

Regional figures for the UK

Not all areas have seen the same level of closures, with the Greater London area and the South East the hardest hit by the current wave of closures, at -268 and -197 net change, respectively, compared to -23 and -25 closures for the same period in 2017. The middle of England too saw considerable closures, with the West Midlands clocking a net -89, and Yorkshire and the Humber down -117 stores overall.

Commenting on the figures, Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said, “Openings simply aren’t replacing closures at a fast-enough rate. Specifically, the openings across ‘experiential’ chains, such as ice cream parlours, beauty salons and vape shops, haven’t been enough to offset closures in the more traditional categories. Looking ahead, the turmoil facing the sector is unlikely to abate. Store closures already announced in the second half of the year due to administrations and CVAs already will further intensify the situation.”

Related: Artificial Intelligence offers $340 billion opportunity to retail sector.