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The John Lewis problem

If you are in the business of delivering excellent customer experience, you need benchmarks. You will ask yourself "Who does it best and how do they do it?". The same names crop up regularly. In the US Nordstrom and Chick-fil-A are frequently mentioned. Southwest Airlines, Amazon and Trader Joe are likely to be up there. In the UK we would expect to see Amazon, Marks & Spencer and maybe First Direct. Some smaller companies such as Richer Sounds and Timpson's could find themselves on the list. A name that is nearly always bandied about in the UK is John Lewis. Those top slots are hard to keep.

Every company that seeks to score high on customer experience needs to build legends. Legends are the stories that people share about their experience dealing with a company. It is said that on average a satisfied customer tells between 9 and 15 people about a positive experience. Dissatisfied customers are said to tell between 16 and 25 people about their experience. This means that we must work hard on those positive legends if we want to be at the top of the customer experience score board.

Scouting around the internet for stories on John Lewis it looks like they have work to do. It isn’t only on the internet. Claer Barrett, a columnist in the Financial Times, recently wrote an article about the decline in customer experience at John Lewis. This resulted in letters to the paper espousing both positive and negative stories. One person wrote in saying that a hand dryer in the toilet at the flagship Peter Jones store in London's Sloane Square has been out of action for months. Balancing the negative comment was a letter from someone who bought a sweater from the company and discovered a small hole in it. Even though the purchase was well past the return date they received a replacement sweater, post free, and were not required to return the faulty one.

The lesson in all this is the detailed scrutiny that customers give to their suppliers. It is the details that matter. A restaurant with light bulbs that don't work may be judged on this small issue. We know from our own research that pubs and restaurants can be judged as much by the state of their toilets as they are by the food and the ambience of the place.

There is a truism about delivering excellent customer experience – it is not complicated, but it is unbelievably hard work.


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