Why do some sectors give better customer experience than others?

I was reading Forresters 2008 Customer Experience Indicator the other day (I know, I’m well behind on my reading – its a challenge for us all apparently) and what I saw made me think.

What is it about retailers and hotels that give them such high rankings? I’m guessing it’s their constant daily contact with real people. Without an interface, and with the whites of the customer’s eyes right there, it really pays to invest in good service. And when everyone in the sector faces the same challenge, it invigorates a great service culture.

And guess who’s at the bottom – health insurers and TV companies. I know the health insurance market in the USA has been troubled of late, but for me the key factor here is the lack of direct physical – human – contact. A phone line and self-service web interface allow you to get away with things you’d never do face to face. In a department store you’d never make people hunt around 20 minutes to find someone to speak to – but it’s done all the time on the web – Amazon is a particular bugbear on that one. And similarly, when everyone in the sector operates that way, the quality overall drops.

What can those companies at the bottom do? If it’s cost effective they can consider service innovations that develop a more personal relationship, but that can be tough – particularly in 2009’s difficult climate. Although let’s not forget that Zappos is an online trader that customers lover. So much so that Jeff Bezos has stuck his hand deep in his pocket and bought it.

Maybe a cheaper method is developing some excellent proxies for your key customers, capturing them in personas and then using them rigorously to test the emotional appeal of the current service. That way you can tweak rather than overhaul.

Weirdly, several banks made improvements over the year, outperforming other sectors overall. I’d like to hope this is a silver lining (very thin mind you) of all the excess cash that was sloshing about being put to good use. Wonder what will happen this year…

And what makes Barnes and Nobel so great? They led in all three categories – ease of use, usefulness and enjoyability. Anyone know?

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