UK customer experience improves despite COVID-19, but there’s a new customer to please, says KPMG

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UK Plc has rallied in the face of adversity: customer experience has improved for the third year running – up 3% year-on-year – despite the array of challenges presented by COVID-19.

The latest analysis from KPMG Nunwood stresses that a new and drastically changed customer has emerged from this pandemic – one who is feeling more financially constrained, is more digital savvy and places greater emphasis on their trust in brands. This requires brands to be even more focused on integrity and purpose, whilst being innovative, responsive and agile, if they are to compete and grow.

Over 13,000 British consumers determined that the brands leading the way on customer experience are: first direct, QVC UK, Starling Bank, John Lewis & Partners and Lush. This is the fifth time in 11 years first direct has topped the index, while Starling Bank is a newcomer to the ranking.

Commenting on the findings, Tim Knight, customer advisory partner at KPMG UK, said: “Faced with an unexpected set of customers challenges, UK plc has risen to the occasion.  Many brands have improved their customers’ experiences during lockdown, showing integrity and winning loyalty.

“However, for many businesses, this is just a prelude to more seismic disruption. To minimise costs and return to growth, business leaders are going to need to adapt even more rapidly in the months ahead.  This is a business challenge that will affect every function: the new, changed customer will require leaders to be braver and more connected in their thinking than ever before.”

Grocery Retail and Financial Services are the leading sectors for best customer experience, ranking first and second respectively. However, highlighting their prominence during lockdown, Logistics, Restaurant & Fast Food and Public Sector brands have noted the most improvement year-on-year, with overall scores of these sectors improving 5%. Travel and Hotels was the only sector not to improve, however it is a sector that has arguably faced some of the greatest challenges in recent months during lockdown. 

Alongside the overall uptick in customer experience, a closer look at the Six Pillars of Customer Experience3reveals that Resolution and Empathy were the areas noting the biggest improvement this year. Indeed, these pillars represent key elements of customer interaction during the pandemic, being focused on turning a poor experience into a great one and achieving a better understanding of a customer’s circumstances to drive a closer relationship.

With Grocery Retail being the leading sector for customer experience in this year’s analysis, Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, added: “Grocery retail has played a vital role during the COVID-19 crisis, and the fact that collectively the sector ranks best for customer experience is just testament to the colossal effort made to ensure a sense of business as usual despite social distancing restrictions. Not only does this show the agility of grocers, but it also points to the understanding and cooperation of consumers – after all, society at large has had to work collectively to combat the virus.

“The pandemic called for purpose to be put before profit, and grocery businesses have certainly demonstrated the key role they play in local communities – consumers will look favourably at that. Looking ahead though, all consumer brands need to review their business models and ways of working, given how much consumers have changed their behaviour in recent months.”