Last week, I took you through the top scorers in this year’s Customer Experience Index by industry. But 13% of customer experience professionals said that they aim to differentiate across all industries. Which brands do they need to beat to reach that goal? Let’s start with the “meets needs” category (I’ll cover the other two in future posts). High scorers on this criteria in 2012 were:

  • USAA (bank): 92%
  • 91%

What jumps out at me right away is that both of these companies were founded on the principle that putting customer needs first is the best path to business success. They don’t view customer needs as competing with business needs; they live in the space where the two intersect.

A letter Jeff Bezos wrote to shareholders in 1997 laid out six principles he felt would make successful. Principle No. 5 was “obsess about customers.” And in a 2008 article in The New York Times, Bezos was quoted as saying: “The reason I’m so obsessed with these drivers of the customer experience is that I believe that the success we have had over the past 12 years has been driven exclusively by that customer experience. We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them.”

It sounds so simple, and yet — as we see by the range of scores on this criteria (the low score was a 51%) — it’s so hard to do.

USAA’s success is due in part to the fact that it actively recruits military veterans and spouses to serve its target market of active-duty and former military personnel and their families. Their firsthand knowledge of military life has helped USAA identify unmet needs and pioneer experiences for its geographically dispersed population that might never have occurred to other companies like the ability to deposit a check via mobile phone.

Contrast that with the way many companies think they meet customer needs. For example, most health insurance plans will tell you that checking claim status is one of the top reasons members come to their website. Plans show the claims status on the site and . . . done, right? Nope. The member doesn’t want to look up claim status. The member wants to find out why she got a bill for $400 when that procedure was supposed to be covered. The site doesn’t answer that question, so the customer walks away empty-handed even though the company thought it met that person’s needs.

I have my theories about why so many companies have this type of disconnect, but I’m curious what others think. Why do so many well-meaning companies — even those that do tons of customer research — still fall short on this most basic of customer experience principles?