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Great Customer Experience, European Style

Harley Manning
Vice President, Research Director
September 12, 2014

I love Europe. I especially love the fact that in a very real sense there is no “Europe” as such: The UK experience is not the German experience, which is not the French experience, which is not the Italian experience, and so on.

Yet all of these countries are so close together that once I’m over there, I can visit a variety of very different cultures and architectures more easily than I can travel from Boston to Denver. And in any given city, just walking between buildings from one business meeting to another can make me feel like I’m on vacation. Then there’s the food . . .

Although European variety is amazing, it can also create challenges. On a recent trip, I was in London, Rome, Milan, and Budapest within a two-week period. That often brought me into contact with people in service industries — like taxis, restaurants, and hotels — who had very different ideas of what “service” means than I do.

I began to wonder: Do the locals also find some of this service subpar, or am I just being a parochial American? As it turns out, our recent research shows that European customer experience as judged by local customers does vary wildly depending on country and industry, ranging from truly great to truly awful.

Which is one reason why I’m so excited by Forrester’s upcoming Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA on November 17th and 18th in London. We recruited speakers from companies with customers who say that they’re already doing a standout job as well as speakers from companies that are in the midst of tackling tough CX challenges.

For example, we’ll hear from Andrew Murphy, retail director, John Lewis Department Stores. Retailers as an industry always come out on top in our customer experience ratings in the US, and that held true for the UK this year, as well. Not surprisingly — given that it’s famous for its distinctive customer experience — John Lewis ranked third highest among all the UK brands in our study, which spanned seven different industries.

In talking with Andrew as we prepare for the event, I can see why John Lewis does so well. The retailer takes a highly disciplined approach to managing its entire customer experience ecosystem based on a detailed understanding of its customers' values and behaviors. This approach starts with employee engagement and includes a focus on less sexy but oh-so-important areas like policies and operations.  

We’ll also hear from Roland Boekhout, CEO of ING-DiBa. I have to say that I was very surprised when I saw ING-DiBa pop up in our rankings as one of the top three firms for CX in Germany, right behind two retailers (one of them Amazon). That’s because banks don’t typically do well in our customer experience ratings in the US, and they didn’t do well in the UK this year either. But banks came in as the second-highest-rated industry in Germany, with several of them beating out retailers. And ING-DiBa topped all other German banks.

So what the heck are German banks doing differently (especially top-rated ING-DiBa)? I haven’t spoken to Roland yet so I don’t know — but I am dying to find out.

Then we get to the airline industry. Talk about a tough business! It’s subject to fluctuations in fuel costs, weather, Icelandic volcanoes (in Europe, anyway), seemingly bizarre regulations (from multiple countries), and intense competition. That’s why we’re going to have both the head of customer experience for easyJet and James Park, principal and founder, JPA Design (JPA does stunning work for the airline and hospitality industries).

They’ll be other speakers as well, including Olivier Mourrieras, vice president, customer experience center of competence, E.On, talking about that company’s path to customer experience improvement, and our very own German CX senior analyst, Maxie Schmidt-Subramanian, talking about recent research into the drivers of customer experience quality.

I hope to see some of you there. And if I do, remember to step outside the Westminster Bridge Park Plaza, where the event will be held, and take a little walk around London at some point. Maybe you, like me, will have an experience that makes you feel like you’re on vacation. 

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