There Are No Clear CX Leaders Among US Brands – For The Third Year In A Row


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Forrester’s 2018 Customer Experience Index (CX Index) for US brands reveals a worsening CX leadership gap: Not a single brand has risen to the top of our rankings and continued to move upwards, and the overall quality of the US customer experience is stagnating. The report is based on Forrester’s CX Index™ methodology, which measures how well a brand’s CX strengthens the loyalty of its customers. In this year’s report, we reveal the complete rankings of 287 brands across 19 industries, based on a survey of 118,922 US adult customers.

The Quality Of CX In The US Languished

Forrester found that between 2017 and 2018, the overall quality of the US customer experience stagnated – and differentiation on the basis of CX evaporated – as more brands became mediocre:
• Gains and losses at the brand level were a wash. About the same number of brands rose as fell: Of 287 brands in the CX Index, 37 had statistically significant score increases and 40 had statistically significant score decreases. What’s more, brands that rose gained an average of just over 4 points on our 100-point scale, while brands that fell lost an average of just under 4 points. Twelve brands gained 5 or more points and nine brands lost 5 or more points.
• The number of good and poor scores dipped, while the number of OK scores rose. The percentage of brands in the good category diminished by 1 percentage point, as the quality of some brands’ CX fell. Similarly, the number of brands at the poor level shrank by 2 percentage points as the quality of their CX rose. As a result, the percentage of brands in the good category swelled by 3 percentage points.

There Are No Real CX Leaders

Not a single brand has managed to rise to the top of our rankings and continue to move upward — the mark of a true CX leader. Instead:
• Elite brands’ scores remained static. Forrester refers to the top 5% of brands across all industries in the CX Index as the “elite brands.” Of the 15 elite brands that were in the CX Index last year, 12 showed no statistically significant score change.
• Most industry frontrunners were repeats; all were stagnant. Thirteen out of 19 industry frontrunners were repeats from 2017. The new frontrunners in the other six industries earned their spots thanks only to statistically insignificant score changes that put them on top, significant point drops by last year’s top brands, and in one case a CX Index debut that slightly outscored the competition.

Without Real Leaders, Only Four Types Of Brands Remain

In the absence of real leaders that rise to the top of the pack and continue to improve, there are only four types of brands:
• Languishers: Brands that rose high and then stalled. These relatively high-scoring brands have remained stuck, without a statistically significant score change, for at least two years. Overall, 10% of brands in the entire US CX Index are languishers.
• Lapsers: Brands that rose and then fell back. Lapsers’ CX Index performance has declined for one or two years. Across the entire US CX Index, 20% of brands are lapsers.
• Locksteppers: Brands that move up and down with the pack. Even when these brands improve, they fail to differentiate themselves because the quality of their CX remains roughly on par with that of their competitors. A full 48% of CX Index brands are locksteppers.
• Laggards: Brands that have stayed at or near the bottom. Although some laggards have improved the quality of their CX, their scores remain consistently at the low end of the rankings. Overall, 23% of CX Index brands are laggards.

Emotion Holds The Key To Achieving CX Differentiation

Brands that want to break away from the pack should focus on emotion, as how an experience makes customers feel has a bigger influence on their loyalty to a brand than effectiveness or ease in every industry. Brand performance in the US CX Index, 2018 reflects this: Elite brands provided an average of 22 emotionally positive experiences for each negative experience, while the lowest-performing 5% of brands provided only two emotionally positive experiences for each negative experience.

To see the rankings of all 287 brands in the US CX Index and a much more detailed analysis of the results – including exactly which emotions drive loyalty the most – check out The US Customer Experience Index, 2018 [subscription required].

Companies will increasingly win or lose on the battleground of customer experience. To win, you need actionable CX insights that allow you to prioritize investments that will continuously improve your customers’ experiences. Learn more about Forrester’s CX Index and how it can provide those insights here.

Rick Parrish
Rick Parrish is a principal analyst at Forrester, serving customer experience professionals.


  1. Could it be that we are seeing a faster rise in customer expectations than an increase in organizational CX performance? Could it be that companies have gotten on the valued-added track and just run out of adds? The exciting companies are those that pursue value-unique by demonstrating ingenious customer experiences not just more generous ones. Plus, the culture of innovation required for novelty keeps the best people since it is a more fun environment in which to work.

  2. I think Chip nailed it. As CX continues to improve, customer expectations continue to rise.
    I think there is a second trend that is also impacting customer satisfaction. As the world has become more increasingly digital, the one thing that is being lost is the human connection. Even live chats are losing human connections with the introduction of chatbots.

    My prediction (you heard it here first!) is that the first company that starts worrying less about ‘Big Data’ and more about ‘Little Data’ – individuals – will come out a winner.

  3. I completely agree, Shaun. The recent Google I/O Conference introducing the amazing AI Duplex for call centers (great Youtube video) was both amazing and alarming. I still recall the two astronauts overcome the mutinous computer Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, not by being smarter, but by being more creative. Little Data is authentic and real…with the capacity for insight. Big Data can be precise and wrong; accurate and flawed.


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