Why do we get a worse customer experience in the UK than the US?


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According to KPMG Nunwood research, customers in the US are 15 times more likely to have a great customer experience than a UK customer.

flag I was on holiday in the US last week and having read the results of the KPMG Nunwood research, I was looking forward to assessing (and enjoying) the research’s accuracy. Over the week, I kept an eye out for examples of great experience whether empathy and attitude of members of service staff, resolution of any problems that we had, management of our expectations or any other golden nugget of customer experience.

The US are pushing ahead of us Brits
The margin between the two countries is getting bigger. US brands are now 6% ahead of those in the UK. This difference stood at just 2% last year according to the above-mentioned report. There is a glimmer of hope – the UK’s average score did climb in 2016 but brands on this side of the Atlantic are not keeping up with the pace of improvement exhibited by US companies.

KPMG Nunwood measures brands against six measures of customer experience – personalisation, integrity, time and effort, expectations, resolutions and empathy.

There are many more ‘excellent’ brands in the US in terms of customer experience. Some 58 brands (up from 24) in the US this year are categorized as delivering an ‘excellent’ or outstanding customer experience, according to the KMPG Nunwood calculations. Compare this to just four companies who cross that threshold in the UK. Evidently this means that brands in the UK are lagging by a factor of 15.
Those four shining lights in the UK are First Direct, John Lewis, Lush and Emirates. Four very different brands from three different sectors which will not surprise anyone in the UK.

A noticeable difference is a greater number of high performing grocery retailing stars in the US rankings.

What’s the difference? What’s holding us back?
Employee engagement plays a decisive role for companies that do well in the US, which is something UK brands “haven’t quite caught hold of”, says David Conway of KMPG Nunwood. Conway also believes that for US companies “their target for a great experience is far higher than companies in the UK.” The bar needs to be raised for UK consumers if the gap between experiences for customer in the UK and the US is going to be closed. Good is not good enough.

What’s holding back UK companies?
• they are less structured around the customer and tend to be more silo’d in culture and operation
• they are less focused on how employees interact with customers, the type of behaviours they use and the service levels they aspire to
• they focus less on getting the basics right
• they are less consistent, systematic and ruthless in their execution
• they do not understand as well as their US peers how to manage resolution in the right way and how to turn bad interactions into great ones

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” – Bill Gates
The biggest attribute gap in the study between UK and US companies is managing complaint resolution. If UK companies could fix this then perhaps the £37bn that complaints and poor service cost UK companies in 2016 would be reduced significantly.

What is the difference between the UK and the US here?
¥ Leading US organisations are structured in such a way to encourage responsibility for resolution, where ownership for the customer through the end to end journey is much clearer
¥ It is generally within the gift of employees to resolve issues in whatever way is appropriate for each customer
¥ They focus on the ‘service recovery paradox’ – a problem being resolved in such a way that it leaves the customer feeling better than they did before the issue arose

The ROI of Customer Experience
One other difference appears to be the understanding of the economics of customer experience which appears to be more of a finger in the air approach in the UK.

“We do it because we think it is the right thing to do, and that’s true, but in the US, they are much more focused on the financial outcomes of an experience and the value it adds,”

Conway concludes.

A personal bugbear about the US Experience
As an aside, there was one thing about the customer experience in the US which I had forgotten about but was quickly reminded. Tipping. Don’t get me started. In the U.S., more than $40 billion is spent on tips in the food-service industry alone, every year.

The fact that 20% is arbitrarily added to a bill whether the service has been exceptional or lacking, without the customer’s say is difficult for me to swallow. As a customer, I want to be in control and a service reward should be discretionary not an enforced surcharge. Don’t get me wrong, I want to reward low paid employees, but I want to do it as an incentive for quality of service.

So, after my holiday, my conclusion? I can’t help feeling this Jeff Bezos quote rings true in the UK more than it does in the US.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Ultimately, to be powerhouses in customer experience, organisations in the UK need to better understand the reality of their end to end customer journey. They need to clarify and encourage ownership for the customer and their problems. It would be great to see the evidence of more ‘service recovery’ rather than problem avoidance or dismissal. Employee engagement, experience and empowerment are critical.

we can do itCome on the UK, let’s turn this learning into action and catch up (or overtake!).

Amanda Davis

Amanda writes and shares Thought Leadership, drawing on her 15 years of coaching, guiding, mentoring and consulting for clients in various sectors and sizes around the world. She helps establish organisations understand how to connect to customers; find ways to align their expectations with the culture & capability of the organisation. She has a particular focus on customer experience transformation in the digital age, ensuring that technology development starts and finishes with the customer. Amanda has been a regular featured columnist and advisor for Customer Think since 2018.


  1. Hi Amanda, Great post, but I think this study is a bit misleading, in Europe and United States, work with the client is done at a very high level, but this is my opinion, it cannot be applied to all companies. Thanks for cool article, and good luck.

  2. Huh. Good article but i think you may be being a bit hard on yourself (and your nation). That hasn’t been my experience at all first hand. For example, domestic flight in the UK (and Europe) are heaven compared to the US. Likewise, I find public servants (police, security, transportation officials) to be much much more friendly and helpful than the US. You want a good heap of bad customer service here in the USA…I could point in a few directions 😉

  3. Hi, I don’t understand why this analytical agency not like services to clients in England, i am very cranky customer, but i like service in the UK.
    Thanks for post

  4. Hi Jane & Dave, thanks for commenting. The source research was conducted with several 1000’s of customers in the UK (and the US). You may be right on the public service side as this wasn’t part of their study. I think the point is that you seem to have a greater number of great companies. We do have some great customer experiences here, don’t get me wrong; but they are outweighed by many poor ones and they aren’t delivered consistently well enough across all touch points. If we can at least learn a bit more from the US about integrating the employee piece into customer experience, we will make big inroads.

  5. Hi Amanda. My opinion is subjective, probably, i have not met a bad service, so i appreciate all the positive. Thanks for your answer, have a nice day Amanda.


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