For years, John Lewis along with Amazon and First Direct have been widely heralded as the shining examples of how to deliver excellent customer experiences. Recent benchmarking studies from Nunwood (referenced in this marketing week article – and Temkin Group ( back up what most of us recognise – that John Lewis are still believed to be leaders in customer experience and customer service in the retail sector.

But…..there is always a but…….are these benchmarking studies right? Taking John Lewis as an example – are they really that much better than any other retailer? To stimulate some thoughts on the subject, lets think about what I believe are the three components that make an experience (as taught by Bruce Temkin –

1. EMOTIONAL – how do John Lewis make customers feel?

2. FUNCTIONAL – does the John Lewis customer journey do what customers want?

3. ACCESSIBLE – how easy is it for customers to do what they want?

Considering each component, it is strikingly obvious that the critical advantage that John Lewis have over many of their competitors is number 1 – EMOTION. John Lewis is a brand that, driven by the passion of it ‘partners’ and a compelling brand promise ‘never knowingly undersold’, has emotionally linked the words TRUST and RELIABILITY into the psyche of the British consumer.

In developing any customer experience strategy, it is important to ask the question – ‘why would a customer buy my products or services?’ Can you have great products and poor service? Can you have excellent service but nothing on the shelves? Or are you able to WOW your customers by delivering products that people WANT, at an AFFORDABLE price, in a CONSISTENT customer journey, while consistently INNOVATING and modernising?

Creating an emotional link with customers demonstrates the ability to identify the WOW moments in the customer journey – the compelling brand proposition that leaves customers in no doubt as to why they keep coming back – and telling all their friends to do the same. For years John Lewis has consistently built its reputation for having a rock solid customer journey – reliable, dependable, trustworthy – quite simply – they have become the rock of the British high street, while at the same time evolving their rock solid multichannel solutions. Others, such as Marks and Spencer, have arguably failed to do the same.

Innovation has allowed John Lewis to address the other two components of the ‘experience’ – from a FUNCTIONAL perspective, John Lewis have entered the digital age extremely effectively – their online capability is as reliable as its bricks and mortar proposition – and critically it is seamless – the website looks like the store and vice versa – you know it is good old John Lewis looking after you. John Lewis have also addressed the ACCESSIBLE component – as other traditionally bricks and mortar retailers have done, linking their online model with their store model means that customers can pick and choose how they want to interact – whether it be delivery to the doorstep, or collection from a local store.

This all paints John Lewis in a brilliant light – but I’ll ask the question again – are they really that good? Or is the fact that John Lewis are always ‘top of the pops’ purely down to the fact that we THINK they are the best – something that has been embedded into our brains due to the amazing strength of the brand?

I recently visited a John Lewis store in Chester – a brand new ‘home’ store. It looks amazing – and exactly as you would expect a John Lewis store to be – clean, bright, beautifully laid out. Fantastic products were on display, an enticing cafe produced wonderful coffee aromas to make even the biggest dieter want to fall off the wagon. BUT……there is that but again……..on more than one occasion when walking around the store, I witnessed slightly disinterested staff, ‘standing around’ chatting to each other. I have heard stories of staff not being particularly helpful in other John Lewis stores, especially when being asked questions about technology. Are these isolated incidents? Have you had bad experiences with John Lewis?

To provide balance, I also recently had a table and chairs delivered to my home by a John Lewis delivery team. They were quite simply amazing – smart, polite, friendly, helpful, and did everything I would expect of John Lewis – there is that word CONSISTENCY again. A friend also told me yesterday that they placed an order with John Lewis online – but they needed the order to be collected by someone other than her –  a quick phone call to customer services was greeted by ‘of course – not a problem’ – how many retailers would be that ACCESSIBLE and easy to deal with?

They say that facts do not lie – benchmarking studies tell us that John Lewis are still right up there after all these years – is it because they are so good at maintaining a focus on the three components of an experience, or do we just think they do?

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