In order to help our clients at KPMG Nunwood we have to understand for ourselves what makes for a world class experience.

We set up the Customer Experience Excellence Centre four years ago and since then we’ve analysed around one million customer reviews of brands in the UK, US and Australia, creating the Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) Index.

The centre is designed to highlight not only companies that deliver the best experiences, but most importantly, how they do this. It is a repository for all that is good in creating world-class customer experiences.

Based on this work it is our assertion that any brand in any industry can deliver world class customer experiences using six key experience pillars.

The six pillars provide the measurement criteria for quantitatively assessing how customers rate an experience and are valid across all sectors and geographies.

The Six Pillars are:

  • Personalisation
  • Resolution
  • Integrity
  • Valuing customers’ time and effort
  • Expectations
  • Empathy

We can use these pillars to better understand customer perceptions of value and customer behaviour pertaining to loyalty and advocacy.

The six pillars metric has been statistically proven to have a strong influence over key behavioural metrics and thus greater explanatory power over the factors that drive commercial success. The pillars alone are able to explain almost two thirds of both customer advocacy and loyalty

What is very important to remember is that the six pillars are interconnected and interdependent; they rely on a cumulative impact for success. For example, you cannot ‘personalise’ without ‘empathy’ or ‘valuing the customer’s time and effort’. You cannot be ‘trustworthy’ unless you accurately set and meet ‘expectations’ and fix things when they go wrong.

Organisations that excel are those that manage this interconnectedness better than their competitors. If we take any individual top performer we would see evidence of their ability to interconnect all of the six pillars in that they outperform the market average across all six.

It is clear that with each iteration of the KPMG Nunwood CEE study, organisations are really beginning to deliver on some of the more functional pillars such as time and effort through mapping customer journeys, improving processes and harnessing evolving technology for better multi-channel experiences.

To better personalise the experience we’re using big data for 1-2-1 conversations to tailor both services and products. The gap between best in class and the chasing pack is closing in these areas.

In this paper, let’s focus on two pillars that organisations are finding harder to master, but offer the greater levels of differentiation from a competitive perspective – integrity and empathy.


Integrity is an exceptionally topical pillar for the UK in 2014. To truly deliver integrity to the highest level an organisation must be seen to be doing the right thing at both a micro and macro level

A great example of this comes from the brand with the highest integrity scores in the UK, John Lewis:

A customer returned a week later after a major purchase to say that they had seen the price cheaper elsewhere. Not only did the company return the difference to the customer, but also was seen to lower the price for all customers thus delivering on the promise of never knowingly undersold.

Perhaps a lesser known example would be the retailer Lush. This company has understood how to prosper on the high street via a uniquely branded experience, where product, store and staff harmonize to create excitement and energy:

At the expense of point of sale space within store, Lush will campaign for the greater good using themes divorced from their market yet woven with the company’s product: for example hanging bright orange bath cubes to highlight the plight of inmates in Guantanamo Bay. It seems to work!

As for others, Amazon has relinquished first place in the CEE index overall for the first time in four years of the study. This is driven by a loss in integrity from public perceptions around tax avoidance and questionable working practices. However, their ability to instill trust on a micro level by doing right by their customers when problems do occur remains ever-present thus limiting the impact on Integrity overall.

Starbucks, once a regular feature in the top performing brands in the CEE study and others no longer even feature in the top 100 again due largely to the perceived UK tax avoidance policy of the company.

Perhaps the most extreme example would be The Co-operative bank, a top 10 brand in 2012 and an organisation many others were seeking to emulate. Now a catastrophic series of trust eroding disclosures on its finances and leadership leaves the brand adrift on all levels.


Empathy represents perhaps the most difficult pillar for most companies, not because of a lack understanding of the concept, but the need for an inherent cultural flexibility to allow it to be delivered on the frontline.

The truly successful organisations start on the inside, auditing their business culture and customer ‘maturity’ to discover the rigid barriers that prevent their people from reacting to the unique physical and emotional circumstances of customers which dictate the nature of their experiences. We’ll deal with this later.

For now, who gets it right ? The first example to share is Butlins; the most improved brand in the 2013 wave of the UK Customer Experience Excellence study.


Butlins recognised in 2004 that a large factor in poor customer experiences and business performance lay deep within the culture of the organisation. The business had been bought by Bourne Leisure from its former owners in 1998 and investment poured in to create a better product for guests.

However the service levels did not reflect the changes, and with a seasonal team of 3500 the challenge was clear. The customer service strategy in place in 2004, as with many organisations, was perceived as a training course owned by the human resources team, where there was little ownership from the wider organisation and no assimilation to day to day working life.

As a result the team became disengaged with the business. Butlins needed the work ethic of its team to evolve; for individuals to go the extra mile for guests, to have a sense of pride in the Butlins brand and to embolden this attitude amongst their peers.

After undertaking a company-wide audit, the newly proposed strategy would require the business to allow empowerment at every level. The strategy enforced the belief that a strong culture must focus on positive language and behaviour from the top to the bottom of the organisation’s structure.

Today, a difficult guest issue on-resort is now resolved by the team member the guest first approaches. Every member of Butlins is empowered to act immediately to find a solution. To achieve this, the key character traits of empathy and a problem solving attitude were identified.

Butlins now looks for these qualities during the recruitment process, ranked higher in the final recruitment decision than the skills offered for the role, which it believes can largely be learnt.

They appoint ‘Navigators’ for the brand, individuals who were determined to lead the business on this cultural shift and drawn from a cross section of roles in the company. These Navigators are the custodians of the branded culture and wholly responsible for delivering the ‘Roadmap’ induction programme for new recruits.

The results have taken time but are now clear. Last year, Butlins was named as the 4th best place to work by their employees in the Sunday Times. This year they’re in top 20 of the UK Customer Experience Excellence index

The importance of company culture.

It is important to stress that it matters not how you measure or view the world around you if your organisation is not ready to take to heart the principle of driving commercial decisions through the lens of the customer.

In a recent survey by industry observer Bruce Temkin (in his report The State Of The Customer Experience Profession 2013) there are more CE professionals planning to buy more measurement tools in 2014 than there are willing to invest in staff engagement and cultural change programmes. The risk on that basis is that we’ll be measuring our disappointment more often or on a larger scale.

An effective way to understand the extent to which an organisation is culturally and systematically capable of delivering world class experience is to run it through a customer experience maturity model. As the self explanatory diagram below suggests, the further a company moves to the right of the model, the more likely it is that the entire organisation rallies around the same customer ethos and management teams and departments and their processes are interlaced to create a unified, seamless and consistent experience for its customers.

It is worth exploring the experience at Cleveland Clinic in the US.

In early 2011, having spent years measuring a process to deliver great experiences that was effectively broken, the CE team there set about changing the culture. Understandably, this culture was based upon ‘grateful’ patients and ‘heroic’ clinicians saving lives or changing lives for the better. However, this culture was perceived to drive behaviours that damaged the patient care experience such as; the delivery of a poor ‘bedside manner’ amongst clinicians and faceless, bureaucratic patient adminstration. In a sector where patients have many choices as to where to seek healthcare provision Cleveland Clinic set about a resolution.

The Management Board took the entire organisation on a customer immersion and journey mapping process as a result of the maturity model outcome that placed the organisation firmly at Level 1 (see diagram above). The collaborative journey mapping process worked to bring the commercial realities of a private healthcare group to everyone in the organisation, even the ‘heroes’ of the operating theatre. Cleveland clinic went from a negative NPS score to positive double digits within 2 years.

Linked with the issue of organisational readiness is the level of ambition of the senior management team.

There are many people I’ve met over the years who served to limit or be limited by the expectations of the organisations they serve. For many, it has been a case of setting targets just within the range of its direct competitors. For others, it’s worse; if working in an industry renowned for delivering poor experiences to customers, the task of improving the customer experience is seen as futile.

Other leaders set their sights much higher, taking on the best of the best irrespective of the industry sector. By attempting to break the mould, the leadership function can often inspire an entire organisation to achieve something far beyond the ordinary

US Cellular (a multi state Cable TV service provider) amongst other brands such as AAA and USAA (in financial services) punched well above their expected weight in delivering great customer experiences.

They did so from sectors whose average scores were among the lowest in the country

Source: KPMG Nunwood CEE Index 2012/3

Concepts to practicalities

Whilst the six pillars can add further clarity to an opaque NPS score, it is important to look at the detail behind each of the six pillars in order to move away from concepts to something that the entire business does not just rally around but also works with.

In order to do this, the six pillar concepts are converted into practical behaviours via a Means-End Chain process. This gets us to the detail needed to re-engineer experiences and create meaningful process, guidelines and language that people in the business can actually use. The model is straightforward and is the fundamental reason as to why it has such currency at an organisation level.

What generates that emotion of you (as the brand) “acting in my best interests” is to get me to really trust you. You do this by being likeable and proactive. That means:

  • Building rapport – complimenting me on my knowledge of the products in the market based on all my research.
  • Taking an open stance on that basis- sharing with me what your competitors can do
  • Being really pleased to be talking to me – enthusiasm for my custom; willingness to work for me.
  • Provide 3-5 options for me to choose from. Anything less is boxing me in and anything more will blow my mind

Building this means-end chain analysis across the six pillars, the multiple journeys and customer types for your brand is an effective way to build a customer experience blueprint for the company.


In summary, we’ve taken an introductory view of how to drive key measures, such as NPS, using a Six Pillar framework that helps us to convert concepts directly into day to day language and specific changes in behaviour or process.

What is very important to remember is that the The Six Pillars are interconnected and interdependent; they rely on a cumulative impact for success.

What is abundantly clear is that it is not just about measurement and then deeper levels of insight that drive KPIs. The commitment of the entire organisation is required to convert theory to practice and ambivalence to activism:

The John Lewis customer could have been at any store and the result would be the same. Butlins realised the HR team could not do it alone. It needed the support of many more.

What is also abundantly clear is that this process works. 8 in 10 brands using this approach with KPMG Nunwood alone have improved their own positions in the 2013 Customer Experience Excellence index rankings vs 2012.