The John Lewis Secret to Customer Service

Last Updated Feb 8, 2010 4:23 AM EST

Say customer service and the one organisation that springs to many minds is John Lewis. The retailer pipped other retail rivals to the top slot in a recent poll by the Institute of Customer Service for customer satisfaction, closely followed by grocery stablemate Waitrose.

Called the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, the poll found four out of the top ten brands recognised for customer service were retailers, prompting the researchers to assume the sector as a whole had redoubled its efforts to serve their customers well in an attempt to stave off the effects of the economic downturn. Certainly John Lewis has done better than most.

What is also interesting is six out of the top ten places have been shared by three companies - JLP, Marks & Spencer and Virgin, suggesting there may be a relationship between strong brands and the perception of good service. These three brands have been well known for good customer service in the past and it's possible there is a self-fulfilling prophesy at work here. Customers expect these brands to give good service and so they receive it.

Nonetheless, there's no real substitute for a strong basic philosophy for good service at ground-level, as Victoria Simpson, development manager for customer service at John Lewis confirms.
She explained the retailer's reputation for good customer service is built on the concept being a core part of its corporate culture. It's not delivered from the top-down, she said. Front line staff are expected to make decisions affecting customer service by themselves. They are encouraged to come up with ideas to improve customer service, which are fed back up to managers.

Crucially, John Lewis is also known for its employee satisfaction as well and Simpson explains this goes hand-in-hand with the service partners (JLP does not use the words staff or employees. Every member of the company is also a shareholder and they are given a yearly dividend out of the company's profits) give to customers. A happy and engaged workforce passes that satisfaction on to customers.

Just as anywhere else, John Lewis' corporate culture on customer service has to be taught to new joiners, who are paired with more experienced staff to learn the retailer's way of treating customers. This buddy system is supported by an ongoing training programme, which is continually updated as staff develop their customer service approaches.

Simpson has a few words of advice to other retailers and other businesses. They may seem obvious, but she's not certain they are followed as rigorously by John Lewis' rivals. As it's John Lewis at the top of the pile and not some other retailer, she may have a point.

  1. Ask customers what they want and listen to their response. Get their feedback through a multiplicity of channels, including the shop floor.
  2. Actually do something with the information about that is fed back. It's tempting to feel that once the information has been gathered, the job is done. Your processes and culture need to be altered as a result.
  3. Talk to front-line staff. They have insights no one else can form. It makes them feel good too and hopefully they will pass that feeling on to customers.
(Pic: eastlybusman cc2.0)