Is There Really Nothing That Can be Improved with John Lewis’s Customer Service?

Simon Goodley writing recently in the Guardian on the collapse of Carphone Warehouse’s Bestbuy venture with US partners, reports that Andy Street, the MD of John Lewis, believes the endeavour was doomed from the start.  He is reported as saying “The US model is keen prices combined with high service. The truth of the matter is that prices were already extremely keen and high service is being provided by us … Put that together and there was not a gap in the market.”

Well now this is interesting.  We know that John Lewis are consistently voted as having the highest customer service ratings on the high street.  But is Andy Street suggesting that the service John Lewis provides is so good that there is nothing more that customers could want?  (Read more here http://bit.ly/sy16Eu )  Or is he implying that John Lewis have understood the price that customers are willing to pay for the higher level of service provided as compared to the cheapest retailers?

If it’s the latter, and John Lewis knows the precise formula for the link between service level and the price customers are prepared to pay then there will be no stopping them and we can expect to see to see John Lewis achieving total high street domination in the next few years.  But this would be pretty miraculous.  The variables are too complex and dynamic to be completely confident that you know exactly what people will, and will continue to, pay as a premium for “high service”.

So perhaps he means that John Lewis sets the standard for “high service” and there was nowhere for Bestbuy to go with improved service levels.  But it’s a dangerous game to assume that the service levels you provide – good as they are – are the best that customers want or will come to expect in the future.  The gap in the market may not exist in the current market place but there is no reason whatsoever that other companies couldn’t raise the game.  John Lewis’s figures for customer satisfaction are high, but only marginally higher than its nearest competitors and a good way off 100% satisfaction.

This tells us that customers know there is more that can be done to improve the service they receive.  Customers are able to tell you who is best now, but this best isn’t the best it could be.  Aside from death and taxes, the only certainty is change, and any day now no gap in the market could become the gap that, by resting on comfortable and incomplete laurels, John Lewis didn’t see coming.

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2 Comments to “Is There Really Nothing That Can be Improved with John Lewis’s Customer Service?”

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