Published in Retail

Customer experience in the UK and US – Are we speaking the same language?

US customers have higher expectations than UK ones, and US companies have been quicker to adopt customer experience platforms and technology. Nigel Cover of MaritzCX assesses whether the UK has anything to learn from across the Pond.

Often quoted George Bernard Shaw once said, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language”; and this is certainly true in the context of customer experience. ‘Service’ has a different cultural meaning to both nations.

Strauss and Mang were the first to investigate the role of culture in the context of services. They found that customers from Germany, the United States, and Japan, while traveling with the same international airline, had significant differences in their satisfaction with the service provider (i.e. airline staff). This is because the expectations of both the provider and the customer are affected by the norms and values of the society within which the service is created and delivered. When there is a gap in such an understanding, dissatisfaction with the service results, and maybe a few stereotypes too (which I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded of).

Differing expectations
There is a clear disparity between expectations in the US and the UK; the Global Customer Service Barometer Report by American Express shows that the US rate being connected with someone who is knowledgeable as more important than those in the UK (78% vs 65%), similarly they rate a personalised service as more important (45% vs 35%) and being thanked for being a customer is more important over the pond too (45% vs 35%).

A recent study by New Voice Media found that only 25% of people in the US will hold whilst on phone after 10 minutes, compared to 64% of Brits, for whom it is a regular occurrence. So, expectations are indeed higher in the US.

Despite these higher expectations, levels of customer satisfaction are at almost exactly the same in the US and the UK. The 2014 results from the National Customer Satisfaction Index (an independent national benchmark of customer satisfaction in the UK) show that in the UK, satisfaction is currently at 75.4, the ACSI (the equivalent body in the USA) shows that customer satisfaction in the US is currently at 76.2.

Why should customer satisfaction be similar when US customers seemingly demand more? It is all about minding the gap – expectations play the principle role in how consumers regard their customer experience. Quite simply, the gap between expectation and delivery is what drives satisfaction, advocacy and loyalty; not the experience alone. Therefore, it may be fair to say that people in the US have higher expectations and better experiences but are equally as satisfied as people in the UK. Our expectations are lower, our experiences are not as amplified and as a result the gap between the two is not as marked.

How working in the customer service industry differs
While lower expectations in the UK don’t have an effect on the satisfaction of customers, working in a service industry is a more attractive prospect in the US, in terms of financial reward and career progression.

Looking at customer service across a range of sectors, many companies with headquarters in the US – American Express and Enterprise Rent-a-Car are just two examples – have been very public about how they treat their front line reps with respect and how they reward employees for delivering excellent customer service with benefits and bonuses.

According to, the average British retail sales associate earns £17,300 a year in contrast to their US counterpart who earns an average of £19,500. And though there is scope for promotion up the ranks in both countries, in the US such a career move is more lucrative than in the UK.

A retail store manager in the US earns on average, £27,000, where in the UK a retail store manager earns an average of £24,000. Tie this in with the lower cost of living in the US, where according to Lloyds banking, the average house price is £134,277, compared to the UK’s £186,322, and according to the ONS and The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a gallon of milk costs £3.68 in the UK but £2.34 in the US, and 1kg of beef mince costs £7.96 in the UK but £5.15 in the US, not to mention the lower price of US petrol – and you can see that service based jobs give you a better living in the US.

Plus there is a higher rate of tipping and more of a respect for good service in the US. According to Trip Advisor, in restaurants in the USA, tipping 10% usually means you aren’t totally happy, 15% usually means all was acceptable, 20% for excellent, over 20% for outstanding. It is very different In the UK where the norm is a 10%-12.5% discretionary tip and in many restaurants service is included so no tip is allocated to the individual server. And looking more widely at customer service across a range of sectors, companies with headquarters in the US, such as American Express and Enterprise Rent-a-Car are very public about how they reward their employees for delivering excellent customer service with benefits and bonuses.

At different stages with new technology
The differences between the two countries don’t just lie in attitudes to customer service and lifestyle in order to meet the high expectations of consumers. The US has been a bit faster at adapting customer experience platforms and technology. This is a development that is interesting in light of the lower smartphone penetration over the pond (50% of people in the US own a smartphone, compared to 80% in the UK according to Statista).

In the US, investment in technology has seen more customer experience improvements at scale across many industries; you need only look at the giant US brands, Ford, Exxon, McDonalds, Bank of America – they all have a local and global view of customer experience and take care to monitor and mind the gap between expectation and experience. Our own company has seen the rapid development of real-time and empathetic online feedback tools with dashboards, presented to organisations to help them see clearly, sense quickly and act on individual customer needs – these are the tools of the customer experience management trade.

I now hope my inbox is inundated with British firms who claim they too take as much care as their US cousins – of course it would be a delight to be proved wrong!


This article was originally published in Loyalty Magazine.

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