While COVID-19 has changed the face of customer experience in the UK, many of the more adaptable, agile brands which have often topped the CX rankings have continued to lead throughout the lockdown period of 2020.

What has changed, however, is a widening gap between the highflyers and the laggards in the UK. The lower-ranking brands need to work even harder to catch up to their higher performing competitors. Their performance across The Six Pillars will be key to their growth.

At the same time, one of the pillars — Integrity — has become more relevant than ever. When COVID-19 was at its peak, customers wanted to know that brands stood for more than just making a profit. They wanted to be assured they were looking after their employees and consumers, as well as taking the implications of COVID-19 seriously. The long-term impact of this psychological shift remains to be seen.

Despite this challenging climate, most sectors have seen an increase in their overall Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) performance since 2019, with restaurants & fast food, logistics and the public sector seeing the biggest climb. Nevertheless, grocery retail and financial services remain the highest performing sectors overall in the UK.

Indeed, four financial services organizations feature in the UK 2020 top 10, including a new entrant to the research — Starling Bank. Starling Bank ranks third and is an entirely digital bank which clearly understands its customers and the role their mobile devices play in their lives. Its services are streamlined and hassle-free; Starling has partnered with a number of third parties, including PensionBee and Churchill, enabling customers to manage several financial services on one app. As one respondent said: "For me, they're one of the banks of the future with helpful staff, intelligent answers to questions and no pressure to try and get you to take on further products".

It is also an adaptable brand, swiftly responding to support its customers during COVID-19 with the introduction of its Connected Cards scheme to allow friends and neighbours to shop for those self-isolating, removing the need for payment via physical contact. Starling also participated as a lender in the government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme during COVID-19.

Ranked second is the online retailer QVC UK — a brand that recognizes the importance of the Personalization pillar. The 'human touch' is one of the retailer's defining characteristics, with the 'conversational' attitude of its presenters being a key part of its TV and internet broadcasts.

And while this way of working became difficult during the lockdown period, QVC UK strove to maintain it for as long as possible. Moreover, many of its customers turned to the brand's social media channels at the peak of COVID-19. QVC UK were able to utilize these channels to help shoppers order, track and return products effortlessly. Its #QVCAlwaysWithYou hashtag was also put to good use, with the brand recognizing that some customers were relying on social media simply for comfort and reassurance.

Similarly, the UK's customer experience leader — the financial services brand first direct — is consistently strong for customercentricity. As with many banks at the start of COVID-19, first direct moved quickly to protect its customers against negative economic consequences with fee-free overdrafts, loan repayment holidays and lower insurance payments. Its agile at scale operating model also allowed the bank to quickly scale up a dedicated, empowered customer team to empathetically respond to their customers' difficulties.

first direct's people first mantra means the bank constantly asks itself three questions: How are our people feeling? How are our customers feeling? What is our commercial performance? The answers to these questions guide the shape of its customer experience.

Indeed, first direct is successful in part because of its connected CX vision. Every aspect of the organization is guided by these questions, with each department moving in the same direction.

In addition, the bank's customer experience is deployed consistently across all of its channels; it's as quick and easy for a person to interact with first direct over the phone as it is via one of its social media platforms.

As one respondent explained: "Always a great experience when I have to contact first direct about anything (which is rare.) I'm currently re-mortgaging with them and as always their staff have been an absolute pleasure to deal with." Being a "pleasure" is possible for first direct because of its deep customer knowledge. The bank knows exactly what people are seeking physically and psychologically and if these desires change it's immediately aware and can adapt accordingly. This depth of insight will be crucial for UK businesses as they head into the uncertain world of 2021, where the true impact of COVID-19 cannot be predicted.

“The present downturn promises to be one of the most intense, but also an opportunity for many brands to engage with a new customer and redefine what their enterprises stand for." ”

Tim Knight
Partner, Customer Advisory
KPMG in the UK

Leading CX brands in United Kingdom


first direct




Starling Bank


John Lewis & Partners








Côte Brasserie




American Express