What are the top companies for customer experience? A new study from the Temkin Group selected two grocery chains -- Trader Joe’s and Publix -- from 246 companies across 19 industries, but the report inadvertently raises questions about whether this kind of comparison is apples-to-apples. 

The 2013 Temkin Experience Ratings report, the third annual installment in this series, asked 10,000 U.S. consumers to rate their experiences with the chosen companies, using three dimensions -- Functional, Accessible and Emotional. After Publix and Trader Joe’s one-two positions, the next best companies were, in order, grocer Aidi, fast food chain Chick-fil-A, Amazon.com, Sam’s Club, grocer H.E.B., Dunkin’ Donuts, grocer Save-a-Lot and fast food chain Sonic Drive-In.

Lowest in Emotional

In the Functional Experience component, respondents were asked, “Thinking of your most recent interactions with each of these companies, to what degree were you able to accomplish what you wanted to do?” For Accessibility, the question asked: “how easy was it to interact with the company?” And, for Emotional Experience, it was: “how did you feel about those interactions?” Respondents answered on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 being “completely failed” and 7 being “completely succeeded.”

Publix and Trader Joe’s received the highest ratings in the Functional category, Ace Hardware was tops in Accessible, and Publix took first in the Emotional rating.

Of the three dimensions, scores were lowest in the emotional category, with only fast food chains, grocery chains, hotel chains, parcel delivery services and retailers earning at least an OK rating.

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Consumers were asked to evaluate companies based on their experiences in the last 60 days, on a seven-point scale. The online survey was given last month, and the Temkin Group said respondents were representative of the U.S. Census in terms of age, income, ethnicity and geographic region.

Wireless Improved Most

Overall, 37% of the companies received a “good” or better rating, which is 28% higher than 2011. The highest average scores were achieved by companies that were grocery chains, fast food chains, parcel delivery services or retailers, while the lowest were TV service providers, health plans and Net service providers.

In terms of industries, Temkin found that wireless companies improved the most while appliances declined the most, compared to 2011 and 2012. Among individual companies, Citibank, TriCare and TD Ameritrade improved the most, while Alamo lost the most ground.

Temkin recommended four competencies for companies interested in improving their customer experience. They include Purposeful Leadership, which it described as operating “consistently with a clear set of values,” employee engagement that aligns with the goals of the organization, compelling brand values that deliver on brand promises, and a customer connectedness that infuses customer insight across the company.

Multi-Channel Experience?

A big shortcoming in this survey is that implies it covers all channels that consumers are using these days to interact with companies -- including physical stores, web sites, mobile interactions, phone and social media -- but it doesn't clearly say so.

At a time when so many other analysts are emphasizing how difficult but how important it is that companies unify customer experience across these diverse channels, the report makes no mention of this issue or of the fact that some companies heavily use multiple channels (e.g., Lenovo), while others (e.g., Dunkin’ Donuts) do not.

Could the improvement or decline in ratings by specific companies or industries be related to their better or worse use of certain growing channels, such as mobile or social media? Could the fact that emotional scores were the lowest be related to the trend that many online interactions these days do not involve human interaction?

One would have hoped for at least some defining criteria about how customer experience questions might mean something different for a customer dealing with online-only Amazon.com, versus, say, a primarily physical store company like Dunkin’ Donuts. Is “emotional” experience a valid factor for evaluating an online-only retailer?

Or, if Temkin thought so, the case could have been presented that customer experience should be evaluated equally no matter the medium or environment. But, with so much discussion in the field of customer experience about multiple channels, no discussion at all in this report leaves these questions open.