Last week I posted some of the most frequently asked questions we get about the Customer Experience Index, 2012. One question I didn’t include but should have is “Who got the highest score in my industry?”

I scanned the list of industry high scores and wasn’t surprised to see names like USAA (banks, credit card providers, insurance providers), Apple (consumer electronics manufacturers), and Southwest Airlines. But there were names we don’t hear about as much in customer experience like Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (investment firms), Bright House Networks (ISPs), US Cellular (Wireless service providers), and Dish Network/EchoStar (TV service providers)*. 

To me this says that brands trying to differentiate on the basis of customer experience need to look in a variety of places for possible competitive threats and standard-setters, not just the most obvious ones.  History is full of examples of small firms that could transform more quickly than their larger competitors or introduce a disruptive innovation that no one saw coming. I expect both those scenarios to play out in customer experience over the next few years. The question is just where and when.

As part of our research in 2012 you can be sure we’re going to look into what these lesser talked about brands are doing to raise the bar in their industries, but in the meantime here are two of my favorite examples of CX innovations that came from places I would have never thought to look:

  • Safelite Auto Glass’ Technician Profile Email.  Last year I saw a commercial for Safelite Auto Glass that promised to send an email to you with the photo and name of the person who was going to show up at your house to fix your windshield. According to its Website the company introduced this feature way back in November 2008, and given the anxiety so many people have when a stranger comes to their home I’m surprised more brands with at-home repair services haven’t done something similar.
  • 1-800-GOT-JUNK’s integrated customer feedback and scheduling system. A few years ago I attended a conference where someone from 1-800-GOT-JUNK was speaking. I hadn’t done any work with the junk business  so it wasn’t even on my radar screen, but one of the things the speaker said was so simple and useful I was shocked I’d never heard the idea before. They had integrated their customer feedback and scheduling systems so a driver’s calendar color-codes each appointment based on the score that customer gave after a previous interaction (I think it was just red, yellow, green). Drivers could get a quick scan or bring up detailed feedback to help them tailor conversations with the customer and create continuity across experiences.

What kinds of customer experience innovations have you found in unexpected places?

* For the sake of completeness, top scoring brands in the four industries I didn’t mention above were Hampton Inn/Suites (hotels), United Parcel Service (parcel shipping and delivery firms), Medicare (health insurance plans), and Kohl’s (retailer).