The 10 Best (and 10 Worst) Companies for Customer Service

Updated: June 17, 2009

Large companies today spend billions to manage their public image. And in many industries no part of that image is more important than how people think a company's customer service is. Customer Service is becoming a lot more than an ‘industry buzzword' as large companies who treat their customers poorly are starting to lose customers right and left.

Customers want good customer service, but if companies can just hire good PR people to cover problems up, how do we, as customers, ever demand that companies improve. We thought that a good start would be to close the information gap, so that customers know who is good and who isn't. With that in mind, we have sifted through customer surveys and studies as well as some real-life experiences of customers, to come up with a list of the 10 best and the 10 worst companies for customer service.

The Best Ones:

1. APPLE - Dells's loss, Apple's Gain?

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ASCI)* second quarter report indicates that within the Personal Computers category, customers perceived Apple as the best company in terms of customer service. Apple's baseline score was 77 (on a 100-point scale), and the Q2 2006 score was 83.

Computerworld, discussing Apple's number one ranking says, "The Company's focus on product innovation and customer service has won it a cadre of famously loyal customers, unlike any other PC vendor. And why are Dell's scores slipping? The article elaborates, "Survey respondents complained mostly about the quality of Dell's customer service, not its products, Van Amburg said… customers were clearly more frustrated with Dell than they were last year, he said."

This blog post ‘New Virus Found! The You Suck Virus,' states, "Part of being "excellent" in business is being innovative. If you agree with that one criteria (I know there are more) then Apple is the clear winner when it comes to innovation. Companies like Dell, HP, and IBM make good computers but once you compare them to a really excellent product (like an Apple) it is easy to see the difference."

This 2003 article indicates that Apple is pretty consistent when it comes to high-quality customer service, "Apple did garnish the number one customer service ranking in the 2001 Consumer Reports Annual Questionnaire, and a number one ranking for desktop repairs in May 2003." Here are some customer compliments for Apple.

2. GE - Black Belts in Customer Service

In the major appliances category, the ASCI survey has named the General Electric company no. 1 with a baseline score of 81 and a Q2 2006 score was 82. Among other things, a company blog is a very good way for organizations to keep in touch with their customers, and GE is one of the few corporates that has its own blogs:

http://www.grcblog.com/
http://www.bloggingnext.com/
http://www.edisonsdesk.com
http://www.fromedisonsdesk.com

Another proactive measure adopted by GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt that promotes goodwill and customer satisfaction is the program wherein the GE Six Sigma black belts / management experts assist their internal customers in streamlining processes, cutting costs and increasing profit margins - all free of cost. Steven Pearlstein, in his article, ‘GE's Wealth of Free Advice,' illustrates the process.

"Another happy customer is Stephen Carter, president of the American subsidiary of Komori, a Japanese maker of printing presses… GE's Six Sigma "black belts" saw that most of the orders that took longer involved items that were out of stock. After analyzing more than a decade of parts orders, they found a way of ensuring that the most-sought items, or those with long lead times, were never out of stock, while reducing inventory for slow-moving and less hard-to-replace components. The result: 95 percent of orders now go out on time." With this kind of commitment to improving the customer's experience, it is small wonder that GE tops the popularity list for consumer durables.

3. TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION - the company to emulate in the automobile industry

Within the automobiles section, Toyota is the leader with a baseline score of 79, and a Q2 2006 score of 87. In her article "Ready to Roll," Katheryn Potterf says, "No wonder Toyota Motor Corporation is the envy of other manufacturers. The quality and reliability of its vehicles are the gold standard of the industry. Customer loyalty is so high that Toyota can make money without offering extreme discounts."

And, according to Potterf, its not Toyota's products or profits that are the jewel in its crown (pay attention, all you companies that think good products will make up for poor customer service). "Rather, it is something less tangible but more essential. Called the Toyota Way, it is the foundation of the Toyota Production System, or Lean manufacturing techniques. In the largest sense, it is a mindset or management philosophy… Being customer-centric is part of the Toyota Way, which is based on "pure logic and pure respect…"

4. GOOGLE - Dynamism and Consistency are Key

Search engines Q2 2006 score of 81. The google experience is a classic example of a company committed to wowing its customers based on consistent quality and constant innovation over the years.

2003: "Google Inc., of Mountainview, Calif., continued to lead the category with a score of 82, a 2.5% improvement from last year. It has introduced new features, including an image search where users can hunt for photographs. The site commands about 30% of all Web searches, according to ComScore Networks."

2004: In her article, ‘Google Tops in Customer Satisfaction,' Jennifer Laycock says, "Google, the current king of search, topped the list of search engines with a satisfaction rating of 82 points."

2005: "Every year, if we do the same as we did last year, consumers are going to see us as not fulfilling their needs."

2006: Google continues to retain the leadership position in the search engine category, with a Q2 2006 ASCI score of 81.

5. SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. - Happy Employees = Happy Customers

Within the airlines industry, Southwest Airlines had a baseline ASCI score of 78. Innovations such as Ding!, along with a passion for customer service is what keeps southwest ahead of the competition. In ‘Customer Satisfaction and Willingness to Pay,' Kelly Shermach says, "Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) recently introduced DING!, a free program that sends audible electronic notices to a consumer's desktop. Today's dinged fares typically undercut Southwest's published fares."

Also, the company remembers the very basic yet very vital rule of customer delight: happy employees = happy customers. "While 90% of its employees are unionized, labor relations have been remarkably positive, especially by industry standards. There are no formal structures for labor or union participation in management decision making, but the company - led by
top managers who actively solicit and respond to employee views - has taken the lead on developing and maintaining this culture."

6. COX COMMUNICATIONS INC. - Scope to perform better

Cox Communications is a king when it comes to customer satisfaction - it ranked first in customer satisfaction in the fixed line telephone service provider category. It reflected customer satisfaction in areas such as customer service, billing, performance and reliability, company image and cost of service. However, the Q1 2006 ASCI score of 76 is well below the average score for other industries. And with options such as VoIP and mobile phones now available to customers, the paying attention to customer service has become more important than ever. Wake up, fixed line telephone companies!

7. HILTON HOTELS CORPORATION - Laboratory Studies for Improved Customer Service

Innovation combined with a desire to better the customer's experience is apparent in Hilton's programs like the Hilton Technology Room, which is basically a laboratory for gathering customer feedback on new and emerging technologies. ""In its current iteration, the Hilton Technology Room blends high-tech features into a luxurious guestroom setting, enabling us to gain insight into how guests interact with the technology and which pieces would be appropriate for full-scale deployment to our hotels." In With an ASCI baseline score of 75, the hotels segment too could do with improvement!

8. PAPA JOHN'S INTERNATIONAL, INC. - Pizza with pizzazz

With a Q1 2006 score of 79, Papa John's leaves behind larger pizza rivals Pizza Hut and Domino's, and also Starbucks, in the limited service restaurants category.

"We have a fundamental belief that if you serve a superior quality pizza with excellent service and value, consumers will recognize the difference and reward you with repeat business," said John H. Schnatter, Papa John's founder and executive chairman."

9. THE DIRECTV GROUP, INC. - Can do better!

"As of June 2006, DirecTV has 15.4 million subscribers, more than any other in the satellite industry, having subscribed their 15 millionth customer in November 2005." Though direcTV is ranked no. 1 in the cable and satellite TV category, the ASCI Q1 score of 71 indicates that customers are far from happy with the overall standard of service in this industry.

10. SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS AMERICA, INC.

"Samsung Electronics, one of the world's largest producers of mobile handsets renowned for cutting edge mobile technology,"
With an ASCI Q1 2006 score of 73, Samsung is the number one cellular phone company in the industry. Again, 73 means that there is lots of room for improvement!

 

And here are the 10 worst…

1. AOL - Playing Dirty, Tricking Customers?

An overwhelming majority of netizens have had bad experiences with AOL - especially while closing their accounts. Listen to Vincent Ferrari's conversation with AOL CSR John here.

About Ferrari's experience, blogger Rich Brooks says: "After 15 minutes he finally got through to a human being. The call resulted in something that's a cross between Dante's 9th ring of hell and Orwell's 1984. The king from Monty Python's Holy Grail had an easier time explaining to the palace guards to keep his son locked in his room than Ferrari had explaining that he just wanted to cancel the account."

Dan Spencer says, "I will never forget when I called to cancel my family's account with AOL after my dad passed away very suddenly. This was about six months after the death. AOL said because the account was in his name they needed to talk to him to cancel it. We explained how difficult that may be considering the circumstance and they then had the nerve to tell my family they will not cancel it with out proper identification of the death such as a death certificate. They then even said that they billed my father for the six months each month. We had moved and never recieved these so we told them if they get the money from him to call us ASAP so we can witness a miracle. Even with all the information concerning the security provided with them they refused to cancel it."

When a company believes it can retain customers by antagonizing them, something is very wrong with their customer service policy. Also, AOL is not above tricking customers into buying stuff online that they were only browsing.

2. BEST BUY - Worst customer service?

Though it faced serious competition from Wal-Mart, Best Buy beat its competitors to bag the position for worst customer service in the retail sector. Bill says, "Best Buy and AOL seem to share that short-term thinking, screw the customer, anti-social mindset."

A whole lot of customers are unhappy with the company, mainly because of the customer service policies. When your insistence for selling protection plans drives away customers, you need to rethink your policies, buddy!

And what's with all the sour faces, guys? Do they treat you so bad at best buy? Read this customer's experience with Sour Face Jim and Handshake John at Best Buy.

3. LASTMINUTE.COM - Customer who?

In the online service provider category, the winner undoubtedly is lastminute.com. This company has been featured on watchdog for fraudulent practices, yet continues to survive and harass customers who are not aware of its history. Tom Wright says, "A series of phone calls and broken promises later - lastminute finally agreed that they had made a mistake by not sending through the booking - and offered to refund me……….HALF the purchase price!!"

Dave had a similar experience with the company, that he has described on his blog. Another customer, Claire says, "If you have a problem no one listens, they honestly do not care and have no idea what customer service means. The so called manager of this company laughed at me with my complaint and when I I asked for his company address to write a complaint he answered I don't need to give you that!!? and refused to do so."

4. HOME DEPOT - Who cares about your home? Not us!

Lowes, though having its fair share of disgruntled customers, is not the topper for bad customer service - it is beaten by Home Depot. When this customer wanted to complain to the Home Depot manager about a rude employee, the manager seemed to be worse! "After 10 or so minutes I asked where the manager was, the person behind the desk called again. At that time the so called manager Anthony called back, did not bother to come to the service desk just called and said, "What does the customer want"."

This Business Week article elaborates "The University of Michigan's annual American Customer Satisfaction index shows Home Depot slipped to dead last among major U.S. retailers, 11 points behind Lowe's."

Americans ranked Home Depot's customer service as dead last, according to Steven Silvers. Home depot customers complain about the worst service they received from the company.

5. AT&T - The Next Dinosaur?

In the article entitled ‘Should you remain an AT&T customer?' Liz P Weston states, "It's not as if AT&T horror stories are anything new. Those old enough to remember Lily Tomlin's Ernestine the Operator can recite her mantra: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company!" With that attitude the company may soon become the "ex" phone company! Weston observes, "Of the six largest cell-phone carriers, AT&T Wireless generated the most complaints overall and the most complaints per subscriber last year, according to FCC records obtained by Consumers Union."

6. SBC - $200 to cancel the service!!!

Cliff Edwards writes about his experience with SBC customer service, "Another eight days later, still no faster speed. In fact, the upstream speed appeared to have slowed down! I called customer service again, but was told the speed had been upgraded. My testing through dslreports.com told me otherwise. The new suggestion: Wait a few days more, then call back."

In "Stay away from SBC DSL !!" A Anand says, "My basic complaint is that AT&T Yahoo charged me 350 dollars unfairly. They also have a very unfriendly attitude, stay away from them!"

7. DAY'S INN- We're racists AND We break promises

While this customer was told to "go back to China," Stan Dulkiewicz of Rochester was denied the one night free stay that he was entitled to.

8. ALBERTSON'S - No value for customer privacy

"Albertsons' pharmacy customers receive direct mail and phone solicitations derived from confidential customer medical information provided to the pharmacy solely to fill prescriptions. The solicitations look like they are from the patient's concerned local pharmacist and remind the customer to renew a prescription or consider an alternative medication. But they are actually generated for pharmaceutical company's sales purposes by a specially-designed marketing database, sold by Albertsons."

9. MCIMETRO ACCESS (Formerly known as MCI Communications) - Billing for eternity … the company violated state service quality rules 850 times, including failing to:
• Inform customers when the new service will be provided
• Investigate customer complaints promptly
• Repair service interruptions within 48 hours

The most frequent violation by the company involved the continued billing of customers who had cancelled the phone service. Here are some MCI customer complaints.

10. CIRCUIT CITY - We have your money - now get lost!

One example of the many disgruntled Circuit City customers - Though it was acknowledged that the laptop purchased by Matt Southerton was defective and no other pieces were in stock, the customer service rep refusing to refund his money.

And if you're thinking about purchasing their extended warranties, stop for a moment and read about John Alexander's interactions with the company when he tried to (and deserved to) get his TV replaced.

Linda Meister has wasted money on extended warranties that are not worth the paper they are printed on. According to Consumer Affairs, "Circuit City pushes a lot of electronics out the door — and they're also pretty good at loading up the customer with extended warranties and other add-ons, many of which turn out to be a big disappointment if they're ever needed."

* The University of Michigan compiles the ACSI in numerous product categories by randomly calling U.S. residents and surveying their buying habits.