MONEY Customer Service

Here Are the Customer Service Practices You Hate the Most

150729_EM_WorstCustomerService
Getty Images

Too often, customer service is indifferent, incompetent, or both.

The good news from the new Consumer Reports survey about customer service is that overall it seems to be getting … less bad. The survey’s findings, published in the September 2015 issue, indicate that consumers are less likely to be irritated by customer service than they were in 2011, when a similar poll was taken.

That doesn’t mean consumers are happy with the state of customer service. Far from it. “Many companies today are simply awful at resolving customer problems,” Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, told Consumer Reports. “Customers spend valuable time and invest considerable effort—and get little in return.”

Here are the practices and behaviors that get customers most annoyed:

• 75% say they’re “highly annoyed” when they can’t get a live person on the phone to help with a problem; in 2011, meanwhile, 71% of those polled by CR said they were “tremendously annoyed” when they couldn’t reach a live customer service rep over the phone.

• 75% are highly annoyed by rude or condescending employees.

• 74% have been driven batty by disconnected phone calls placed to customer service lines.

• 70% are highly upset by being transferred to a different customer service agent—who also can’t help or is just plain wrong.

Nearly 7 in 10 (68%) are also aggravated by companies that don’t make it easy to find their customer service phone numbers, while two-thirds of consumers say they’re annoyed by long wait times, phone trees that require callers to press multiple buttons, and the need to repeat one’s personal information over and over.

MORE: 10 Funniest & Most Creative Consumer Complaints Ever
Customer Service Hell

MONEY Food & Drink

5 Great Things That Beer Does for America

Assembly Line Worker in Brewery
Cavan Images—Alamy

Hey beer: Thanks! Love, America.

The 2015 edition of “Beer Serves America,” a report prepared for the Beer Institute lobbying group, has just been released to highlight all of the wonderful things that beer does for you. Or rather, what the beer industry does for all of us, including employing millions of people and generating billions in economic output.

Here are five factoids from the report demonstrating how much brewers and the beer industry do for America, based on 2014 data:

5,825: Increase in number of Americans who worked in breweries in 2014 vs. 2012.

49,570: Number of Americans directly employed by brewers and beer importers.

1.75 million: Total number of jobs generated by America’s beer industry, including farmers, distributors, wholesalers, and bar and restaurant workers; researchers estimate that each brewery job generates approximately 34 additional full-time jobs.

$48.5 billion: Tax revenues generated from beer sales and beer workers.

$252.6 billion: Estimated economic output of the entire beer industry in America, representing 1.5% of U.S. GDP.

As impressive as the data seems, it’s worth noting that the figures aren’t necessarily all on the rise. The overall economic output contributed by beer last year is up only slightly from 2012, when it was estimated at $246.6 billion, according to a previous Beer Institute report. Because GDP was lower in 2012, beer contributed a higher percentage (1.6%) of the country’s economic output that year. What’s more, the Beer Institute reported that the industry generated more than two million jobs and contributed $49.2 billion in taxes in 2012, meaning that there was actually a decline in both categories by 2014.

Overall, beer sales in the U.S. have been flat or down slightly over the past several years. The general trend has seen mass-market brands like Budweiser flag, while craft beer sales have soared, with the net result being just a 0.5% increase in beer sales in 2014.

The Beer Institute report acknowledged “a dramatic shift away from less expensive products to more expensive local and ‘craft’ beers in bars and restaurants.” Yet instead of praising small brewers and the craft segment for their success, the report curiously passes onto them some of the blame for the drop in beer-related employment: “Consumers purchase smaller volumes of these higher priced beers than they do of less expensive domestic light lagers and pilsners, suggesting that fewer employees are required to serve beer in a given bar or tavern.”

Meanwhile, a report also released this week by the Brewers Association, which represents craft brewers’ interests, points out just how quickly the craft brewing market continues to grow—and how many people it directly employs.

“As of June 30, 2015, 3,739 breweries were operating in the U.S, an increase of 699 breweries over the same time period of the previous year,” the report states. “Additionally, there were 1,755 breweries in planning. Craft brewers currently employ an estimated 115,469 full-time and part-time workers, many of which are manufacturing jobs, contributing significantly to the U.S. economy.”

MONEY deals

Best Chicken Wings Deals for National Chicken Wing Day

Chicken wings on plate in restaurant
Getty Images—iStock

Cheap—sometimes free—wings are up for grabs on Wednesday.

It’s time yet again for another totally made-up holiday that can benefit you in the form of cheap food. Wednesday, July 29, is being celebrated as National Chicken Wing Day, and naturally there is no shortage of pubs and wing houses happy to oblige with special deals on wings.

Here are the best offers from restaurants with multiple locations around the country:

Black Angus Steakhouse: The National Chicken Wing Day deal, announced to those who signed up for this 45-location chain’s promotional emails, is $9 for a dozen wings and a 16-ounce draft beer.

Beef O’Brady’s: Order 10 wings, get an extra five for free; order 20 wings, get an extra 10 for free; and so on.

East Coast Wings: Get six free wings with every adult entrée purchase on Wednesday.

Glory Days Grill: This sports bar restaurant with franchises in Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia is hosting a special of $5 for a half-dozen wings, any style.

Hooters: An all-you-can-eat wing deal is priced at $12.99 for boneless, $14.99 for traditional bone-in wings.

Hurricane Grill & Wings: All-you-can-eat wings for $12.99.

Ker’s Winghouse: Buy 10 wings, get five free at this wing specialty restaurant with roughly two dozen locations in Florida.

Wings-N-Things: Buy one traditional wing meal with a drink on Wednesday, and a second meal (with drink) is free at this wing chain clustered around San Diego.

You Might Also Like:

Say Goodbye to Shopping at Walmart at 3 a.m.

Vanguard’s Founder Explains What Your Investment Advisor Should Do

Americans Left $24 Billion in Retirement on the Table Last Year

 

MONEY Internet

Verizon Internet Customers Can Now Watch HBO Without a Pay TV Package

HBO Now is now available if you have Verizon broadband.

On Tuesday, HBO and Verizon announced a new partnership allowing Verizon broadband customers to sign up for the Internet-only HBO Now service, starting immediately.

TV fans had begged HBO for years to introduce a streaming service that didn’t require the usual pay TV subscription. The TV giant finally obliged by launching HBO Now in April, at a price of $14.99 per month. At the beginning, however, HBO Now was available exclusively on Apple TV and Optimum.

Verizon broadband customers now have access to HBO Now too. Free 30-day trials of HBO Now are currently available via verizon.com/hbonow. After the introductory period ends, subscribers would pay $14.99 per month to keep the Internet-only service, which offers instant access to the usual HBO content, including series like “Game of Thrones” and hundreds of movies and sports and comedy specials.

For the time being, only Verizon’s broadband customers—Fios or otherwise—have access to HBO Now. Verizon says that eventually HBO Now will be open to 100+ million Verizon Wireless customers as well, though it hasn’t been announced when that option will be available.

MORE: Get Ready for Your Internet Bill to Soar
7 Streaming TV Packages That Will Let You Cut the Cord for Good

MONEY Autos

The Hot New Luxury Car Isn’t a Car at All

The 2015 Ford F-150
courtesy Ford The 2015 Ford F-150 starts at around $26,000, though a new Limited model will soon debut for more than double that.

Upscale pickup trucks listed at $50,000+ are hot sellers

The blue-collar, middle-class, mid-priced pickup truck still exists. But it’s becoming more the exception than the rule.

In June, the average price paid for a new Ford F-series truck—the best-selling vehicle in America for more than three decades—topped $44,000, an increase of $3,600 over last year.

That’s the average price per transaction, mind you. As the Wall Street Journal noted, many Ford trucks are priced well above average, and a new Ford F-150 Limited model will hit the market later this year with a sticker price above $60,000, “a larger starting price than a Porsche Cayenne sport-utility vehicle.”

The fancy new Ford pickup will have “fiddleback eucalyptus” wood trim and massaging seats, among other features. What’s perhaps more surprising than the fact that such amenities are available with what has traditionally been the vehicle of choice in blue-collar Middle America is that the high price point for Ford’s pickups is hardly an anomaly.

In 2011, 29% of heavy-duty Ram pickup trucks sold for $50,000 or more, up from 22% the year before. The Laramie Limited trim Ram 3500 truck starts at roughly $55,000, and has an MSRP over $70,000 once all the extras are added in.

Data collected by The Wall Street Journal indicate that the average transaction prices in 2015 for the Ford F-150, GMC Sierra 1500, and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 are all above $40,000, and 22% of pickup trucks are selling for more than $50,000. That’s up from just 9% of pickups being purchased for $50,000 or more in 2010.

What’s more, the average prices for the pickups mentioned above are up roughly 50% compared to the typical prices paid for these models as recently as 2005.

Rising pickup prices, as well as pickups and SUVs accounting for a larger percentage of overall sales, have pushed overall average new car transaction prices upward. In June, the average new vehicle purchase price was $33,340, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s an increase of 2.5% over the same month in 2014. The average price paid in June for a Ford, mind you, was up 4.6%, thanks partly to an increase in those pricey pickup purchases.

As for why so many drivers are interested in trucks that cost more than a Mercedes or Lexus, some auto experts see the luxury pickup as the perfect option for well-heeled but down-to-earth business owners who want to splurge and show off while staying true to their roots. “These are successful blue-collar entrepreneurs,” John Krafcik, president of the car-buying site TrueCar.com, told The Wall Street Journal. “There is a lot of social status and manufacturers have found a way to tap into it.”

MONEY online shopping

It’ll Probably Be Years Before You’re Forced to Pay Online Sales Tax

man using credit card to make online payment on laptop
Martin Barraud—Getty Images

For that matter, you might never have to pay up.

Two separate bills working their way through Congress could theoretically close the loophole that allows consumers to skip out on paying sales tax on purchases from e-retailers located in different states. Even so, in all likelihood online shoppers won’t be forced into paying sales tax anytime soon.

Over the years, e-retailers and the consumers who shop online to avoid sales taxes have been accused of having a “free ride.” For the most part, the laws stipulate that online sellers must charge sales tax only when the merchant has a physical presence in the state where the purchase is taking place. The net result is that a consumer in state X might not have to automatically pay sales tax when he makes a purchase from an e-retailer based in state Y.

The scenario gives an unfair advantage to the e-retailer over local brick-and-mortar retailers, which obviously have to collect local sales tax. Consumers are supposed to keep track of their online purchases and pay the appropriate sales tax when filing their income taxes, but the number of individuals who do so is approximately … zero. (Well, it’s close to zero anyway.)

Amazon, all-powerful online entity that it is, has come under fire in particular for not universally collecting sales tax on purchases, and it has made agreements with states on a case-by-case basis to charge the appropriate taxes.

Even as the vast majority of Americans now pay sales tax on Amazon purchases regardless of where they live, there are still many e-retailers that aren’t required to collect sales tax on out-of-state purchases. If either the Remote Transaction Parity Act or the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2015 become law, this loophole would be closed and states could start requiring nearly all sellers to collect sales tax.

Yet, as InternetRetailer.com reported, it’s not looking likely that either of the bills will pass in the near future. What’s more, if and when either does manage to become law, in order to allow time for e-retailers to tweak their operations to be in line with new regulations, there will be a delay of at least 12 months before sellers will have to collect sales tax. E-retailers will also be given a reprieve from charging sales tax during the peak winter holiday shopping season in the first year after either bill becomes law.

The upshot for consumers is that even if one of these bills suddenly catches fire in Congress and surprisingly passes soon, “2017 would be the first holiday season it could take effect,” InternetRetailer.com states. Remember, that’s only if one of these bills passes. If neither does, then many online shoppers can continue enjoying their free ride indefinitely.

MONEY housing

U.S. Homeownership Drops To Its Lowest Level Since 1967

aerial view of neighborhood
Jake Wyman—Getty Images/Aurora Creative

The last time homeownership levels were this low, LBJ was president.

Data released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday reveal that the U.S. homeownership rate stood at 63.4% for the second quarter of 2015. The rate is down slightly compared to the first quarter (63.7%), and it represents the lowest level of homeownership in America since 1967. If the homeownership rate drops just a few more tenths of a percentage point, it would reach a new all-time low since the government began tracking such data in 1965 and the rate was a flat 63%.

In fact, some housing experts say it’s fairly likely the homeownership rate will continue to fall and will indeed hit a record low in the near future. “We may have another percentage point to go before we see a bottom” in terms of the homeownership rate, Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities, told Bloomberg. “We’re still suffering the effects of the housing collapse and the financial crisis.”

The bull market and an improving jobs picture would seem to bring with it rising homeownership levels. Yet as a recent Harvard study pointed out, many would-be homeowners—particularly younger ones, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s—are still struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Wages have been stagnant for the middle class, and many households are cautious about jumping into homeownership in the face of hefty student loan debt and memories of being burned in the housing crash. Rising home prices don’t help ownership levels either.

All combined, these forces are conspiring to make renting seem like the wiser option over buying lately.

For the sake of comparison, the 50-year average for homeownership in the U.S. is 65.3%. The rate rose through the 1970s and early 1980s, before dipping to around 64% or slightly under in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a period marked by economic downturn in much of the world—and a recession that lasted eight months in the U.S.

Fueled by easy credit, a booming economy, and boundless optimism, the homeownership rate soared in the late ’90s and early ’00s, nearly hitting 70%. The 69.2% homeownership rate of 2004 is currently the all-time high. Based on how things have been going, it very well could remain as the record high for years or even decades to come.

MONEY fitness

Own a Nike+ FuelBand? You Could Be Eligible for a Refund

The new NIKE+ FuelBand, an innovative wristband that tracks and measures everyday movement for what Nike says is to motivate and inspire people to be more active.
Mike Segar—Reuters/Newscom The NIKE+ FuelBand tracks and measures everyday movement for what Nike says is to motivate and inspire people to be more active.

Nike is offering $15 cash or $25 gift cards.

A settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit first brought against Nike and Apple in 2013, and the net result is that some consumers who purchased Nike+ FuelBands are now eligible for either $15 cash or $25 Nike gift cards.

The suit alleged that “false and/or misleading statements were made regarding the Nike+ FuelBand’s ability to accurately track calories, steps, and NikeFuel, and that there were breaches of the warranty terms of the Nike+ FuelBand,” according to the website created to publicize the settlement’s terms, NikeFuelBandSettlement.com. Both Nike and Apple “deny the claims in the lawsuit and maintain that they did nothing wrong or illegal,” yet decided to settle “in order to avoid the expense, inconvenience, and distraction of continued litigation.”

Under the terms of the settlement, consumers who purchased a Nike+ FuelBand—a fitness-tracking device worn on the wrist that sells for $100 to $250—between January 19, 2012, and June 17, 2015, can receive a payment of $15 in the form of a check, or a $25 gift card valid at Nike stores and Nike.com. Claim forms are available at NikeFuelBandSettlement.com.

The Wall Street Journal noted that while Nike was among the first major companies to get into fitness trackers, the market has since grown crowded with devices from FitBit, JawBone, and others. Many fitness trackers can be purchased today for about $50. Starting around 2014, Nike began shifting its focus away from fitness-tracking hardware, though the Nike+ app is featured on the Apple Watch.

MONEY Airlines

This Is the Single Greatest Frequent Flyer Perk Ever

150728_EM_PrivateJetPerk
Alamy—© zechina / Alamy

Get the CEO treatment

Being upgraded to first class is pretty nice. But even the most elite frequent flyers still must deal with many of the hassles of commercial flights—including the long waits to check in, the pass through security gates, and allowing time for hundreds of commoners to board and sandwich themselves into those tiny seats at the back of the plane.

A new upgrade program from Delta could eliminate some of these headaches by moving its best customers from commercial flights entirely. The program, as Bloomberg reports, would allow a very small number of Delta’s most elite “Diamond Medallion” frequent flyers to pay $300 to $800 extra to board private jet flights that accommodate a maximum of a few dozen passengers.

Initially, the program will focus on East Coast flights, and naturally, they’ll be offered by Delta Private Jets, the private jet unit operated by Delta. The move seems motivated by the desire to keep the airline’s highest-spending customers happy, while simultaneously filling up seats on luxury private jets that might otherwise be half full.

“This is truly a groundbreaking new approach from both industry standpoints,” Delta Private Jets vice president of operations James Murray said in a statement. “Nobody else can do what we’re talking about doing.”

Read next: 5 Ways That Traveling on the Cheap Has Changed—for the Better

MONEY Autos

This Company Just Overtook Toyota to Become the World’s Top Automaker

2015 Volkswagen Jetta
courtesy Volkswagen 2015 Volkswagen Jetta

The world really likes German engineering.

During the first six months of 2015, Toyota sold 5.02 million cars. That represents a decline of 1.5% compared to the first half of 2014. More importantly in terms of bragging rights for automakers, Toyota’s total was slightly less than German rival Volkswagen, which sold 5.04 million vehicles from January through June of 2015.

Toyota has traditionally held the top spot in terms of global auto sales, though there have been flukey years like 2011, when natural disasters in Asia pushed the automaker to third place worldwide. Volkswagen, which sold just 6.2 million cars for all of 2007, has established a goal of selling 10+ million vehicles per year by 2018, if not sooner. The automaker came close in 2013, selling 9.73 million passenger cars and superseding General Motors as the world’s #2 automaker in the process.

Volkswagen just barely crossed the 10 million sales mark in 2014, and it is on pace to do so again in 2015, perhaps while taking the overall global sales crown as well. To do so, Volkswagen, which owns Audi and Porsche in addition to its flagship mid-market brand, must continue to post big sales in China—which won’t be an easy task.

“VW is snatching the sales crown in difficult times with major car markets in decline,” Stefan Bratzel, head of Germany’s Center of Automotive Management, said to the BBC. “They will need to withstand the slowdown in China if they want to keep the top spot.”

Toyota has struggled in China and wants to improve sales there. But overall, the Japanese automaker has stressed for quite some time that it’s not particularly worried about holding the global top spot for sales. “Their focus is not No. 1,” Peggy Furusaka, a Tokyo- based auto-credit analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, observed in January. “Toyota is more concerned about keeping profitability than chasing numbers. So for coming years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toyota selling fewer cars than Volkswagen.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com