When it comes to companies we dread dealing with, we all know who they are. Let’s put it this way, would you rather go to the Apple Genius Bar to fix something with your iPhone or to the Bank of America teller to reverse a surprise interest charge?
It’s perhaps no wonder Bank of America leads the nation in bad customer service. The massive U.S. financial institution has made the Customer Service Hall of Shame every year since 2009.
In collaboration with research survey group Zogby Analytics, we polled 2,500 adults about the quality of customer service at 150 of America’s best-known companies in 15 industries, asking if that service was “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor.”
Those with the highest percentages of “excellent” rankings make up the Customer Service Hall of Fame; those with the highest share “poor” ratings make up our Customer Service Hall of Shame. (See how the survey was done and full results on the last page of this article.)
Many of the other companies with the bottom-rated customer service have earned spots on the Hall of Shame list in the past. Eight of the 10 companies in the Hall of Shame have made at least three previous appearances since 2009.
It is difficult for businesses in some industries to win consumer praise. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — three of the largest banks in the country — received some of the worst customer service ratings in the nation.
For banks, the many fees they charge may contribute to a customer’s poor evaluation of a company. “As soon as you take out your Bank of America ATM card you get charged,” said Praveen Kopalle, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
In addition to unpleasant and repeated charges and fees, these large banks engaged in questionable and often unlawful behavior that contributed to the housing crisis. For example, “[Banks] assured customers that [mortgage-backed securities] were actually good products when, in fact, they were pretty toxic,” Kopalle said.
Cable and satellite TV companies are another segment that has repeatedly received poor customer service ratings. Shep Hyken, a customer satisfaction expert, explained that these companies are often unclear about their service charges. “Customers get shocked when they get their bill,” Hyken said.
In some instances, companies have little incentive to offer good service. “If people really don’t like the customer service that they receive from telecom companies, they don’t have a lot of choice,” Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, explained. Without competition from other companies, “there is just not that pressure to deliver great service.”
Future consolidation in these industries may exacerbate the problem. Companies like AT&T and DirecTV, as well as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, are driving merger and acquisition activity that will likely close this year, pending government approval.
Many of the companies with the worst customer service, however, are still market leaders and manage to maintain impressive profit margins. Seven of the 10 companies in the Hall of Shame dominate their industries.
This is 24/7 Wall St.’s Customer Service Hall of Shame:
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 15.3% (credit card), 15.1% (banking)
More than 15% of respondents said they had a “poor” experience with both Citigroup Inc.’s (NYSE: C) credit card and banking businesses.
However, Citigroup is hardly alone among financial institutions in receiving low ratings for its customer service. Both Bank of America and Wells Fargo had worse-rated banking operations. While missing from the bottom 10, Capital One and J.P. Morgan Chase also received low ratings.
The banking industry as a whole suffers from bad press, likely due to its involvement in the financial crisis. According to analyst Dick Bove, penalties, regulations and rule changes have made quality customer service even more difficult to deliver.
“The banks responded by taking away millions of credit cards from customers that they could no longer do business with on a profitable basis,” Bove said.
While customers gave Citi’s credit card and banking service low grades, the bank performed well overall in the Pew Charitable Trusts’ most recent annual survey on consumer banking practices. Citi’s policies include five of the seven “best practices” endorsed by the study.
9. Wells Fargo
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 16.2% (credit card), 15.0% (banking)
More than 16% of survey participants said their experience with Wells Fargo’s credit card business was “poor.” Wells Fargo’s banking operations did not fare much better for customer service. About 15% reported a “poor” customer service experience for Well Fargo as a bank.
The company declined an interview. In written statement, it said that it was committed to improving customer experience, and that it was “always looking for ways to apply their input and further strengthen our customer service.”
Although Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) has largely avoided the financial crisis-related fines several of its competitors paid, it has not been immune to scrutiny. The bank, which is the largest provider of home loans, was sued by the Federal Housing Authority in 2012 for bad mortgages. Like other banks, continuous criticism since the financial crisis is likely a major component of Wells Fargo’s customer dissatisfaction.
According to Bove, bad press is only part of the problem. Strict regulations and large fines can have a considerable impact on customer relations as banks are forced to implement cost-cutting measures that may inconvenience consumers.
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 17.5%
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is hardly the only mobile telephone company that received a disproportionate number of negative reviews for its customer service. In fact, all four of the nation’s leading mobile carriers were among the bottom fifth of companies evaluated.
Although the company’s record of customer service is spotty, AT&T has developed several initiatives designed to improve customer outreach. Among these, the company wrote in its annual report that it had 70 staffers dedicated to customer care on social media platforms. Additionally, last year AT&T streamlined its call center menus, cut waiting times, and trained specialized employees to handle smartphone operating system-related questions.
“Three or four years ago, the customer service at AT&T was very poor, but they really have come a long way,” Kopalle said. Now, “They pick up the phone pretty fast, they resolve your situation very quickly.” However, Kopalle noted that AT&T’s service is hardly perfect. “I think they still suffer from a number of dropped calls. That’s not really a good thing.”
For the rest of the list, go to 24/7 Wall St.
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