What do telecommunication firms, health plan providers, airlines and hotels have in common? And which traits do supermarkets, fast-food chains and investment firms share?
The answer: The first group tends to offer the worst customer service (just watch the viral video about the truculent Comcast agent) and the second generally offers the best.
That’s what Temkin Group, a Massachusetts-based research and consulting firm, found in its latest annual customer-service survey.
(MORE: Getting Good Customer Service by Phone)
How Companies Ranked for Customer Service
Want to see how a specific company ranks? Visit the Temkin customer-service ratings or, better yet, take our interactive quiz appearing throughout this article for the top-ranked airlines, fast-food companies, insurers, internet companies and retailers. (In a minute, I’ll tell you how to get better customer service when you’re not satisfied.)
To come up with its rankings, Temkin surveyed 10,000 U.S. consumers January 2014 for their experiences with 268 national and regional companies. Temkin also ranked firms for Trust and Forgiveness (how likely consumers are to forgive a company if it delivers a bad experience).
Managing partner Bruce Temkin believes it’s easy to understand why companies such as USAA, Amazon, Chick-fil-A and the supermarket chain Publix win high marks.
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“There are two types of companies that consistently make it to the top of the ratings,” he told me in a telephone chat. “One excels at conducting very basic customer interactions, day-in, day-out. Those include supermarkets and fast-food chains where customer demands are basic but well met. The other group, including USAA and Amazon, makes a concerted effort to treat its customers well.”
Amazon, incidentally, was the top company for customer service in a ranking just released by the 24/7 Wall Street site.
Why Some Companies Score So Poorly
Temkin noted there are also good reasons why companies like Comcast, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Time Warner Cable, Coventry Health Care and Charter Communications get the lowest scores.
The groups at the bottom of Temkin’s rankings tend to cluster around three industries: TV, Internet and health plan providers. “These three industries have had a hard time focusing on customers,” said Temkin. “And, even the best of these companies have scores so mediocre [compared to other businesses] that there’s not a lot of competitive motivation to improve customer service.”
(MORE: How to Prevent Phone 'Cramming' Fees)
Still, Temkin said, he is seeing some improvement in a handful of these concerns — noting that Humana and Cox Communications posted the biggest gains in their customer-service ratings since 2013 “thanks to their strategic initiatives to improve customer experience.”
He’s also starting to see health-care and telecom companies listening more to customers and taking action.
It’s no surprise that the companies that rank the highest for customer service also win big in Trust and Forgiveness as well (including USAA, Amazon, Chick-fil-A, Apple and Trader Joe’s).
Nor is it a shock that telecom firms and health plans are at the bottom of both lists — along with banks and one airline (US Airways). Incidentally, 24/7 Wall Street also found that three of the largest banks in the country (Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup) received some of the worst customer service ratings in its survey.
4 Tips to Get Better Customer Service
If you want to get good customer service, or better service from companies that have disappointed you, Temkin recommends being proactive. He offers these four tips:
1. Do business with companies that are most likely to treat you well. If you have a choice of companies to choose from, ask friends for recommendations, read consumer posts on sites such as Yelp or Angie’s List and check out the Temkin ratings. Then, opt for a firm with high marks.
Bear in mind that Temkin’s list doesn’t include small, local concerns and many of those businesses are dedicated to customer service.
2. Provide feedback (good and bad) to the companies you patronize. “Companies are getting more conscientious in how they are treating their customers; they are finally recognizing that they need loyal customers to be profitable,” Temkin said. “So more are listening to their customers and taking more action on their concerns. If a company does a good job, tell it. If not, tell it that, too.”
3. Spread the word. Use Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites — as well as old-fashioned word-of-mouth — to share your positive and negative experiences. This not only helps steer your friends to the good guys but also encourages companies to improve where needed.
Sometimes, complaining online about lousy service can help resolve your problem. After an airline rebooked a flight of a friend of mine and he squawked on Facebook, the carrier restored his ticket to the original itinerary.
Online complaints may even win you a rebate, coupon or a free product (but don’t count on it).
4. Become an active self-advocate. If you’ve received rotten service, keep pestering the business until it addresses your problem.
“If a company doesn’t get it right the first time — or even the second — don’t just give up. Keep going back to resolve any issue you have,” Temkin said. “Push a company and escalate the issue until you get satisfaction.”
That’s what my husband did recently after he tried to buy a computer online and the laptop never arrived. A new one came two days after the manufacturer and shipper agreed the original was lost. But my husband kept calling every day for three weeks in order to finally get the manufacturer to credit his card for the missing computer.
Get past the automated response purgatory and receive better service with these seven tips.
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