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The Top Companies for Customer Service

A new survey cites the businesses that inspire consumer confidence and loyalty

posted by Caroline Mayer, June 5, 2012 More by this author

a man holding a box walking out a store smiling

Caroline Mayer is a consumer reporter who spent 25 years working for The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @consumermayer


a man holding a box walking out a store smiling
altrendo images | Stockbyte | Thinkstock
Which companies do shoppers like best?

Bruce Temkin knows. He's the head of the Temkin Group, the research and consulting firm based in Waban, Mass., that just published its annual ranking of major businesses with the highest scores for customer satisfaction.

Temkin asked 10,000 consumers to list companies with which they'd recently interacted then rate them in categories like service and trustworthiness as well as consumer loyalty. The ratings firm then trimmed the list down to 206 companies (in 18 industries) that had been named at least 100 times. The highest-ranked businesses included (alphabetically):
  • Amazon.com.
  • Chick-fil-A.
  • Costco.
  • Dollar Rent a Car.
  • Hyatt.
  • Sam’s Club.
  • USAA.
 
I asked Temkin why some of the winners scored so well. For instance, what is warehouse giant Sam’s Club doing right?
 
Temkin noted that for the past two years, the Wal-Mart division has been on a mission to improve the shopper experience, asking customers to fill out online surveys after leaving the store. “Most businesses track their profits and loss because they want to make money," he said. "But Sam’s Club is tracking how customers feel about their service.”
 
Sam’s Club also factors in-house survey responses into employee bonus calculations and the company posts the results of all its outlets' customer-satisfaction levels in each store's break room and training area. “You do not want to be at the bottom of that list,” Temkin said.
 
More Customer-Service Winners

Another top-rated firm, the financial-services giant USAA, has also built customer care into its core mission, Temkin said. “When you call up the company," he said, "the agents are not trying to complete a transaction, but rather have a conversation with you.”
 
Fast-food operator Chick-fil-A ranks high, too. “It starts with a strong corporate ethos around respect for customers," Temkin said. "The company's hiring practices make sure that employees are friendly.”
 
Amazon, famous for its customer service, continually tries to improve its core online experience by listening and learning from shoppers, Temkin said. For example, Amazon's “Rate Our Packaging” feedback program invites customers to report how easily they were able to open products purchased on the site. (I noted this in my earlier blog about consumer rage over hard-to-open packages.)
 
Of course, not every company is cherished by consumers. Temkin's firm doesn't publish a list of the worst offenders, but he did point out the types of businesses that are typically found at the other end of the customer-satisfaction spectrum: TV and Internet service providers.

"They just stink," Temkin said. "They fall into a category, like big banks, that have a historic monopoly or don't have competition where they operate, so they’re not trained to listen to customers.”
 
Why Didn’t Apple Make The Cut?
 
To me, there was one huge surprise about Temkin's survey results: Apple is nowhere to be found on the list, despite its stellar reputation among cult-like fans.

The reason, he explained, is that his firm categorizes Apple as a computer manufacturer, not a retailer. (For the record, among computer makers, Apple continues to outperform its peers by a large margin in terms of consumer loyalty, followed by Hewlett Packard and Toshiba.)
 
Toughest Group to Satisfy
 
Temkin's consumer survey also revealed a telling fact about shoppers in their 40s and 50s. “They're the toughest group to satisfy,” said Temkin, who belongs to that demographic. “We have more complicated lives than younger people, we’re more stressed and we don’t have a lot of time — but we have higher expectations, in terms of companies meeting our needs.”
 
Younger consumers, by contrast, tend to figure things out more quickly (particularly when it comes to technology). "They don’t get as hung up” on customer service as their older counterparts, Temkin says.
 
Invest in the Winners?
 
I then asked him whether investors should consider buying stock in the companies that ranked high in his latest survey.

Temkin took a pass on the question, saying he doesn't offer investment advice.

"But," he added, “I believe our ratings highlight an under-examined asset — customer goodwill. I think companies with a lot of it are much more likely to succeed than those with a low level of it.”
 
What You Should Do
 
Temkin was, however, quick to offer advice to every customer peeved by a company's service: Speak up.

“Consumers need to actively give feedback to let companies know how they’re doing,” he said. Respond to company surveys, send complaint letters or emails to corporate executives and use social media, like posting the details of your frustrating experience on such sites as Yelp or TripAdvisor. (Ben Popken provides the six best ways to get your money back in his Next Avenue article about effective complaining.)
 
“More companies than ever, especially the larger ones, are listening,” Temkin said.
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