The Businesses With the Best (and Worst) Customer Service

Few things annoy consumers more than bad customer service. Unfortunately, satisfaction with service has not improved since the 1970s, according to research from Arizona State University. Despite allocating more resources to address the problem, most companies have yet to get smart about how to make effective changes, frequently falling short when it comes to actually improving customer experiences.

Certain types of businesses have a better track record when it comes to receiving and dealing with formal complaints, and the same is true for providing customer assistance and support. The BBB says its number of customer complaints is down from previous years because customers have grown more proactive about who they do business with in the first place. Customer service is just one piece of total customer satisfaction, but it’s one that’s very important to consumers, with 88% of people surveyed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center reporting at least one customer service interaction in the past year.

To help you determine which businesses are most reliable at providing decent customer service, we’re bringing you the results of Consumer Reports’ survey of 22 industries. The customer service ratings shed light on the companies and industries you can count on for support, as well as the ones that tend to be more problematic. Credit unions came out on top, beating out big banks and scoring 90 points out of a possible 100 on the customer satisfaction scale.

The 5 best industries for customer service

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

5. Fast food restaurants

  • Reader score: 84
  • Barometer: Politeness, speed of service
  • Best service: Chick-Fil-A; Papa Murphy’s

4. Pharmacies

  • Reader score: 85
  • Barometer: Staff courtesy, helpfulness
  • Best service: Wegmans; Health Mart; Independents; Raley’s Bi-Mart; Medicine Shoppe; Kaiser Permanente; Smith’s Food and Drug; Publix; Stop & Shop; Hy-Vee; Costco; Sam’s Club; Hannaford; Kmart; Albertson’s

3. Brokerage firms

  • Reader score: 86
  • Barometer: Service
  • Best service: Vanguard; USAA; Betterment; T Rowe Price; Charles Schwab

2. Auto insurance

  • Reader score: 86
  • Barometer: Claims satisfaction
  • Best service: USAA; Amica; NJM; Auto Club Insurance Association

1. Credit unions

  • Reader score: 90
  • Barometer: Service
  • Best service: Schoolsfirst FCU; Wings Financial CU; Randolph-Brooks FCU

The 2 worst industries for customer service (tie)

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Computer tech support

  • Reader score: 64
  • Barometer: Phone support
  • Best service: Apple
  • Worst service: HP/Compaq

 Appliance repairers

  • Reader score: 64
  • Barometer: Phone support
  • Best service: Independent local stores
  • Worst service: Sears; KitchenAid; LG; Frigidaire; Maytag; Whirlpool; Samsung

Computer tech support and appliance repairers tied for the worst industries for customer service, and other notable low scorers were phone, Internet, and TV providers. Among the top irritants that survey respondents reported, the most common factors leading to severe annoyance were “can’t get a live person on the phone,” “customer service is rude or condescending,” and “disconnected.” Fortunately, if you have a customer service question for a company that you expect will be frustrating to deal with, there are some steps you can take to mitigate common issues.

How to prevent bad customer service

As part of its analysis, Consumer Reports asked for the advice of career customer-service experts, including Consumer Reports’ “acquisition” pros, who pose as regular consumers to sign up for services and buy products for testing purposes. The customer service strategies that work for these experienced super-users, whether on the job or at home, just might work for you too. The number one tip they had for everyday customers was to pick up the phone. Real-time assistance tends to be more efficient and useful than email.

If you are afraid of falling into the dreaded circle of hell of automated menu options and transfers, try a website like Get Human to find the proper number in the first place. Experts also suggest the old trick of pressing “0.” If that doesn’t work, you might try choosing the prompt for “sales,” “place an order,” or “customer retention,” where agents are more eager to please and might get you the help you need faster. When things don’t go your way, remember to show empathy for the rep on the other end of the line, and kindly ask for the same understanding in return. Check out the full list for more tips.

Whatever happens, always keep a detailed record of your customer service interactions.
Want more great content like this? Sign up here to receive the best of Cheat Sheet delivered daily. No spam; just tailored content straight to your inbox.