1. J.C. Penney
J.C. Penney went from being a mediocre national retailer with modest challenges to one of the great public company management disasters of the last few years. Former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson joined as CEO in November 2011, and promptly decided to radically change the chain’s pricing policy. The negative reaction was immediate. Sales fell 20% in the first full quarter after Johnson began to implement his plans, and the company continued to lose sales at a rapid rate. Customers defected in droves as a sign of their dissatisfaction with the new retail model laid out by Johnson. And with its stock falling more than 40% since Johnson joined, shareholder are also livid with the company, which has also completely eliminated its dividend. Durban Capital’s retail analyst Steve Kernkraut recently said, “It’s been a disaster, and it probably will continue to be a disaster. They’ve made every misstep you could imagine.”
2. Dish Network Corp. (NASDAQ: DISH)
Dish’s remarkably poor customer service ratings show up in more than one survey. Customers knock its record in both the ACSI and in the MSN Money/Zogby poll. In the latter, it makes the “hall of shame” as one of the 10 worst-rated companies. Dish further alienated itself from its customers last May when it dropped several channels, including AMC. Among the shows that went off the satellite service were the highly popular “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” Employee ratings of their experiences at the company are as terrible of those of its customers. In a recent BusinessWeek story titled “The Meanest Company in America,” former and current employees called the environment created by the company’s founder as a “culture of condescension and distrust.” Glassdoor’s employee rating for Dish is among the worst in its entire survey that covers thousands of companies. Dish recently made an offer to buy broadband provider Clearwire, which would expand the satellite TV company’s broadband presence.
3. T-Mobile USA
Last year, plans were in the works for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) to buy the U.S. branch of this struggling wireless carrier from its parent company, Deutsche Telekom. In December, AT&T cancelled those plans after the Justice Department sued to block the acquisition, saying the deal would “substantially lessen competition” in the industry. It appears that Deutsche Telekom is is now stuck with what is increasingly becoming the black sheep of the big four U.S. carriers. T-Mobile’s 4G network in the U.S. lags the other three carriers, and customer satisfaction is tied with AT&T mobility as the worst among wireless carriers, according to the ACSI. T-Mobile also rated as one of the worst in customer service according to MSN/Zogby’s annual poll. T-Mobile plans to improve its position through a marriage with smaller wireless company MetroPCS. It also plans to finally offer its customers the iconic iPhone. The fact of the matter is that these changes may be too little, too late. The company had an extraordinary net loss of 1,558,000 subscribers in the first three quarters of last year, out of the roughly 33 million it had at the end of 2011. During the same time, AT&T and Verizon Wireless continued to gain customers.
4. Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB)
Facebook alienated its investors in a particularly public fashion, which was played out for days in many major media outlets in the U.S. and abroad. Its IPO was one of the most widely anticipated since the dot-com public offering bubble years of 1999 and 2000, which was immediately followed by a collapse in the value of many of those offerings. From its IPO price of $35, the stock fell to below $20 in less than three months. Facebook has had customer satisfaction issues for some time, but recently did a particularly good job of alienating a portion of its nearly one billion members. According to the ACSI, Facebook is one of the most strongly disliked American companies, beaten out only by three public utilities companies. This comes in part from the company’s continuing user privacy concerns. Mark Zuckerberg’s company did not help itself in this regard in 2012, after it announced that it had the right to republish any and all photos in the accounts of its Instagram users.
5. Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C)
Citigroup sacked CEO Vikram Pandit late last year, after he had shepherded the bank through the financial crisis and then fired thousands of workers as well. That, on its own, would be enough to destroy employee morale, but the bloodletting was not over. Pandit’s successor, Michael Corbat, said he would fire 11,000 more. The bank’s board may have been frustrated with the pace of cost reductions under Pandit, but that was not the only issue that the board apparently believed had hurt long-term shareholder value. Pandit’s mishandling of the sale of its Smith Barney unit caused Citi to write down $2.9 billion, and the action triggered a cut in its credit ratings by Moody’s. Such actions did not endear Citi to investors. The recovery of Citi’s shares since the global financial meltdown has been far worse than its major competitors. Citi’s relationship with its customers has also been awful. It took a place on the MSN Hall of Shame of the 10 worst companies in America based on customer service. Its ACSI ratings, already low, further plunged in 2012. According to Interbrand, Citi’s brand value dipped 12% last year, and is now only two-thirds that of rival J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM).