Special Report

Customer Service Hall of Fame

4. Chick-fil-A
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 38.6%

Chick-fil-A’s customer service track record includes a number of innovative ideas. According to Solomon, Chick-fil-A adopted the policy of responding to customers with the phrase “my pleasure” from Ritz-Carlton, the luxury hotel chain.

More recently, in an effort to demonstrate transparency in the food preparation process, Chick-fil-A began allowing customers to take tours of its kitchens.

The chain’s employees appear to be satisfied as well. In 2014, Chick-fil-A was rated one of the best companies to work for by Glassdoor.com.

Chick-fil-A is the sole restaurant in the 2014 Customer Service Hall of Fame, with 38.6% of survey respondents rating the chain as having “excellent” customer service. Major national chains such as Domino’s, KFC and McDonald’s received top ratings from barely 20% of customers.

Chick-fil-A’s faith-based identity is at the core of what distinguishes the company, but also on occasion a source of controversy. Founder Truett Cathy’s religious convictions appear to have inspired the chain’s policy of always closing on Sundays. His son, current CEO Don Cathy, spurred controversy in 2012 when he stated his opposition to gay marriage.

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3. Marriott International
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 39.9%

Marriott International Inc. (NASDAQ: MAR) is well-regarded for its customer service and for its commitment to treating its employees fairly. Company founder Willard Marriott was famous for his hands-on approach — the company notes that he thought that well-treated employees are key to the company’s success.

Even today, employees at Marriott report being treated well. According to Glassdoor.com, more than three-quarters of employees would recommend Marriott to a friend, and both the company and its CEO are well-liked by workers. During the recession, Marriott ensured that all of its employees kept their benefits despite shortening shifts.

Hyken emphasized that treating employees well contributes to good customer service. Marriott has been among Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” every year since the magazine started producing the list in 1998, one of only a handful of companies to achieve this.

Popular reward programs that provide additional benefits for long-time customers, or deals that offer a free night, are hallmarks of the hotel industry, Praveen Kopalle, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, explained. “[Marriott and Hilton] have done an amazing job of managing these programs and it’s showing in customer retention.”

2. Hilton Worldwide
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 41.4%

Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NYSE: HLT) has the best customer service of any hotel company in the United States. What’s more, the company is one of just two businesses this year to gain an “excellent” rating for its customer service from more than 40% of respondents.

The company has a long track record of pioneering new initiatives to win the satisfaction of its guests. In 1947, the Roosevelt Hilton in New York City became the first hotel to offer in-room television. In 1959, Hilton developed the world’s first airport hotel. And in 1989, the company instituted a customer satisfaction policy wherein unsatisfied customers are not expected to have to pay.

Hilton has been able to maintain its customer service focus despite being one of the largest hotel chains in the world, with over $9.7 billion in revenue and more than 4,000 hotels and resorts systemwide. After being taken private by the Blackstone Group in 2007, Hilton Worldwide had one of the largest IPOs in 2013.

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1. Amazon.com
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 57.5%

Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) leads the 2014 Customer Service Hall of Fame for the fifth consecutive year. In addition to receiving by far the highest percentage of “excellent” responses, less than 2% rated the company “poor,” the smallest negative perception of any company reviewed.

According to Kopalle, Amazon.com does several things very well. As the largest online shopping site in the world, it offers a level of convenience that is difficult for other businesses to match.

The company’s roots as a technology company also help customer service. The site maintains the customers’ purchase history and makes suggestions accordingly. This is part of an extremely valuable pool of “data about [a] customer’s behaviors and habits,” Kopalle said. It would be very difficult “to recreate that profile at any other company.”

To the extent that customer service leads to better financial performance, Amazon.com is clearly doing something right. The online retailer reported sales of $74.5 billion last year, nearly triple the 2009 sales of $24.5 billion. Despite top line growth, Wall Street remains divided over Amazon.com’s prospects.

According to Calkins, “Amazon is interesting. They clearly are doing something right. The interesting question long-term for Amazon is will people pay more for that level of customer service.”

Click here to see the customer service hall of shame

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