The highest-rated company, Amazon.com, once again tops the Customer Service Hall of Fame list this year — for the fifth consecutive time.
In collaboration with research survey group Zogby Analytics, 24/7 Wall St. polled 2,500 adults about the quality of customer service at 150 of America’s best-known companies in 15 industries, asking if that service was “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor.”
Those with the highest percentages of “poor” rankings make up the Customer Service Hall of Shame; those with the highest “excellent” ratings make up our Customer Service Hall of Fame. (See how the survey was done and full results on the last page of this article.)
For many of the companies with the top-rated customer service, this is not their first time on the list. Eight of the 10 have made the Hall of Fame at least once before. Trader Joe’s, UPS and Apple have made the list at least five times since 2009.
The companies with the highest-rated customer satisfaction are spread across a range of industries. Companies like Trader Joe’s, Chick-fil-A and American Express are in industries that generally do not rate very highly for customer service.
While only two of the highly rated companies are in the hospitality industry, several other companies on the Customer Service Hall of Fame model their customer relations after that industry.
“Nobody knows more about being hospitable than the hospitality industry,” said Micah Solomon, customer service consultant. “When you are selling a rectangular room, you have to do everything you can to move far out of the commodity zone through service, so that is what great hospitality companies concentrate on.”
Solomon explained how other companies, such as Apple and Chick-fil-A, developed their customer service. “Instead of benchmarking the direct competition, they sent their managers to the Ritz-Carlton training program. And that is where they learned many things: how to greet customers, how to probe for and serve unexpressed wishes, and so forth.”
Although many of the best-rated customer service companies have little in common, they do, by and large, offer a good working environment. According to Shep Hyken, customer satisfaction expert, keeping employees happy is essential to customer satisfaction. “There’s a correlation between your list and another list: the best companies to work for.”
In fact, two companies on our list — Apple and Chick-fil-A — were among Glassdoor.com’s 2014 best companies to work for. Almost all of the companies in the Hall of Fame had above-average Glassdoor.com reviews.
This is 24/7 Wall St.’s Customer Service Hall of Fame
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 35.7%
For years, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has received accolades for its customer service. The technology giant made the Customer Service Hall of Fame each year from 2009 to 2012.
Apple’s success in the ultra-competitive smartphone market reflects the company’s ability to keep customers satisfied. In the United States, Apple has a leading 41% share of the smartphone market, according to comScore. The company posted $171 billion in revenue in the most recent fiscal year, an increase of 9% over the previous year.
But beyond the company’s cutting-edge technologies, Apple’s consumer appeal may also be the result of the company’s top-down approach to customer appreciation. For example, CEO Tim Cook has stated that he reads customer emails on a daily basis. According to Solomon, part of Apple’s success with its customers is due to its decision to mimic the hospitality industry. Apple’s Genius Bar, for example, is “a direct emulation of the concierge area at a large hotel.”
Apple employees are also satisfied with their jobs, likely improving the customer experience. Glassdoor.com rated Apple one of the 50 best places to work for in America this year.
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 36.2%
Hewlett-Packard is one of the world’s top PC makers. The company began to lose sales when lower cost providers from China entered the market. Overall PC sales — and with them the companies’ sales — began to decline in earnest with the consumer shift toward tablets and smartphones.
It also failed to launch successful alternatives to the PC and struggled within the tablet market as competition has intensified. Partly as a result, revenue declined from $127 billion in 2011 to slightly more than $112 billion in 2013.
Despite its recent challenges, however, customers still report extremely good experiences with HP. More than 36% of survey respondents reported an “excellent” experience with HP, while just 5.5% rated the company’s service poorly.
While the company’s sales are down substantially from their peak, the company’s PCs are often considered among the most wallet-friendly products on the market.
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 36.5%
Sony Corp.’s (NYSE: SNE) track record of customer service remains strong. Sony has been on the Customer Service Hall of Fame list for several years now. This year, more than 80% of respondents deemed Sony’s customer service to be either “excellent” or “good.”
The success of the PlayStation 4 may be a good measure of customers’ happiness with Sony. The next-generation console released late last year has consistently outsold its rival, Microsoft’s Xbox One.
According to its website, Sony has some 5,300 customer service locations globally. The company’s 2013 annual report also touts easy-to-use products and services as a key factor for promoting customer satisfaction.
But while the company succeeds in satisfying customers, investors may be less pleased. Despite a 14.3% revenue increase in its most recent fiscal year — due to a weak yen, growth in smartphones and the success of the PlayStation 4 — Sony posted its fourth annual loss in five years. The Japanese technology giant also said it would post another net loss in 2015.
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 36.7%
United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS) shipped an average of 14.4 million packages per day in 2013, 3.7% more than the year before. Despite the increase in the number of daily shipments, the company has maintained its outstanding record of quality customer service. UPS has been named to the Customer Service Hall of Fame each year since 2010.
The UPS customer experience includes UPS My Choice, which gives consumers the ability to specify how they want their packages delivered. The company touts the program as having nearly 7 million users as of last year.
As Calkins pointed out, with “thousands and thousands of employees and every day millions of interactions with customers,” ensuring quality customer service is extremely difficult. Yet, rival FedEx has typically also fared well in customer service, having also been named to the Customer Service Hall of Fame each year from 2010 through 2013. Although FedEx missed making the list this year, it was only by a small margin.
Quality customer experiences have likely driven up the value of the UPS brand, which was valued at more than $13.7 billion in 2013, according to global brand consultancy firm Interbrand.
6. Trader Joe’s
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 37.2%
Popular grocery store chain Trader Joe’s has developed a unique identity in a very competitive industry, despite spending remarkably little on advertising. In addition to providing a unique selection of wines and food, the company offers a unique atmosphere.
According to Calkins, the brand is “full of personality and people really like that.” For example, associates wear Hawaiian shirts and use maritime bells to communicate.
In contrast to many of the nation’s best companies for customer service, Trader Joe’s is relatively small. The chain has just over 400 stores, and its first store opened outside of California only in 1993.
Trader Joe’s has made the Customer Service Hall of Fame in four of the past five years. This year, more than 37% of respondents rated Trader Joe’s service as “excellent.” The company has exceptionally strong customer satisfaction scores for a grocery chain — it is the only company in the industry to make the Hall of Fame this year.
5. American Express
> Pct. ratings “excellent”: 37.7%
Unlike many other companies on the Hall of Fame, opinions of customer service at American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) are especially inconsistent.
In 2012, the credit card company made the Customer Service Hall of Fame. Last year, however, the company was on the Hall of Shame list, with 14% of survey respondents reporting “poor” experiences with American Express. This year, the company is back in the Hall of Fame, with nearly 38% of respondents reporting “excellent” experiences.
Credit card companies associated with banks tend to suffer from the banks’ often poor public images. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — banks that issue their own credit cards — all made our Customer Service Hall of Shame list this year.
While American Express has a banking component, it is generally considered a credit card company and has largely avoided the negative association with the banking industry.
Employees also seem to be relatively satisfied. Reviewers at Glassdoor.com gave American Express above average ratings as an employer.
> 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.
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.
> 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.”
24/7 Wall St. commissioned Zogby Analytics to conduct an online national survey in which 2,500 randomly chosen respondents rated customer service at 150 of the best-known companies in the country. Fifteen industries are represented in the study.
Respondents were asked to evaluate customer service quality as “excellent,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” Of the 150 companies, 108 companies had at least 500 valid responses. Companies with fewer valid responses were not considered.
The 10 companies with the highest percentage of “poor” responses represent our Customer Service Hall of Shame. Using the same methodology, the 10 with the highest percentage of “excellent” responses became our Customer Service Hall of Fame. This is the first year 24/7 Wall St. has conducted this study.
In previous years, the study was conducted by MSN and Zogby Analytics.