Special Report

Customer Service Hall of Shame

7. AOL
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 18.1%

In the years following its spinoff from Time Warner, AOL Inc. (NYSE: AOL) has repositioned itself as a content provider. AOL owns a number of notable media entities, including TechCrunch, Engadget and The Huffington Post, some of the most frequently visited sites on the Internet. AOL also hosts its own homepage, which is still among the Internet’s largest portals.

While AOL no longer brings to mind free CDs and promotions, the company still derives a major portion of its business from subscribers. In the first quarter, $150 million of its $583 million in revenues came from subscriber payments. The segment also accounted for the bulk of the company’s operating profits.

AOL’s membership and account business has been criticized in the past for the difficulty customers had in cancelling their accounts. Some consumers were also annoyed by the number of unsolicited free AOL install disks they had received in the mail.

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6. Time Warner Cable
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 19.9%

Nearly 20% of survey respondents said they had a “poor” customer service experience with Time Warner Cable.

In December 2013, the Federal Trade Commission fined Time Warner Cable $1.9 million for charging higher rates to customers with poor credit histories without notifying them. Charging customers more for a service without their knowledge is likely not a good way to inspire strong customer service ratings.

Time Warner Cable lost more than 800,000 video users, or nearly 7% of its total, between the end of 2012 and the end of 2013. This is part of a larger “cord cutting” trend that has cost Time Warner Cable and its rivals millions of video customers in recent years, as streaming services such as Netflix have gained in popularity.

In a written response, the company said it had “introduced one-hour appointment windows and expanded weekend and evening appointment options in a growing number of Time Warner Cable service areas” to offer better customer service.

Time Warner Cable and Comcast are pursuing a merger. The deal is currently being evaluated by regulators, who are focused on the impact the deal will have on consumers and customer service.

5. DirecTV
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 20.3%

More than one in five survey respondents reported a “poor” experience with DirecTV. Regulators, too, have been critical of the company’s relationship with customers in the past. DirecTV has been fined for violating customer agreements on multiple occasions over the past decade.

DirecTV is now awaiting government approval for its merger with AT&T, another company with a poor customer service rating. Whether the merger will serve the public interest and improve the DirecTV customer experience remains to be seen. At the very least, the companies plan to bring broadband service to millions of rural Americans previously outside the range of service.

DirecTV claims its customer service is better than most companies in the industry. But the company is one of four cable or satellite TV companies on the Hall of Shame this year. Ensuring the quality of the product may be easier than ensuring quality customer service. As Hyken explained, while these companies offer a highly sought-after service, “you have to be home for four hours and take a half-day off work if you want a guy to install it.”