The Checkout

BW Picked the Best. You Choose the Worst

Business Week for the first time has ranked companies for their customer service.

The weekly magazine's timing came close to being laughably off. It nearly went to press listing discount airliner JetBlue as No. 4. Business Week deemed JetBlue's customer service fiasco the week of Valentine's Day catastrophic enough to yanked the company from the list altogether.

In addition to well-publicized meltdowns, Business Week based its rankings on a combination of factors: It started with brands already ranked by J.D. Power & Associates, commissioned J.D. Powers to survey customers about brands J.D. Powers doesn't track, and polled 3,000 BW readers. Niche brands were eliminated, and so were companies with less than $1.5 billion in sales

The companies that made the cut fell largely into three categories, the magazine said: "industry disrupters," such as financial services company Washington Mutual, privately-held or family-run businesses such as southeastern grocery chain Publix Super Markets Inc., and luxury brands, such as Four Seasons hotels and Toyota's high-end make Lexus.

One surprise is the "satisfaction index." It's amazing what a low proportion of respondents said they would recommend some of the top 25 brands. For example, only 34 percent said they would recommend No. 14 Washington Mutual, and 40 percent said they would recommend No. 8 UPS. Makes you wonder how many would recommend the next 75.

The most fascinating part of the story to me was a reference to businesses' response to the backlash against overseas call centers.

The answer to offshoring is "homeshoring," which is shorthand for an army of stay-at-home moms who, armed with a broadband connection and a computer, take customer service calls at home.

The flexible hours makes for loyal employees. According to BW, home-based agents have turnover rates of between 10 percent and 30 percent, compared with anywhere from 60 percent to 100 percent for the average call center.

Stephen Loynd, program manager for contact center services at market research firm IDC, predicts the number of home-based agents hitting 328,000 by 2010, up from 138,000 last year.

In the category of no-brainers, the story goes on to say that happy employees tend to produce happy customers.

You can check out the list for yourself here.

I would be a poor blogger, though, if I didn't let you know that In the spirit of American Idol, there is also a Vote for the Worst-style customer service competition going on right now at

Yes, you get to vote for the worst company in America in a series of face-offs, i.e. Best Buy v. U-Haul and Comcast v. Sony.

Your thoughts on either BW's list of champs or' brackets? Any companies you think should or should not be on there?

By Annys Shin |  February 26, 2007; 9:15 AM ET Customer Service
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Yikes! I am not sure that the whole of that 'vote for the worst' link was safe for work.

Posted by: Pru | February 26, 2007 9:46 AM

Vote for the worst- ZOMG! NSFW- W00T!!!1111

Anyway... as far as worst goes, well, we just posted our top ten gripes a week or so ago. The really annoying thing lately that I've noticed is how Comcast is always showing commercials about how CRAPTASTIC they are... whatever. When I moved to our nations capital region, I expected top-notch. I have NEVER seen cable freeze so much, or had the volume level change so drastically! I have some of the most sensitive hearing, yet sometimes I have to turn the volume almost all the way up on the TV to hear it, just to mash the volume or mute button on commercials, or when changing channels. Ditto for paying so much for their cable internet. I am actually considering saving LOTS of money by downgrading to DSL because I have had DSL that was just as fast...

Posted by: Chris | February 26, 2007 10:18 AM

Probably not a good idea to click on the on the Vote for the Worst link if you work in a government office or a control network environment. A little too spicy.

Posted by: Radioactive Sushi | February 26, 2007 10:20 AM

Sorry UPS has some of the worst customer service ever. My girlfriend is stationed out in Spokane and the lazy UPS driver loves to say on the tracking office closed on Friday so he can quit early. Sorry it s MEPS and stays open until at least 5pm bubba. The military needs the recruits. has happened multiple times.

Posted by: vaherder | February 26, 2007 10:29 AM

I moved out of the Washington area two years ago to Colorado, and I was shocked at what an entirely different customer service experience I had at Best Buy, Home Depot, and other chain stores. My blood pressure used to shoot through the roof just entering these stores, but out here they employ some really friendly and knowledgable people--it's amazing. One universal constant however is that cable and phone companies have lousy customer service EVERYWHERE.

Posted by: goldenbrowns | February 26, 2007 10:31 AM

With the inclement weather keeping me indoors, and Sunday afternoon football a thing of the past, what more could I have asked for that an afternoon of Wizards coverage (and a Guinness)? Imagine my disgust upon reallizing that this great pleasure would be denied to me yesterday. I imagine many of you feel the same. Let us give voice to our greivances so that we may be heard. ESPN handles programing for ABC Sports, which owned the rights to yesterdays broadcast. Call and complain at 860 766 2236 (press 0), or drop them an e-mail at
yours truly,

Posted by: deadbird | February 26, 2007 10:40 AM

I'm amazed those rip-off artists at Washington Mutual made it onto the best list. My rip-off experience with WaMu comes in second only to the worst customer service of all time, Verizon Wireless. As our various contracts with Verizon entities (phone, internet, cell) expire, we're dumping everything Verizon as soon as we possibly can. I'm deeply ashamed to have ever been part of Verizon and to have had my good name and credit associated with those lousy SOBs. In August, when we dump the last of our Verizon entities - the horrific Verizon Wireless - I will be more than happy to give VZW the very same suggestion that Dick Cheney gave to Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor.

Posted by: Rip-off artists | February 26, 2007 10:50 AM

Chris, if you've got digital cable, that may be part of the problem. It's been a while, but I remember when I used the Motorola boxes that Comcast provides in MoCo I used to keep the volume at about 15 out of 100 for regular channels, then turn it up to about 40 for digital channels. However, I found there's a setting that can (mostly) equalize this. It's under something like cable box setup, then it's in the audio section. It says something about compression, which normally means lower sound quality, but I think they meant dynamic range compression, because I didn't notice any sound quality difference, just a difference in volume.


Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | February 26, 2007 11:02 AM

Verizon: It's not the friggen network. It's the customer service, rather, the lack thereof. If there was such a thing as truth in advertising, Verizon would bring back Lily Tomlin as Ernestine the phone operator, with her trademark, "We're the phone company. We don't have to care."

Posted by: Mister Methane | February 26, 2007 11:13 AM

I was going to use the easy target and say "Best Buy" because I have had sooo (dripping with irony) much fun dealing with their customer service at the stores in Waldorf and Columbia, MD.

Then I had the pleasure of going in the Best Buy down here in St. Mary's. They should be the model for the entire chain. Excellent all around - knowledgeable staff that treat you with respect and courtesy.

So I will have to go with plan "B" : Verizon wireless. The "network" is so busy following people around they can't answer the trouble calls on the phone - maybe they should give them all one to use.

Posted by: SoMD | February 26, 2007 12:01 PM

Go on over to
I came in second last year on their contest. It is lots of fun.

See you there!!!

Posted by: Norma Lee | February 26, 2007 12:58 PM

I'm not sure how much trust to put in ratings like this. There's a computer maker called AlienWare, which is now part of Dell, that earned high marks from PC World for customer service, but all you have to do is use Google to find real stories of customer experiences ... all of them sound like nightmares.

The company has been sued in a class action for knowingly shipping laptops that overheat to the point of causing components to fail. Customers report that the company doesn't live up to its guarantee, sells something called "on-site service" that turns out to mean you get to open and work on your computer with one of their techs on the phone, and so on. Or they require that you order and install a new part before returning the machine and once you do that and it still doesn't work, oops, you're now past the 30-day window for returns.

PC World doesn't seem to be aware of this, or at least they have not written anything about it. I almost ordered an Alienware computer last year, and didn't because of all the horror stories I read.

But they have "award-winning service" according to their Web site.

Posted by: SteveG | February 26, 2007 1:00 PM

I was about to make a comment about how USAA would be at the top of my list, and look, there they are!

As someone in the military and someone who moves to a differnt state every three years or so, I can say that USAA has been a total joy to do business with. Their online banking is great, and they make changing insurance policies so simple. Insurance is different in every state, but they are always able to talk you through it and explain how policies are different or similar, and they always make sure that your coverage is comparable to what you had in your previous state. And I hardly ever have to wait before talking to a real person.

Posted by: jw | February 26, 2007 1:28 PM

backing jw on the USAA props. They are one of the only remaining companies that has good customer service and I am glad to see them at the top. I did have one bad experience with them over a claim, but it was the sub-contractors they hired out to to inspect my roof after a major hail storm. Their normal people were unavailable because of other disasters so it was not directly their fault... in any event, their reps have always been more than kind and talked me through just about everything, even going so far as to refund several overdraft fees caused when I was in college and a phone company charged me about $1000 in error. It made several things bounce, since as a poor college student I could not afford to cover everything. I made one phone call, and without any long waits or anything, I was taken care of.

I am kind of glad to see Publix on the list. I worked at one for over a year and loved how they always taught customer service- they even taught a class on how to properly bag groceries... common sense, but not enough people elsewhere care what canned goods wind up on top of. Anyway, after a year you are supposed to be allowed to buy stock. I kept asking for my stock paperwork and management would never get it to me. Eventually I had to move away... They took good care of the customer, but they needed to work on how they treated employees. I would have been rich!

Posted by: Chris | February 26, 2007 1:42 PM

Worst: American Airlines. I've only flown once, and it was direct. BF flew four times, each time he missed his connecting flight because they were consistently late. This was in the summer, so they can't blame weather.

Best: United Airlines. International flights are luxurious as far as economy flights go, and on my redeye last night the staff bent over backwards to make sure I wouldn't get stuck in LA if the first leg of my trip was late. Have flown several times on UA, none were ever more than 20 minutes late, even in the case of inclement weather. Have never missed a connection. Southwest is really great as far as making flights on time, but the customer service at UA is pretty fantastic.

Not sure if this qualifies, but I was impressed with UA anyway.

Posted by: Mona | February 26, 2007 1:57 PM

TMOBILE?????? Whatever BW is smoking, I want some! Holy cow. TMobile is awful to its deaf consumers, so much so that I switched to another wireless provider as soon as my contract with them was up. The Sidekick is cool, but not worth the crap you have to go through to climb the very anit-human telephone chain to troubleshoot it almost weekly when one thing or another on it breaks.

Another eye-popper: WEGMANS. Now, here is a store with great potential. Unfortunately, its customers in the Monument Drive store in FFX County make shopping there unbearable. Bunch of self-asorbed money-dripping elitest snobs I've ever seen. And yeah, to the middle aged white guy who thought my legally blind roommate should not be putting his own groceries on the conveyor belt because he didn't quite see you were intending to hog the whole checkout lane...yeah you, the guy who insisted my roommate stand behind his sighted companions like a helpless puppy all beacuse he caused YOU, a perfectly sighted, but mentally deficient yuppie, one second of inconvenience?? YOU are the reason Wegmans sucks. Get your head out of your arse.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 26, 2007 2:47 PM

And while I'm ranting: COMCAST- You will NEVER get my business by flooding my mailbox with 3 ...THREE... 3 advertisements for your cable service PER DAY on any given week. Stopping Comcasts spamming of my postal box is the only thing making me look forward to the day when the world runs out of trees! Grrr....

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 26, 2007 2:54 PM

My apologies to regular readers of this blog. I realize the posts above are not characteristic of me. I guess we all have a point where a company or experience pushes us into a frenzy. Thankfully, I shoot with words, not bullets. Thanks to Annys for providing the shooting range to practice in.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 26, 2007 3:01 PM

I don't usually have the same views as others: I love T-Mobile, never had an issue to date.
I understand the rant against Wegman's. I'll never set foot in the Hunt Valley store again. I actually feared for my daughter's safety. It was interesting to see the difference between that huge store crammed with rude people and the relatively small Whole Foods, also crammed with people but relatively laid back atmosphere allowed my daughter to push the cart without terror.
As for USAA, I have seen the good and the bad from them. They have been wonderful almost every time we've called about insurance, whether making policy changes or the time the Patapsco River ate one of our cars. However, I will never, ever, call their mortgage service line again. They were unbelievably rude and condescending. Don't need that, there are dozens of companies banging down the door to take my money and charge enormous fees for the effort!

Posted by: Must be me | February 26, 2007 3:39 PM

Well, compared to Sprint, Verizon has wonderful customer service! We just switched our cell phones over after being nickeled and dimed to death at Sprint. Plus the Sprint store is about the worst (at least in our area) that I've seen. A lot of unhappy customers and moronic clerks. By contrast, the Verizon store is large, with courteous knowledgeable reps and it was very pleasant to deal with.

I hate Comcast too and will finally be switching over to Verizon FIOS, which we got for our phone and Internet. Never had a problem with Verizon DSL while we had it for 4 years either.

Home Depot I've called Home Despot ever since they tried to overcharge us on a new door (which we didn't then order). Lowe's is much better.

Giant has definitely gone downhill since it got bought out customers and employees feel that way. Publix in FL is wonderful, and so is Ukrops in Richmond.

I've always had State Farm, and with the exception of one time, they've always been great. And that time wasn't our agent's fault, it was something from the home office. But they did not raise our rates from two car accidents where it wasn't our fault.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2007 4:30 PM

I also adore USAA. I recommend them to anybody who is eligible--and you'd be surprised who's eligible. I keep calling them and asking if I can do these odd and difficult things, like get acertified cashier's or bank check to someone across the country by 3pm the next day or sit on the phone with me for an hour and a half figuring out how I need to distribute my 401k plan, and invariably the answer is "No problem." They are always able to help me, are polite and friendly, and stay on the phone until all my questions are answered. I hope they're paid well, because they deserve it.

Posted by: Erin | February 26, 2007 5:07 PM

Worst: Kinko's. Incapable of doing even simple jobs correctly at least 50% of the time. And then there was the time I told a counterperson that the stack of copies he'd just handed me was unsatisfactory and needed to be redone, and he said, absolutely deadpan, "We'll have those for you in two hours." I sought out the manager and got a more reasonable turnaround time of five minutes, but what an outrageous, offensive thing to say in the first place!

Posted by: Staxman | February 26, 2007 5:12 PM

By far the worst for customer service.
At their Phila hub (3 of the 6 airport terminals), delayed and lost luggage is the norm. So bad it was featured on the CBS evening news on Feb 20.

When we had to cancel a last minute flight, providing the documentation they requested, they took 4 months to give us an answer, turning us down for a voucher.

Guess who just bought their stock to get on the agenda for the next stockholders meeting?

Posted by: US Airways | February 27, 2007 8:38 AM

But I guess they need the money. Their CEO is spending tonight in a Scottsdale, AZ jail for a DUI offense, after the failed delta acquisition.

Posted by: US Airways | February 27, 2007 10:00 AM

No apologies necessary CyanSquirrel. We all feel your pain.

Considering what happened to your friend it sounds like I will not be shopping at WEGMANS any time soon. I visualize the ignorant fool you wrote about parking in a handicapped space and jogging into the store. Sounds about his speed.

Posted by: SoMD | February 27, 2007 10:37 AM

Thankfully I haven't seen another person like him since. Everytime I go back, however (they have a great selection of fresh foods, like wine, meat, cheese, veggies, and bakery...what can I say?) I'm accosted by speeding carts that heed to NO ONE when flitting between the aisles; people (men in their 30's) who, despite me standing politely in "line" behind the person currently browsing the creamers and waiting for them to finish so I can make my selection, whip in from behind me (yes they saw me standing there...they joined the "line" after me) and take the very last creamer I had been eyeballing.....; and disappointed by the general atmosphere of every man for himself in both the aisles and the parking lot/garage. Good heavens. I go sparingly now. Their prices are almost at Whole Foods levels. I don't enjoy coming away from food shopping, normally relaxing for me regardless of where, with steam shooting out of my ears. It only happens at that Wegmans. Blah!

While on the supermarket spiel, in my opinion Harris Teeter *in general* has nicer customers and better prices than Wegmans. Giant...I go for last minute needs only, laughs. Safeway, forget it. Too many lines, out of stocks, and questionably long shelf lives for products at both Safeway and Giant, despite their good prices. Magruders is pretty good, just some massively long checkout lines at times. It reminds me of small town local grocery stores in both friendliness and limitations.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 27, 2007 1:58 PM

Something more: The parking lot and car models and traffic at this Wegmans looks like it should be at Tysons Corner Mall...sometimes even Tysons II. Nuff said.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 27, 2007 1:59 PM is terrible. I bought an end table for $80 from them five months ago. The top split and when I went out to their website, I found that everyone else who bought the table had the same problem. But, since it was beyond their STRICT 90-day return policy, they wouldn't take it back.

I called the "manufacturer" after Target finally found their contact information after a week of looking. The guy who answered had no clue. I told him my issue. He put me on "hold" and never came back.

I finally went to our local Target and the manager at Guest Services refunded my money. But the people at don't have a clue. I'll never buy from them again.

Posted by: Southeastern Reader | February 28, 2007 12:06 PM

I have to commend Giant, though, for being responsive.

I had terrible service consistently at my home Giant and finally complained to them. I wrote a full-page letter with names, times, etc., and made sure they knew that I was a life-long Giant shopper and how disappointed I was.

I got a call the very next day from a customer service person, who made sure that I was contacted by the store manager and the District Manager. Within two weeks, the bad employees were gone from the store and were replaced with new employees, and there was a new store manager.

I now enjoy going to my local Giant - the staff are friendly and courteous and the morale seems higher overall.

I was so impressed with how the corporation handled the situation.

Posted by: alexva | February 28, 2007 12:30 PM

AlexVA, I have the same issue at my Giant, on beauregard st. Just terrible attitudes by the checkout clerks, especially towards people with disabilities. I've watched as they refuse to help my roommate locate the pen to sign his receipt (he's deaf and legally blind, with tunnel vision, which means he really has to look to locate details. The clerks at this giant just stare at him with arms folded even though he's clearly gesturing for a pen. Complete turn off. I avoid going there even though it's a 2 minute drive because of these clerks. Harris Teeter is about double that drive time, but I've always experienced smiling and helpful clerks, and so has my roommate. I guess it all comes down to whether or not the place you go is enjoyable to go to. Store managers: customer service is important. Even the little things, like how you treat the least of us, are noticed by others.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 28, 2007 1:34 PM

I hate Verizon with a white hot passion. $45/month for home phone service? Ridiculous. And this is not to mention the probably 30-40 hours I have spent waiting for their technicians, and I've only lived in two places in DC. And then they would telemarket me and say they could save me money. I told the rep I'd love that, as I was paying $45/month. She was all cheerful and chipper while she frantically tried to figure out how to get me a more bare bones plan. She couldn't and even she sounded pretty disgusted at the price! I was soooo glad to switch to Earthlink DSL/VOIP (excellent service so far). For $50/month (yes, five more dollars than I paid verizon for phone service alone) I now have DSL and home phone service.

And verizon wireless--they know we have no choice but to use them because they're the only ones with repeaters in the metro tunnels (thanks metro for giving them exclusive rights for something ridiculous like $1000/yr). Their plans are outrageous and I am not a cell phone person so I do prepaid. Last year my phone was acting up so I took it to the Verizon store on F St. When I went to pick it up the guy said it was broken and had to be replaced (min $200). I asked what was wrong with it. He sighed and acted all put upon and went in the back and came back and said, "The battery is dead." I was like, "Can't you replace the battery?" After much sighing and pretending they didn't have the battery in stock he finally did. Ridiculous.

I had a bad experience with as well. I ordered a solid wood dining table and 4 chairs. It all came flat packed in a single box weighing, conservatively, 200 pounds. And they sent out ONE guy in a truck to deliver it. The one guy couldn't even slide it to the back of the truck by himself, much less bring it up to my third floor walkup and ended up getting some guy off the street in my not so nice neighborhood to help him. Of course, I had to pay the guy from the street for his services (not that I begrudge paying him, of course, but seriously, I paid for delivery!), in addition to tip for the delivery guy. Surely when the warehouse loaded the package they noticed that it couldn't be handled by one person?

Posted by: WDC | February 28, 2007 3:25 PM

That's one way to impact customer service...

Posted by: Bob | March 2, 2007 8:52 AM

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