18 Companies That Consumers Absolutely Hate

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Many major companies survive while routinely aggravating millions of customers. Some pay for advertising to hide their flaws. Others benefit from parity within their industry. Many of the worst succeed thanks to near-monopolies.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index rates hundreds of companies based on satisfaction surveys. Our selection of the 18 worst includes four airlines and four cable companies.

“These are not terribly competitive industries, as the switching barriers for most of them are quite high,” said David VanAmburg of ACSI. “In other industries, like the food or clothing sector, the competition is huge. They bend over backwards to make customers happy, because they have to.”

Big companies tend to fare worse than smaller ones, VanAmburg says. “When a company grows, there is a tendency to lose customer focus.”

And what companies are bigger than ever? Banks, which claim three spots on this consumer blacklist.

AT&T Mobility

Satisfaction rating: 69/100

Common complaints:

  • dropped calls -- especially in New York City, San Francisco, and other major metropolitan areas
  • limited coverage -- and that goes for AT&T and rival Verizon
  • no choice for consumers who use iPhones

Analysis: AT&T has had problems ever since taking on the popular, data-heavy iPhone as an exclusive product. Recent efforts to improve service have paid off, however, increasing their satisfaction rating by 2 points this year.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

DIRECTV

Satisfaction rating: 68/100

Common complaints:

  • unexpected extra fees, including up to $480 to cancel service
  • multi-year contracts
  • spotty reception for local TV and certain channels
  • aggressive practices by contractors and telemarketers

Analysis: DIRECTV saw its satisfaction rating fall by 3 points, partly because the company raised its rates in February 2010, while its competitors did not change prices. This might be an example of a company that faces the challenge that David VanAmburg was talking about when he said that there is a possibility of losing customer focus when a company grows.*

*ACSI called us to clarify that David VanAmburg was not talking about DIRECTV in particular in this context, but about challenges that big companies generally face.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Citibank

Satisfaction rating: 68/100

Common complaints:

  • high overdraft fees
  • other complaints associated with big banks

Analysis: Although Citigroup was tarnished by the government bailout in 2008, its satisfaction rating dropped by only one point, less than JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. But all of these bigger-than-ever banks are aggravating customers. People are particularly upset that bailed out banks aren't lending. According to a correction of a New York Times article, Citibank has never charged for an overdraft fee on a one-time debit purchases.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index and Daily Data Point

JPMorgan Chase

Satisfaction rating: 68/100

Common complaints:

  • absurdly high overdraft fees according to a Federal Court suit
  • other complaints associated with big banks

Analysis: JPMorgan Chase suffered from its rebranding, as the reorganization was slow and some branches took a long time to present the new brand. Customer satisfaction fell 5 points after JPMorgan Chase became larger, as the bank was perceived as more impersonal, according to ACSI.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Bank of America

Satisfaction rating: 67/100

Common complaints:

  • high overdraft fees
  • other complaints associated with big banks

Analysis: Bank of America lost consumer satisfaction in the midst of the acquisition of Merrill Lynch. The satisfaction rating tumbled 6 points as the now enormous financial services company was burdened with cost-cutting and layoffs in 2009. Recently, new regulations forbid banks to let the customer automatically overdraft their accounts and let them pay high overdraft fees to the bank.

And congratulations to the only big bank not making our list: Wells Fargo.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

McDonald's

Satisfaction rating: 67/100

Common complaints:

  • occasionally rude workers that cost millions in lost sales yearly
  • unhealthy food -- although McDonald's has improved menus and products since '06
  • toys that lure kids to unhealthy food
  • low quality control at some franchises

Analysis: McDonald's was one of few fast food companies to lose points last year, falling 3 points to claim the industry's worst score. This doesn't match up with McDonald's rising sales, however, which have benefited from the bad economy. The burger company is still up 5 points from '06 following the introduction of healthier food.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Cox Communications

Satisfaction rating: 67/100

Common complaints:

  • usage caps were phased in last February, limiting most customers to 2 gigabytes per day

Analysis: Cox improved its satisfaction rating by 1 point last year, maintaining its lead on Time Warner, Comcast, and Charter. Cox has actually been touted as a success story compared to other cable companies. That said, consumers dislike all of these companies and tend to prefer satellite.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Wellpoint

Satisfaction rating: 67/100

Common complaints:

  • poor access 'critical medication', according to a CMS complaint in 2009
  • Proposed rate increases of up to 39%, drawing censure from the Obama administration
  • Rescissions of coverage that spurred to Health Care Reform, according to American Medical News

Analysis: Wellpoint shows a satisfaction rating lower than the industry average, declining one point since last year. The insurance company was blasted by Obama for planning a 25% rate increase, which was later revised to 14%.

Uncertainty that the healthcare market faces as the reform lies ahead doesn't help to reassure customers. 'It's tricky, because there is so much passion about healthcare reform on both sides,' said David VanAmburg.

Source: Reuters and American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Con Edison

Satisfaction rating: 66/100

Common complaints:

  • occasional slow service
  • rate increases -- adding around $10 per customer in the next three years

Analysis: Consolidated Edison scores the worst in the industry. Although there are better companies out there, utilities are generally protected by regional monopolies.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Facebook

Satisfaction rating: 64/100

Common complaints:

  • privacy and personal information protection

Analysis: With recurrent and never-ending controversies over privacy issues and the numerous changes to its interface, Facebook's consumers rank the social media company below other websites. It's even ranked below some airlines, which tend to have the worst results.

This is the first year ACSI has measured social media sites. Wikipedia earned the top score at 77.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

MySpace

Satisfaction rating: 63/100

Common complaints:

  • privacy and personal information protection

Analysis: My Space, compared to Facebook, does not attract new subscribers to its service and its traffic is slowly decreasing, putting in danger its advertisement partnership with Google.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

American Airlines

Satisfaction rating: 63/100

Common complaints:

  • long tarmac delays -- 20% of American Airlines flights were delayed from January to June 2010
  • baggage fees

Analysis: American Airlines's satisfaction rating is up 3 points this year, but remains far behind companies like Continental that have increased the number of non-stop flights or improved their in-flight services.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Delta

Satisfaction rating: 62/100

Common complaints:

  • flight delays -- 70.2% of Delta's flights were on-time in August 2010, that was below the average of 76.4% for all airlines, according to the Department of Transportation
  • baggage fees

Analysis: After the acquisition of Northwest, Delta saw its customer satisfaction drop by two points. The rating for Northwest, however, climbed from 57 to 61. If the merger leads to more flights from more airports, customers should be satisfied.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

US Airways

Satisfaction rating: 62/100

Common complaints:

  • below average staff, air crafts, reservations, check-in experience, and deals, according to JD Power
  • censured by the Department of Transportation for poor communication regarding delays
  • baggage fees

Analysis: US Airways ranks second worst in satisfaction, but this marks a nice improvement for the airline, which has gained 8 points since '08.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Time Warner Cable

Satisfaction rating: 61/100

Common complaints:

  • fraudulent business acts and bad service led to a lawsuit from the Los Angeles City attorney
  • usage caps instituted recently limit customers to 40 gigabytes per month
  • limited support for public access television -- they pay 43 cents a month per customer, whereas Verizon pays 143 cents
  • fees increasing each year faster than inflation
  • 'Business Class' service at BI's office is a joke -- with frequent blackouts and poor tech support

Analysis: For a long time, cable companies in general didn't have an incentive to improve their customer satisfaction, as they enjoyed a safe monopoly. Now, with competition from the satellite companies, they are forced to provide better quality services, but are still well behind them when it comes to customer satisfaction. Time Warner has gained two points since last year.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Comcast

Satisfaction rating: 61/100*

Common complaints:

  • blocked bit-torrent sites in a controversial net neutrality case -- which Comcast won
  • poor communication of upgrades and billing changes -- notably for customers of recently-bought out Suscon
  • vague usage caps -- they recently letters to the top 1 per cent of users and said they were violating terms of service
  • lost channels for customers who didn't upgrade to digital cable
  • long waiting time for technician -- sometimes not arriving in the 8-hour window when you were stuck at home
  • and it's raising prices again

Analysis: Comcast climbed 7 points since 2008, thanks to increased investment in customer service. One of the largest cable companies in terms of revenue, it remains one of the worst in terms of customer satisfaction.

*ASCI lists Comcast as a cable company (61/100) and a telephone company (68/100). In both cases it scores among the worst.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

United Airlines

Satisfaction rating: 60/100

Common complaints:

  • more long tarmac delays than any airline in June, according to Department of Transportation
  • baggage fees

Analysis: The big merge between United Airlines and Continental might have influenced the bad score of the company in consumer satisfaction. According to ACSI, a big merger in service companies usually have a negative impact on customer services in the short-term, because of organisation issues.

As with Delta-Northwest one would expect satisfaction to improve if the merger means more flights from more airports.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Charter Communications

Satisfaction rating: 60/100

Common complaints:

  • Improper billing practices led to a class action settlement in 2004
  • poor customer service following the closing of domestic call centres in 2006
  • Better Business Bureau issued a warning in 2007 following numerous complaints

Analysis: Charter communications, although it is at the bottom, has increased its satisfaction rating by 9 points this year. Plagued by a recent bankruptcy, the company had to cut cost and downsize heavily. It only became profitable in the first quarter of this year.

Source: American Consumer Satisfaction Index

Bad service can't last forever, or they will join...

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