Most large companies aspire to have a reputation for exceptional customer service. Only a select few, however, manage to earn it.
In order to find those companies that truly stand out by creating positive customer experiences, 24/7 Wall St. collaborated with research survey group Zogby Analytics, which polled more than 1,500 adults about the quality of customer service at 151 of America's best-known companies in 15 industries, asking if the service is excellent, good, fair, or poor.
The companies with the highest share of poor ratings make up the Customer Service Hall of Shame; those with the most excellent ratings make up the Customer Service Hall of Fame. This year, e-commerce company Amazon.com topped the list for the sixth year in a row.
Many companies with top rated customer service have repeatedly made the list. In addition to Amazon.com, six other companies have made the list at least once before, including Apple, Trader Joe's, and UPS, which are making their sixth appearance this year. Other companies are breaking into the Hall of Fame for the first time. Kroger made its debut this year, coming in as the highest ranked supermarket chain.
Of the six technology companies with enough responses to be considered, three made the Hall of Fame, while the remaining three scored better than the majority of companies.
To discuss our findings, 24/7 Wall St. spoke to Praveen Kopalle, Professor of Marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Kopalle explained that the success of electronics companies such as Apple, Sony, and Samsung, may have to do with the demanding and competitive nature of the industry. He noted that tech customers are fickle and more likely than those in other industries to change their mind and use other products if they don't have a positive experience. "It is a fast-changing industry," Kopalle said. "Customers are always looking for newer and better things, and service becomes critical."
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Shep Hyken, customer service and experience expert, explained how Apple in particular has managed to stand out in the technology sector.
"Customer service is not a department, it is a philosophy. Let's use Steve Jobs as an example.
He was so focused on the customer from the very beginning. And that means people in innovation, packaging, shipping, on the retail level, and on the support level. Everything has a customer focus to it" Hyken noted.
Another industry that tends to do well is supermarkets. Kroger's and Trader Joe's both made the Hall of Fame, and Whole Foods fell just shy.
Kopalle noted that supermarket chains engage in good customer service by necessity in order to compete against massive discount stores such as Wal-Mart. "The question is how do you fight and survive and be profitable while Wal-Mart is trying to stock up and sell similar things. And they quickly realize that customer service is a really important way to keep customers." It is notable that Wal-Mart makes this year's Customer Service Hall of Shame.
Respondents gave many reasons for rating a company poorly or well, but the majority of the responses was directly related to their interaction with a company employee. Because of this, it may be that customer satisfaction is tied closely with employee satisfaction.
"Customers get their service by interacting with the employees, and so for the employees to provide better service, they have to take ownership of what they are selling," Kopalle explained. "If you have employees who are motivated, who take ownership, who take pride in what they do, that translates to customer satisfaction right away." Indeed, many of the companies that made this year's Hall of Fame — notably Apple and Chick-fil-A — score exceptionally well for employee satisfaction on Glassdoor.com.
This is 24/7 Wall St.'s Customer Service Hall of Fame.
>Pct. ratings "excellent": 59.4%
For the sixth consecutive year, Amazon.com has topped the customer service Hall of Fame. Less than 2% of survey respondents reported a poor experience, and 59.4% reported excellent customer service, by far the highest percentage among all companies reviewed.
The Internet retail behemoth makes a considerable effort to satisfy its customers — and its self-described "customer obsession" may partly explain the high level of customer satisfaction. Kopalle noted Amazon.com's anticipatory shipping feature is exemplary of the company's innovation in customer satisfaction. The service, which the company recently obtained a patent for, would use order histories to predict what a customer will need, and then ships to nearby warehouses and hubs before they even purchase the item.
Even though sales increased 25% in its fiscal 2014, Amazon.com reported a net loss of $241 million. The drop was due in part to poor sales of the FirePhone, which did not fare well on the market and cost the company tens of millions of dollars. Investors did not seem overly concerned, however, as Amazon.com's stock price continued to increase at the time of the earnings report. In fact, the company has earned a reputation for prioritizing innovation and customer satisfaction over profits. Amazon.com claims that it saves its customers up to $2 billion in the holiday season alone with the free-shipping component of Prime membership.
>Pct. ratings "excellent": 47.0%
For the second year in a row, Chick-fil-A is the only fast-food chain to make the Customer Service Hall of Fame. And at the rate its customer service is improving it might take the top spot within a year or two. Of those surveyed, 47% rated the company's customer service as excellent, nearly 10 percentage points higher than last year's 38.6% of respondents.
An overall positive customer experience is good for business — and Chick-fil-A is proof. The company boasts on its website 47 consecutive years of sales growth, culminating with nearly $6 billion in sales in 2014.
Customer service at this fast-food chicken restaurant was superior to every other restaurant included in our survey. Most other restaurants, including Pizza Hut and Wendy's, had between 20% to 30% of customers rating their experience as excellent.
>Pct. ratings "excellent": 40.0%
With 40% of customers surveyed reporting an excellent experience with the company, Apple is getting close to the top spot in the customer service Hall of Fame. The company's customer satisfaction rating improved by nearly 5 percentage points from last year when it ranked 10th with 35.7% of respondents rating Apple's customer service as excellent.
Having a decent product often influences how customers perceive their experience with a particular company, and Apple products consistently rank at or near the top of Consumer Reports lists for overall quality. Apple's continuously growing sales also suggest a satisfied customer base. Apple is expected to report $49 billion in sales in the last quarter, a 30% increase from the same quarter last year.
Furthermore, based on over 5,000 Apple employee reviews on Glassdoor.com, Apple received a score of 4 out of 5 for employee satisfaction, an exceptionally high score. According to Kopalle, customer satisfaction is a direct result of "employees who are motivated, who take ownership, who take pride in what they do." Kopalle added that Apple's customer service employees fit this description nicely.
>Pct. ratings "excellent": 39.2%
According to the company's website, the first of Marriott's core values is to put people first: "Take care of associates and they will take care of the customers." Survey results indicate that the company takes this motto seriously.
Marriott scored well for employee satisfaction on Glassdoor.com with 2,000 company employees rating it an average of 3.7 out of 5. Additionally, 88% of survey respondents approved of CEO Arne Sorenson. For Marriott, employee satisfaction has likely translated to customer satisfaction.
This year, 39.2% of survey respondents rated their customer experience with Marriott as excellent. Though this year's scores were roughly the same as last year's when 39.9% of respondents rated the customer service as excellent, the company ranked third in last year's Customer Service Hall of Fame compared to fourth this year.
>Pct. ratings "excellent": 38.6%
Kroger operates 2,626 grocery stores in 34 states and an additional 780 convenience stores in 19 states — it is the country's second largest retailer, behind Wal-Mart. Kroger recently introduced a store-within-a-store concept, which is exciting for many customers, according to Kopalle. Kroger has added stores such as Starbucks and Murray's Cheese Shop to its various locations.
More than 77% of survey respondents reported a good or excellent experience with Kroger. And only 2.7% rated the customer service at the supermarket chain poorly.
24/7 WALL ST.: The rest of the Top 10 Hall of Fame
24/7 Wall St. commissioned Zogby Analytics to conduct an online national survey in which more than 1,500 randomly chosen respondents rated customer service at 151 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.
When a company with multiple divisions scored as one of the best or worst for customer satisfaction, the company was only listed once in our rank.
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 second year 24/7 Wall St. has conducted this study.