Automation was supposed to make everything better, but when it comes to customer service, hunting online for help or punching through a robotic menu on the telephone to find a real human being can be more tortuous than a Donald Trump comb-over.
Consumer Reports is out with the best and worst industries and companies for customer service. Some are no-brainers — as in companies where support staff literally appear to be brainless — while others are a bit of a surprise. The results are based on surveys collected over the last three years. Industries are scored on a scale from zero to 100, with 100 being perfect customer service.
#5 - FAST FOOD RESTAURANTS
Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don't upset us! The fast food industry as a whole scored an 84 on the Consumer Reports list, though the old jingle for Burger King apparently isn't resonating anymore. According to the magazine's Consumerist, Burger King customer satisfaction is near the bottom of the burger pile, just ahead of Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, and last-place McDonald's. In first place, however, is Chick-fil-A, scoring well even though it's not open on Sundays.
#4 - PHARMACIES
When Americans need their drugs, they need them NOW. Consumer Reports says pharmacies scored an 85 based on staff courtesy and helpfulness. Wegmans is considered especially good.
#3 - BROKERAGE FIRMS
Brokerage firms have had to step up customer service in an age of online trading. The industry scored 86 on the Consumer Reports barometer, with Vanguard getting top marks.
#2 - AUTO INSURANCE
You pay your premiums so that when you're rear ended, you get results. Auto insurances companies slightly edged out brokerage firms on the list, and USAA was tops.
#1 - CREDIT UNIONS
Top credit for customer service goes to credit unions, scoring a 90. The best of the best is Schoolsfirst FCU, a credit union for teachers in Southern California. It has nearly $11 billion in assets and 600,000 members.
... AND THE WORST
While airlines and electronics stores were in the middle of the pack, two industries tied for dead last:
The Maytag repairman needs to get his act together, at least on the phone. Maytag is listed among the worst performers by Consumer Reports in a category which scored a paltry 64. However, Maytag is several notches above last-placed Sears. (Maytag and Sears did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.)
COMPUTER TECH SUPPORT
Well, you knew this one would be last. I'd rather have root canal than deal with IT. This industry also scored 64, with HP/Compaq at the bottom. (HPQ declined to comment.) Scoring best was Apple. Consumer Reports "mystery shoppers" called both companies for "help," and found that the phone number for Apple support could be more easily found online. As for HP, "If you want a number, you must enter all this personal information into their online form and submit it," the magazine reports. Once you finally get a real person on the phone, "Tech support couldn't diagnose the problem without model and serial numbers, so be sure you have them." Oh yeah, I carry the serial number for my PC in my wallet. Doesn't everyone?