Dec. 2, 2009 at 5:16 PM ET
Noisy neighbors, traffic jams, and long checkout lines would find their way onto anyone's list of daily irritations. But when it comes to really raising people's blood pressure, nothing can compete with hidden fees, according to a new survey by Consumer Reports. In fact, companies taking money in sneaky ways was rated more than twice as annoying as another classic irritant: inaccurate weather reports.
Corporate misbehavior apparently smells so bad to consumers that hidden fees even far outpaced unscooped dog poop.
Negative interactions with companies dominated the rankings – which should be no surprise to regular Red Tape readers. "Not getting a human on the phone" ranked second (Visit GetHuman.com for help with that), and "incomprehensible bills," cracked the top five.
"We were surprised by that. I guess that the Al Rokers of the world are safe," said Mark Kotkin, director of survey research at Consumer Reports. "But a lot of the electronics industries and financial industries were hit pretty hard, at least the billing part of those companies."Rounding out the top five were two driving-related gripes: tailgating and cell phone use by drivers.
The survey was conducted in September and results are published in the January issue of Consumer Reports. The magazine asked a random sample of 1,125 Americans to score 21 gripes on a 1-to-10 scale, 1 meaning an experience “does not annoy you at all” and 10 meaning it “annoys you tremendously.”
Of course, the survey was slightly tongue-in-cheek and not comprehensive. Just a few of the choices that were missing from the list:
(You can add yours below)
But it's still telling that hidden fees and customer service frustrations prevailed by such a wide margin, considering the competition that was on the list. It included: Waiting for repair people (9th), Very slow drivers (12th), and poor airline service (16th).
Several technology-related irritants were also included: unreliable Internet service (7th), Spam (10th), and passwords and PINs (20th).
(To see the full chart, visit Consumer Reports)
Women, older adults more irritated
Perhaps a mere statistical curiosity, but the survey appears to confirm a few stereotypes about gripers: Women and adults over 50 were more prone to irritation. In particular, women took more offense than men to items like speeding drivers and products that shrink but cost the same, while older adults expressed plenty of techno-frustration about passwords and cell phone usage.
Kotkin said the list of choices was intentionally designed to exclude family issues and employment issues (such as gossipy co-workers), in an effort to make the survey more relevant to consumer issues.
While the survey was conducted partly for pure entertainment value ("it was something lighter and fun. Fun is not normally part of Consumer Reports," Kotkin said) companies could take the results to heart. The second-biggest gripe, inability to get human help, could be easily solved by hiring more staff, he said. Firms looking for an edge during tough economic times could easily endear themselves to shoppers through improved service.
Consumers can learn something, too, he said.
"There are some things you can control by going to the right vendor, like bad cell phone service or spam," he said. "People do have choices."
Do you agree with hidden fees as top irritant? What's missing from the list? Tell us below.