The Nine Businesses Americans Complain About the Most

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ComplaintsMany of America's most successful companies can credit part of their strength to great customer service. Apple (AAPL) is highly regarded for the way it treats customers, both at its retail outlets and its website. Southwest (LUV) -- the most financially successful airline in America -- routinely gets the best customer satisfaction grades, and in an industry that is known for poor customer treatment. Netflix (NFLX), which has taken substantial revenue from cable companies and telecom providers, gets among the highest ratings in the well-regarded American Customer Satisfaction Index, released by the University of Michigan.

Poor customer service, on the other hand, is one of the primary reasons people tend to shun certain companies and even whole industries. 24/7 Wall St. identified the U.S. industries with the most complaints, as well as the troubles people have with them. If customer service is important to success, those we identified are in trouble.

24/7 Wall St. went to the Better Business Bureau in order to determine which industries received the most complaints in 2010. For each of the nine industries that stood out, we also narrowed down the most common complaints.


The Businesses Americans Complain About The Most:

9. Mortgage Brokers
• Number of Complaints Received: 9,545
• Most Common Complaint: Contract issues (not honoring promised rate or terms)

Last year, nearly 10,000 people complained to the BBB about receiving poor treatment from their mortgage broker. Many of these complaints were part of the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis, as the problems created by many of the poorly handled home loans continue to surface. The biggest complaints from customers were that they were overcharged; that companies used overly aggressive tactics to collect on loans; and that companies simply did not honor the conditions of the mortgage.

8. Internet Shopping

• Number of Complaints Received: 12,950
• Most Common Complaint: Failure to refund money when product doesn't arrive or arrives damaged

There are benefits to online shopping, mostly the convenience of having everything at your fingertips. The clearest drawback, however, is that you don't receive the product until well after you pay, and all kinds of things can -- and do -- go wrong. This is especially prevalent when buyers are dealing with other individuals, as is the case with eBay, which has the lowest customer satisfaction rate in the industry, according to the ACSI. The BBB received nearly 13,000 complaints last year alone from online retail customers. The biggest complaints were, as might be expected, not receiving the product one ordered, receiving a damaged product, and not receiving a refund even after not getting what was ordered.

7. Furniture - Retail
• Number of Complaints Received: 13,018
• Most Common Complaint: Failure to refund after furniture doesn't arrive or arrives damaged

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As is the case with online shopping, many of the problems consumers have with furniture retailers don't occur until after they've paid for the product and moved on to waiting patiently until it arrives. More than 13,000 complaints were filed against furnishing companies last year. The most common complaint was that the furniture simply never arrived, or that it had arrived with serious damage. Retailers often blamed the postal service, or even the customer for falsifying reports. Another common complaint, unsurprisingly, was that the retailers deliberately misrepresented the quality of the product they were selling.

6. Auto Repair and Services

• Number of Complaints Received: 13,178
• Most Common Complaint: Failure to fix problem

Anyone who has taken a car to the shop can likely relate, especially when the problem is unidentified. Mechanics have garnered a reputation for being among the most untrustworthy service people in American business. Because consumers generally know close to nothing about their cars when they bring them in, mechanics can easily blame a more expensive part as the source of a problem. Overcharging was not the biggest source of complaints, however -- perhaps because few people who get overcharged ever realize they were hoodwinked. The most common complaint to the BBB was simply the failure of the mechanic to fix the problem.

5. Collection Agencies

• Number of Complaints Received: 15,896
• Most Common Complaint: Harassing tactics

While auto mechanics may be considered untrustworthy, they don't come close to earning the kind of fear and hatred collection agencies do. Much of this dislike simply stems from the nature of the business, but there are nearly 16,000 complaints each year against agencies that allegedly have engaged in some truly despicable acts. Harassing tactics and adding fees to old debt are the most common complaints. A quick search of customer-rights website theconsumerist.com reveals too many horror stories, including a collector's threat to murder one woman's dog, or another suddenly demanding payment for a 13-year-old Internet bill.

4. Banks
• Number of Complaints Received: 22,648
• Most Common Complaint: Billing Issues (unnecessary fees, inaccurate information)

Nearly 23,000 complaints were filed with the BBB against America's banks last year. By far, the most frequent complaint had to do with billing, and the types of complaints related to this varied wildly. Some argued that their bank had charged them fees after an account had been closed. Others accused their company of inaccurate or incomplete information on their statements. Worst of all, people complained of being charged with unannounced and unexplained fees. The banks that received the worst customer satisfaction scores in the ACSI include JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC).

3. Cellular Phone Services & Equipment
• Number of Complaints Received: 27,973
• Most Common Complaint: Contract issues (not getting price promised, unnecessary fees)

Cell phone companies received one of the worst overall scores among the 50-odd industries covered in the ACSI. Nearly 28,000 complaints were filed against them last year. Common complaints include poor customer service, bad technical support, and issues of salespeople actually lying about the total price of the plans.

2. Television: Cable, CATV & Satellite
• Number of Complaints Received: 30,985
• Most Common Complaint: Misleading cancellation options.

In 2010, subscription television providers like Dish, DirecTV and Charter Communications had the third worst rating in the ASCI. According to the BBB, common issues include problems with billing, bad connections, the inability of workers to repair the bad connections, or repair workers simply not showing up at all. The most frequent complaint cable companies are charged with are misleading cancellation options.

1. Auto Dealers: New & Used
• Number of Complaints Received: 38,948
• Most Common Complaint: sales practices (misrepresentation of automobile)

We combined the new and used auto dealers into one category as we believe the two groups have enough in common: For both factory-new and pre-owned vehicle dealers, the problems were the same. The most common complaint was that salespersons pressured customers into buying add-ons, like extended warranties and additional insurance, in some cases making it seem like these were standard options. Reportedly, some dealers even convinced customers they were approved for financing for a vehicle when they were not. The customers found out the truth only after taking the vehicle home; they had to return the cars, and then were charged for the miles they drove.

-- Michael A. Sauter, Douglas A. McIntyre



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