10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers

From fees to horrible customer service and worse, these 10 companies need to treat customers better

By John Divine, InvestorPlace Assistant Editor

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There are companies known for treating their customers well, and then there are those with less stellar reputations…

10 Companies Screwing Over Their CustomersAs consumers, we’d all prefer to have great interactions with all the companies we deal with on a day-to-day basis. As human beings, we also know that this expectation is highly unrealistic.

Just as we occasionally run across a not-so-pleasant person, or someone who treats us unkindly or unfairly, we run across the same in the corporate world. Somehow, though, this seems more obscene: We’re paying these companies to provide us with a product or service. We have the right to expect we A) won’t get blatantly ripped off, and B) won’t be treated with contempt or disdain.

And even if we’re not blatantly ripped off or treated rudely, we can still come away with a nasty taste in our mouths. This piece examines 10 companies that might benefit from re-examining the way they treat their customers, in one way or another…

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Comcast Corporation (CMCSA)

Comcast CMCSA Time Warner Cable CMCSA TWCThere is perhaps no other company in modern America as widely loathed as Comcast Corporation (CMCSA). Anecdotal examples of their mistreatment of customers typically center around their lousy customer service, which ranked as the No.1 worst in 24/7 Wall Street‘s Customer Service Hall of Shame list in 2015.

A whopping 28.3% of respondents in the site’s survey rated Comcast’s customer service as “poor”. That’s remarkably awful, besting the second-highest in that category by 7 percentage points.

A cringe-worthy recording of a customer service representative who repeatedly refused to cancel a customer’s subscription was released on YouTube in 2014, and caused a justifiable wave of lashback across the internet. TheVerge spoke with over 100 Comcast employees anonymously who revealed some similarly disturbing anecdotes about the company’s practices.

One employee interviewed claimed that their supervisor criticized the employee for not pushing upgrades on what he admitted was probably a “senile” old woman.

Yeah, Comcast takes the cake.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Starbucks Corporation (SBUX)

Starbucks SBUXRecently, changes to Starbucks Corporation’s (SBUX) rewards program created a whole brew-haha, as angry customers took to social media to air their grievances. The mainstream media, too, had a field day. Some Wall Street analysts even suggested that customers would defect to rival Dunkin Brands Group Inc (DNKN).

What happened?

Essentially, the “little guy” got stiffed, while big spenders got rewarded.

The old loyalty program gave customers a “star” for every transaction, regardless of the transaction amount. This was good for the little guy, because it didn’t differentiate between those who spent more per transaction and those who spent less.

The new system does make that differentiation: Customers now earn one star for every two dollars they spend; the number of transactions you make is irrelevant. From the perspective of SBUX and its shareholders, the change makes sense. It incentivizes higher spending, and disincentivizes “splitting” their purchases over several trips, which is operationally efficient.

But for the customer buying a $3 cup of Joe … well, they’ll have to start splurging a little more to earn rewards at the rate they once did.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS)

Goldman Sac Logo

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS) was ranked the least-liked company in a 2015 survey that ranked the 100 most visible companies in the U.S.

According to a Bloomberg report discussing the results:

“The report didn’t speculate on how Goldman earned its helping of hate, but the investment bank has been the subject of derision for its role in the financial crisis, and in 2011 was found by a U.S. Senate panel to have misled clients about its dealings with shaky mortgage-backed securities.”

In 2010, the New York Times reported that one Goldman exec, in an email to clients, admitted the bank sometimes sought to make money by front-running or trading against its own clients. Basically, Goldman’s advisory group would share the ideas they were about to pitch to customers with Goldman’s own traders, who would enter the trade first.

Immoral? Yes? Surprising? Not really.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Whole Foods Market, Inc. (WFM)

whole foodsWhole Foods Market, Inc. (WFM) was once the golden boy of organic food. In just a few years, the organic grocer enjoyed explosive growth and its stock price soared as a health food craze swept the nation. While consumers generally continue to be conscious of what they put in their bodies, Whole Foods no longer enjoys the spotless image it once did.

Last year, New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs found that Whole Foods was routinely and systematically overcharging customers for its food — which wasn’t cheap to begin with. (Especially not in New York).

Initially, Whole Foods disagreed with what it called “overreaching allegations.” The next month, it announced disappointing quarterly results as customers revolted against the company, which reported the slowest same-store sales growth in six years after the DCA allegations were made public.

In December, Whole Foods paid the DCA $500,000 for the transgressions, and co-CEO Walter Robb apologized.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Bank of America Corp (BAC)

bank of americaNot only was Bank of America Corp (BAC) a very visible player in the whole “financial crisis” thing — something the global economy arguably still hasn’t fully recovered from — but it regularly receives some of the worst customer satisfaction ratings in America.

Fees are usually the main reason behind customer gripes.

24/7 Wall Street ran the most recent version of its Hall of Shame list for customer service, and for the first time in the last five years, Bank of America didn’t earn the #1 spot. It was #3. That’s improvement, sure. But it’s nothing you’re gonna put in a commercial.

It’s no surprise that one of the most prominent banks in the country isn’t America’s favorite company. Collective society may have a short memory, but when something hits its proverbial wallet, as the Great Recession did, its memory can reach elephantine levels.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Dish Network Corp (DISH)

dish-networkCable provider Dish Network Corp (DISH) isn’t doing its customers any favors either. You’ll notice as this list progresses that cable and satellite providers have a poor track record when it comes to customer service, but that’s definitely not an excuse.

24/7 Wall Street conducted a poll of 1,500 people along with Zogby Analytics for last year’s Customer Service Wall of Shame rankings. The site notes that:

“As many as 46.1% of respondents had a negative experience with Dish’s customer service, the fourth worst of any company considered.”

But why? Why is Dish so bad at dealing with its own customers, the lifeblood of any business? The article offers a possible explanation:

“Perhaps one reason for the company’s poor customer service is employee dissatisfaction. According to Glassdoor.com, current and former Dish employees rated the company 2.6 out of 5, one of the worst ratings of any major company.”

It’s not hard to imagine that ticked-off employees might not be the most agreeable human beings to speak to when you’re having issues with your service.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC)

Time_Warner_CableIn 2013, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index conducted a survey that found Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC) was the second-most-frustrating company in the entire U.S.

The No.1 one company isn’t publicly traded: the Long Island Power Authority.

Time Warner Cable isn’t the first — and it won’t be the last — cable company on this list. Isn’t it interesting that oligopolistic industries with only a few companies controlling the entire market seem to dominate this list?

Not really, actually.

It’s painfully logical: The less competition, the less motivation to differentiate from the rest of the market. Plus, services like cable and internet are very nearly public utilities, so there’s endless built-in demand.

No need to actually earn your customers through quality service, low prices, innovations and the like. Why spend money being good when you can merely be and still rake in billions?

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: American Airlines Group Inc (AAL)

american airlines aal stockAmerican Airlines Group Inc (AAL) recently completed its merger with former competitor U.S. Air, which one hopes will improve customer service … though there’s little reason to believe that. Again, a more consolidated competitive landscape rarely benefits the customer in any way.

When American Airlines landed on Business Insider‘s list of “The 15 Companies That Frustrate Americans the Most” — it landed at No. 7 — the site had this to say about how a post-merger American Airlines might look:

“Past large mergers have reduced customer satisfaction scores due to the difficulty of integrating, and US Airways is already a lower-rated airline.”

During a period of prolonged low oil prices, consumers have been frustrated with airlines in general, which haven’t been eager to pass on savings to the consumer.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: Charter Communications, Inc. (CHTR)

charter communications chtr cvcThe American Consumer Satisfaction Index gave Charter Communications, Inc. (CHTR) a miserable 64/100 rating; it tied with American Airlines as the seventh-most frustrating company in America.

Alas, the company wasn’t content to stop there: Harris Poll, a market research firm, found that, of the 100 most visible companies, Charter was the ninth-least-liked of them all.

Looking at its Consumer Affairs page is either hilarious, depressing or maddening: The company has a miserable one-star (out of five) overall satisfaction rating. Perhaps the company is getting a bad rap — maybe the sample size is small or something?

Nope. It’s massive. There have been 1,072 reviews and 349 ratings on Consumer Affairs. A recent review encapsulates just how effective Charter has been at enraging customers:

“I can’t count how many problems I have with these people. If they were a human being, they would be lowest of the low, a dirt bag who deserved nothing less than to get their soul ripped from their body and sent to hell.”

Not exactly what you’d call a “nuanced” review.

10 Companies Screwing Over Their Customers: United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL)

United185Last but not least: United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL), another big player in the oligopolistic airline industry. It also landed on Harris Poll’s list of the most-hated companies, coming in strong at the No.15 spot.

As with Charter, UAL has an extensive list of customer complaints found on ConsumerAffairs.com. The site has 1,201 reviews of the airline and 463 people have taken the time to give it a star rating. The average of those 463 ratings? You guessed it: One meager star.

Reading reviews for United Airlines is not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t take long to find some truly astounding tales. An excerpt of a review by Tanya of Clayton, MO, dated Feb. 23, 2016, helps one grasp the severity of United’s issues:

“I won’t go into details about surly and hostile behavior I experienced from gate attendants and airline crew or my missing luggage and the complete ineptitude of this airline. I’ve since read the reviews and have found that I’m not alone and thousands of others have suffered worse situations than I have. I’ve suffered anxiety and sadness over this. Never again is all I can say. Shall fly Delta next time. PS the international planes were FILTHY – disgusting.”

Tanya, I hope your suffering will not be in vain. But it probably will be.

As of this writing, John Divine did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter at @divinebizkid or email him at [email protected]

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