Champs or Chumps? BusinessWeek's annual list of customer service standouts

BusinessWeek has just released their annual list of Top 25 Customer Service Champions.  Once again, there are some obvious choices along with a few head-scratchers.  A company like USAA with a legion of passionate, loyal customers seems like a great choice.  BusinessWeek gave them an A+ rating for quality of staff and 78% of customers surveyed would recommend the brand. No problems there.

But what about Enterprise Rent-a-Car, whose BusinessWeek report card includes a B for quality of staff and only 36% of customers surveyed would recommend the brand?  How did they get into the Top 25?! One obvious flaw in BusinessWeek's approach may explain why. J.D. Power's Customer Satisfaction ratings are the starting point for the BusinessWeek list. Enterprise Rent-a-Car won J.D. Power's 2009 Customer Satisfaction Award for the rental car category. Small problem: J.D. Power's 'Customer Satisfaction Award' never directly assessed customer service. Rather, it looked exclusively at six categories where customer perceptions may be influenced by customer service: costs and fees, pick-up process, rental car, return process, reservation process, shuttle bus/van.

What do you think? Who should be on the list and who shouldn't? Please leave your comments!

Click here to read the list.

Who is talking about customer service?

I try to stay current by reading a number of leading business publications such as Inc., BusinessWeek, and FastCompany. Many of the magazines and newspapers I read maintain websites that are full of helpful information, often organized by topic such as "sales", "finance", "leadership", and so on. It seems a bit odd that "customer service" is typically absent from these lists.

So, who is talking about customer service? And, why don't these leading publications have a customer service column?

I have many theories (and I would love to hear yours!), but here is my best guess. Customer service is simply taken for granted all too often. Customer service seems so, well, common sense. Is it?

What can we learn from BusinessWeek's service champs?

Not surprisingly, Alfred's Tailoring did not make BusinessWeek's latest list of their 'Top 50 Customer Service Champs'. To be fair, they didn't quite fit BusinessWeek's criteria, but I don't think they'd make the list even if they did.

My wife dropped off a suit last week for tailoring. She needed the suit no later than Saturday, so the tailor said the suit would be ready by noon if my wife paid cash up front. When my wife arrived on Saturday at 12:30, the suit wasn't ready. The response from the tailor was, "I've been really busy!" I guess we'll be too busy to go back.

BusinessWeek Top 50 Customer Service Champs
BusinessWeek has just come out with their list of top customer service companies. The list highlights a few organizations that are truly excellent while raising quite a few questions at the same time.

Dominant Industries
Three business categories account for more than 50% of the companies on the list. Auto manufacturers, hotels, and financial service companies captured 26 of the 50 spots. There were no tailors, though clothing retailers captured four places. See the entire list here.

Unanswered Questions
BusinessWeek's ranking system does raise a few questions. Part of their methodology was rating each company on 'people' and 'process'. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a real explanation for what 'people' or 'process' really means to them. If anyone could enlighten me, I'd be grateful.

Another question is how some of these companies truly made the Top 50 list. For example, BusinessWeek relied extensively on data provided by J.D. Power. Fairmont Hotels was ranked #3 on BusinessWeek's list, but only received a 3 out of 5 rating for overall satisfaction from J.D. Power. Huh?? By contrast, Ritz Carlton, #12 on the list, received a 5 out of 5 rating from J.D. Power. Several other companies on the Top 50 list received relatively poor 'people' ratings, such as B's and C's. Hardly the stuff of 'Customer Service Champions'.

Lessons Learned
These types of rankings are great discussion topics, but customers will ultimately decide who the champs are, and they will eventually vote with their wallets. The weighting of the list suggests that customers have high expectations for certain industries, so companies in those lines of work have to be constantly on their toes. My wife's recent experience also reminds me that the industries we don't expect much from (like tailors and dry cleaners) can go a long way by just being polite and responsive.