Which Industry Has The Worst Customer Service?

Here at Consumerist Central, we get a lot of complaints from pissed-off readers about a host of different problems. But looking through all the customer service gripes we get each day, we see that there are 10 industries in particular that represent the lion’s share of reader’s ire.

We’ve already asked you to name the Worst Company In America, but now we want to take a step back and look at the industries these bad companies represent: Airlines; Cable/Satellite/Telecom; Automotive;
Health Care/Insurance; Fast food; Big Box Stores; Online Retail; Computer/Tech; Car Rentals; Banking.

So vote now in our completely unscientific poll. And please try to vote based solely on the aspect of customer service. Voting closes at Noon ET on Aug. 5.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Erich says:

    I’m not going to pick one particular industry. Instead, I’ll choose any company that uses outsourced help. Particularly, outsourced help that relies on scripts to help you. Because odds are, if the scripted help isn’t what you need. you’re not getting helped.

    • Preyfar says:

      It’s starting to get to me. Every single freakin’ time I try to call anymore I get Indians, and I can not understand them. I’ve talked to some Indians who spoke English very well, but that accent can be so hard to understand on a phone unless you’ve got a crystal clear line connection.

      Worse though, I get job offers once or twice a day on my cell phone from Indian headhunters who call offering me interviews, jobs, and I can’t understand them at all. I don’t want to shop from a company that dumps off its customer service, and I certainly don’t want to work for a company that outsources its hiring to the same freakin’ people.

      • dragonfire81 says:

        Threaten to cancel. Usually the people that work cancellation or “Retention” departments are empowered, non-outsourced folks who can actually fix your problem. Either that or keep calling back until you get a non outsourced rep.

        • Jack Doe says:

          Or ask to speak to an on-shore rep. All companies have them, and all you have to do is ask.

          • dragonfire81 says:

            Not necessarily. The company I used to work for, we had no power to transfer your call to an American, we could only transfer to other departments within the company but whether you ended in Boston or Bombay was totally random.

      • ARP says:

        Companies have options when its comes to outsourcing. There are different levels of English proficiency and accents. You can pay more to get someone with better skills and a “softer” accent. In one company I know it goes by levels: Level 1 is barely understandable and Level 5 is fluent with a softer accent (they usually spent a long time in the US or UK). So, not only are they outsourcing to India, they’re outsourcing to the cheapest option in India.

      • psm321 says:

        It’s funny that Cable is winning this poll, because Comcast at least has all its reps local.

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        What makes a call to a help center with employees who speak awkward, heavily accented English even more fun is when English is *your* second language as well! It’s like a comedy sketch.

    • lain1k says:

      It’s pretty bad nowadays. They are incapable to do anything outside of their script. Sometimes their supervisors can help but usually you are in the same boat.

      • RunawayJim says:

        It may not even necessarily be that they are incapable of doing anything outside the script, it might be that they’re not allowed to, even if they are capable, which is even worse than having incapable people.

        • Robofish says:

          No they can’t do anything outside of the script. Get them off track and see what happens. Even the freaking Baltimore sun paper uses outsourced help. That one really pissed me off for some reason

          The only reason I say to get them off script and watch is, I called capital one once to check on something on my account. They transfered me between the same two departments 6 times. I had to ask them to stop transfering me and tell them to actually listen to what I had to say. Once I did it was fine. They were going by how my issue fit into their script. The outsourcing seriously needs to stop.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            They aren’t *allowed* to do anything outside of the script. They will be terminated for going off-script, should that call be one of the ones “monitored for quality assurance.”

            • Conformist138 says:

              “Can’t” is a crappy word, I agree. It can mean they don’t know how or are unskilled, or it could mean they are restrained from acting. Allowed is much more accurate since even stateside call centers are victims. The only difference is here you are more likely to get an agent to leave the script since English is more likely to be their native language and thus communication is a lot smoother naturally.

              I would like to ask someone who came up with this scripting one question: Is it a better use of the employee’s time to just fix a problem they have been trained to fix, or is it better if they spend their time thinking *really* hard about how they can herd the customer back on track with only the pre-printed words they’re allowed to use? See, customers don’t have scripts. They do it all on the fly. The CSR already has limitations in what the software will let them do. Scripts that make communication nearly impossible is like putting a one-armed man in a boxing ring and insisting he needs an arm tied behind his back. The customers really hate a useless punching bag when they need someone to DO something.

              I never lasted long in call centers. They hated high rates of problem resolution and satisfaction if it didn’t come with their proven scripts for squeezing extra money from loyal customers.

    • econobiker says:

      Include outsourced medical transcription in that also…

      yep, Indians writing up our medical reports (unless in gov’t or VA hospitals)

    • jacobs cows says:


  2. cardigan says:

    Without a doubt, tech support for software and/or computer manufacturers. Getting form letter responses to issues from someone who can barely speak English otherwise definitely does not constitute “customer service”.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      You still call people? Find your local computer repair shop and give them the business instead. Yes, they’ll charge you money. How much is your time worth, not to have to spend it on the phone to Bangalore, half that time in either ‘hold’ or ‘penalty reboot’ status?

    • Daemon Xar says:

      No, it’s got to be insurance companies. None of the other options on this list SPECIFICALLY make money/profit by failing to respond to customer inquiries. Every other industry on this list needs a customer to interact with them to make money. Insurance companies have already gotten your premium (probably not directly from you, either), and by avoiding talking to you and paying your valid claims, they get to retain that money as profit.

      • Daemon Xar says:

        The one sort of exception is private mail delivery, which isn’t on the list. But most of the time you have the option of switching private mail delivery services for future shipments. This is not the case with most insurers.

      • BDSanta2001 says:

        The nail has been hit on the head. +1
        Insurance companies definitely stand out from the others on the list for those very reasons.

    • P_Smith says:

      With most companies and websites, getting a human being to answer at all has become impossible (e.g. google). The so-called “help system” of these companies are designed to answer one or two questions, not solve problems. If they made mistake, their software failed or other such problem, users have next to zero possibility of resolution.

      The only way to actually get resolution is to be able to walk into their office, to live in a city where there is a large corporate office of theirs. If companies can ignore you and get away with it, they will.


  3. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Comment Moderation?

    I kid, I kid. I love Roz and have had more than a few pleasant conversations with her.

  4. Skankingmike says:

    forgot shipping (Ups, FedEx, USPS) and Furniture stores

    • rdkerns says:

      I agree with this, Been fighting with UPS for a week and half over a package they could not deliver and now subsequntly lost when All I ased when the troubles began was for them to return the package to me so I could reship it and they refused. Now it is lost and they are balking at paying for the merchandise and refunding my shipping.

  5. Engine-B says:

    That was a very difficult choice to make, but I went with banking based on some of my experiences and the crazy banking related stories that make it on Consumerist.

  6. jonmason1977 says:

    Voted cable/telecoms, as I really believe its the one industry where the companies just really don’t care about pleasing or even trying to please their customers. My cable company has caused me more aggravation than any other I do business with, through A) refusing to schedule anything other than a full day window for appointments B) not showing up C) being ineffective when they do show up. If they did not have their pseudo-monopolies, these companies would be out of business.

  7. Veeber says:

    Ooh, you’re missing fitness centers.

  8. Chaluapman says:

    This is an easy one. Either airlines of cableTV.

  9. teletone says:

    You should definitely add utilities to that list. Dealing with anyone from either water or power is like pulling teeth. They’re usually monopolies, so you can dispute a bill till you’re blue in the face. What incentive do they have to help you when you’ve gotta pay anyway?

  10. Dallas_shopper says:

    Pretty much every industry has horrible (and unacceptable) customer service nowadays but I chose “Airlines” because they are so bad for fleecing people.

  11. smo0 says:

    I’m voting soley on my experience….
    I don’t have too many issues – but hands down, the worst thus far, has been with Fry’s and past experiences with Dell and HP – so I voted on Computer Hardware/Software.

  12. sufreak says:

    Most of these industries have major options. You don’t like Burger King, go to McDs, Wendys, etc. If you don’t like Sams, go to Costco. HP, switch to Dell, etc

    There are choices for almost all. But I have only 1 CABLE company to choose from. Airlines, well, you are at their mercy. I have booked continental only to get switched to Delta, even if they’re on my no fly list.

    So its easily a toss up between airlines and cable companies. Being that I am screwed by Comcast more than others, that settles it for me.

    • malraux says:

      You might have trouble with Comcast more often, but when an airline decides to make trouble, they really really make trouble. Comcast has never left me in a town I never wanted to goto, for example.

      • JMILLER says:

        Thats apples to oranges. Comcast has never gotten you from Chicago to Florida either. I could say, the screw up by the doctor that killed my grandmother, while not frequent, was a far bigger problem than anything any company has done, BUT, I would say the doctor who saved her life with her quadruple bypass was a good guy.
        An airline does not purposely put you in a city here you don’t want to be. As much as you wish it, they can not control weather, machinery and other factors in a complex system.

  13. GoPadge says:

    I’m disappointed that utilities / Government agencies weren’t listed…

  14. Matzoball says:

    My thoughts are the worst service comes from Banking. Big banks are designed and built to service business…they have to take consumers along for the ride in order to lend to those same businesses. As a result when a consumer has a problem the banks can be slow to respond or downright cold hearted.

  15. NarcolepticGirl says:

    The only bad customer service I’ve had has been at restaurants and dealing with Comcast.

  16. Cyniconvention says:

    Airlines, definitely.

  17. photoguy622 says:

    Car dealers of all kinds… I always feel dirty when I leave those places!

  18. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Where’s the option to vote for Consumerist?

  19. vastrightwing says:

    I honestly can’t make up my mind. They are all the worst. This is like asking, would you rather have your arm or your leg cut off?

  20. Supes says:

    1) Cable
    2) Airlines
    3) Banking
    4) Insurance

    I’ve rarely had problems with any other industry, and if so they’re usually taken care of reasonably quickly. It’s only those 4 industries I’ve had repeat problems, and on occasion they can take months to work out.

    That being said, even in these bad industries, there are some excellent companies that provide their customers with great services. It’s just a matter of finding them.

  21. justagigilo85 says:

    Here’s another topic of interest:

    Which industry has to deal with the worst customers?

    • DarthCoven says:


    • Outrun1986 says:

      Probably pretty much anything, I would say the cell phone companies have to deal with some pretty irate customers. Retail is bad too because you are most often dealing with the customer in person. But bad customers can come in any industry really.

    • tbax929 says:

      Trick question. Anytime you have to deal with customers it sucks. I know it’s hypocritical, but I’m pro-consumer but anti-customer.

      Actually my clients are all business people, and they are much better to deal with than regular folks.

    • RayanneGraff says:

      Definitely retail. Every retail job I’ve ever worked has been sheer hell just due to the customers. I work at AutoZone now(which I’m also voting for worst company) and you would not believe the absolute assholes I deal with every single day. Cheapskates who expect us to fix their cars in the parking lot for free, heels who buy tools & then return them saying it wasn’t the right one(when it’s covered in grease and has obviously been used), asshats who think they can get shit for free if they bitch loudly enough, jerkoffs who yell at me if I have to order a part, the list can go on forever… retail SUCKS.

    • mythago says:

      The sex industry. But retail is a close second.

  22. Wireless Joe says:

    Does U-Haul fall under car rental?

  23. Outrun1986 says:

    I chose cable because in some area’s its a captive audience, there is only one provider and you have no choice. Also the situation if you live in an apartment, you don’t have a choice. Because there is no competition in some areas they will fleece you.

    Also does this include cell phone service, because I seem to hear the most complaints from that industry, especially verizon’s $1.99 charge for accidently hitting the internet button on your cell phone.

  24. La Mareada says:

    Last week I tried to sign up for electronic bill paying with Comcast. They website was not accepting forms or sign-ins. So one time I tried by phone, the other time live chat. What message did I get repeatedly on hold/waiting? to paraphrase “Sign up for electronic bill paying! use the website and bypass wait times on the phone!” Apparently it will take at least 1 month for my account to accept electronic payments and instead of notifying me, I have to check as the due date approaches whether I need to mail a check.

  25. dragonfire81 says:

    One obvious trend jumps out at me here. Large corporations across any variety of industries tend to treat their front line employees (The ones who handle the lion’s share of customer service) like crap. Overworking, underpaying, forcing them do upsells or other stupid stuff rather than actually help the customer.

    I think a lot of the bad customer service is because the senior management of these companies don’t handle that aspect of the business properly or don’t give it the importance it deserves.

  26. hosehead says:

    Can we skip the industries and just name Best Buy?

  27. tbax929 says:

    I’d have to go with Cable/Telecoms first, especially since I have Comcast. For the most part, I haven’t had many problems, but they billed me twice for the MLB Extra Innings package ($179 per pop). It wasn’t a big deal because I caught it right away and got it fixed, but if I’d had auto-pay from my checking account (like they’re always encouraging me to do), that would’ve sucked.

    Automotive runs a close second to me. Thankfully, I don’t have to buy a car more than once every 5 years or so, but I’ve never left a dealership feeling as if I’ve gotten a good deal. And don’t even get me started on mechanics. I usually let my brother-in-law deal with mechanics, since I know nothing about cars.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      Is that a typo, or are you really paying $179 for the exact thing I pay $199 for? To make it worse, *5* teams are blacked out in Iowa, several of which aren’t available on local/regional stations.

      Maybe DirecTV is charging me a premium because the local cable company doesn’t offer MLB EE.

      Of course, it’s still a far better deal than NFL Sunday ticket …

  28. ctalphav says:

    You probably shouldn’t lump health care and insurance in the same category. While I get great service from my health care providers, the company that passes itself off as the insurer is another story. They simply refuse almost every submission out of hand the first time. it takes 2-3 submissions before they admit it is covered. Almost everything is a battle. They find loopholes where none existed before. Right now I am battling to have them pay out from my flexible spending account for prescriptions which they say are not covered by the documentationthey gave me at the beginning of the year says they are. No one returns a call.

  29. AlexTNOA says:

    What about a car is customer service friendly? From the point of sale, to the mechanic, to emergency help, I can’t think of a single thing which doesn’t take hours to do, is filled with double talk and needs someone who understands the industry to make sure you don’t get ripped off.

    • hosehead says:

      You need a better deal, a better mechanic, and better roadside assistance. Agree that the industry is ripe with awful providers, but there are also plenty of good ones. Get recommendations.

  30. econobiker says:

    Should this relate to per dollar level spent: high or low?

    Or per effect on your life?

  31. Speak says:

    Can’t you add one option for “All of the above”? Actually I have never had an issue with several of these categories so I can only go from personal service. That would be between: Airlines, Big Box Stores, Cable/Satellite/Telecom, and Computer Hardware/Software. I chose Airlines only because they deal with a service that every time I need to use them I seem to have issues. The others I only use the customer service when there are issues which do not happen every time, or even most times I use them.

  32. haroldx says:

    Time/Warner Cable’s philosophy seems to be to keep you waiting until you give up. An unregulated monopoly can get away with that kind of thing.

  33. kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a local telco with competent customer service reps. Weird, since it’s a “communication” company.

  34. Mike says:

    Cable TV for me. I hate the fact that so many markets are cable monopolies. At least with most of the others I have other options (except for healthcare in some states). I hate the fact that the cable company has me by the balls constantly. I don’t even watch cable, I just need the high speed internet for work and gaming, and I have no other alternative fast enough for my needs in my area. The cable company knows this and acts accordingly.

  35. Big Mama Pain says:

    I was thinking along the lines of auto repair when I voted for automotive. I own a 32 year old car, so I have dealt with my fair share of “customer service”. It’s frustrating because there really ISN’T any customer service with auto repair; you’re just taking your mechanic’s word for it, and if something goes wrong, you’re pretty much at their mercy.

  36. rdclark says:

    The industry with the worst customer service is the home improvement/contracting industry.

  37. NightSteel says:

    You know, they all suck. I’d say the most uncaring of them all would be Cable/Satellite/Telecom. But I have to vote for Health Care/Insurance. Any organization that f**ks with people’s health and their very lives has to take top (bottom?) billing in my book.

  38. Bob Lu says:

    There are exceptions like Amazon, but generally, just don’t deal with anyone who doesn’t have a real store (with heal human in it) in your local area.

  39. Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

    That picture from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles FTW! Damn, I love that movie.

  40. dreamfish says:

    I’m glad cable companies are ahead in that list – I always though such a question was a no-brainer in that regard.

    However, I will admit that over the past decade the customer service from my cable company has happily progressed from dreadful to just about adequate. I should be grateful.

  41. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Need a category for eBay/PayPal. Which, considering they are the only entry in their market, it’s just them. They are the most evil of the evil.

  42. myCatCracksMeUp says:

    So many bad choices to chose from, and we can only choose one? Since I don’t fly I can’t pick them even though I’ve heard they’re very bad. My worse experiences of the others is with car rental.

  43. COBBCITY says:

    It is difficult to choose. I would usually go with online stores or online response to problems with B&M stores. I can’t stand when you send an e-mail very clearly explaining a problem and get a canned e-mail response that has NOTHING to do with your inquiry

    Ok, I get having some standard responses for questions asked often. However, care must be taken to be sure you have read and understand the question being asked and are sending the right response.

  44. Zelgadis says:

    Health Care. No question. Any industry that will do anything to save a buck and let you die in the process has the worst customer service.

  45. Zelgadis says:

    Health Care (as in HMOs, I assume). No question. Any industry that will do anything to save a buck and let you die in the process has the worst customer service.

  46. kittylauper says:

    Sallie Mae…Most of it is outsourced to India, and I think their pay is based on how many payments they receive, so they don’t actually want to help you make payments affordable.

  47. ginnel says:

    I’ve had problems at one time or another with all these industries but after having some serious health problems I would have to say, hands down, the health care insurance industry has the absolute worst customer service I have ever encountered. In fact I assume that they don’t actually have anyone in a customer service position but simply field any call with a question or complaint to the newest, least informed person or to anyone in a crappy mood who needs some fun.

  48. 44Wadeable says:

    I just had a trip to the dentist’s office today, and was told my insurance said I wasn’t covered, but my parents — who have the primary coverage — are. They needed a letter less than a year ago from my grad program to prove that I was, in fact, a full time student, but I guess I need one again. Considering all the hoops I’ve had to jump through to get coverage since I am, in theory, covered, I think insurance tops the list.

  49. sock says:

    ADT. Don’t know what category to put that in. Unbelievably bad, and it’s onshore.

  50. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I picked health care/insurance because they are so trying to kill you it’s not even funny. I didn’t even ASK them if I could have surgery when I needed it; I just had it anyway. I was seriously afraid they would tell me I couldn’t have my gallbladder out.

    And they’re mean about making payment arrangements for stuff the insurance doesn’t cover, or your deductible. If I can only pay so much a month, bitching that “we don’t accept payments less that XX” isn’t going to make money appear in my wallet.

    Not to mention all the outrageous billing errors on hospital bills. People getting billed for the wrong procedure, double-billed, billed for something they never had, etc.

  51. mydailydrunk says:

    where’s Greyhound?

  52. TehLlama says:

    Public sectors wins on this one across the board.

    See: Bell, California.

  53. tbail25 says:

    I think that the insurance should be clarified a bit better as health insurance, not just insurance. As a customer service rep for a non-health insurance business, I try to make it my job to provide the best customer service possible. I know that isn’t the case with everyone, but the thing is, it also works both ways. I know I will go out of my way to help someone who has treated me with dignity and respect versus someone who calls up and is rude from the get-go for no other reason than “the insurance business is out to get people.”

  54. P_Smith says:

    If you want an answer to this question, ask a different question:

    Which company or industry can most easily and legally ignore or defraud its customers?

    When companies can do nothing and get away with it, they will.

    When companies can ignore you and refuse to address their mistakes, they will.

    When companies can fail to provide the product or service you paid for, they will.

    That is the basis of “customer service” in this day and age: the company’s level of accountability to the customer and the law.


  55. FrankReality says:

    I’m stumped.

    I haven’t rented a car or flown anywhere for several years and didn’t have any service issues.

    My satellite provider has been fine – no problems.

    My bank is fine too (they’re a local), no problems with my credit cards.

    I’ve not had any insurance issues in the last five years.

    No problems with any of the big-box stores, automotive or fast food joints,

    No problems with my computer hardware/computer software or any other electronics.

    And I haven’t had any problems with online retail.

    I must live a charmed life.

    I’d list eBay and PayPal on a separate line – I don’t do business with either of them anymore, but neither does an adequate job of ensuring a safe and honest marketplace and neither deals with crooks, scammers and frauds harshly enough.

  56. BoredOOMM says:

    You missed Telco

  57. bben says:

    I voted Healthcare/Insurance as this industry seems to have made overbilling, double billing and ‘mistakes’ into a policy. I have NEVER had a medical bill that I did not have to call about. The usual response is” Oh, we must have made a mistake, Let me fix that for you” followed by about half of them not being corrected.

  58. tinyhands says:

    Airlines are the worst because they are a protected industry in which the consumer has absolutely NO rights whatsoever. What other industry puts its customers in jail for voicing valid complaints?