May 19, 2024

Bucks: Customer Service, Ranked Either ‘Naughty’ or ‘Nice’

For a second year, Consumer Reports has compiled a holiday report card of customer service policies that it deems either “naughty” or “nice.”

The warehouse store Costco and the outdoor outfitter Orvis make encore appearances on the “nice” list, while other companies have been moved to the “naughty” category (Southwest Airlines). And this year’s list contains some, well, counterintuitive entries. Live Nation, the ticket seller, and the cable provider Cablevision, for instance, made the “nice” list. (Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, was again deemed “naughty.”)

The list is not meant to be a “thumbs up or thumbs down” on the companies as a whole, said Tod Marks, senior editor and resident shopping expert at Consumer Reports. “It’s a list that’s compiled based on specific policies that we thought were particularly customer friendly — or not,” Mr. Marks said.

Here’s the full list, along with an explanation of the reasoning behind the company’s inclusion, starting with the “naughty” roster:

  • AirTran The discounted coach and sale fare flights on the Orlando-based airline don’t include the price of selecting the seat. If you want to select your seat when you book online, AirTran charges $6 to $20 –each way.
  • RadioShack When a Consumer Reports reader shopped for an HDMI audio-video cable, Mr. Marks said, the store price was nearly double the online price. A customer service supervisor said he couldn’t do anything about the discrepancy, and directed the reader to the fine print on RadioShack’s Web site. (The company acknowledges that it sometimes charges different prices for the same item.)
  • American Apparel The retailer, based in Los Angeles, has two different return policies. Online customers have 45 days to return an item for a full refund or credit; store customers have 30 days and receive a merchandise credit.
  • Verizon Wireless. The company has told the Federal Communications Commission that it voluntarily provides ample warning to customers who seem about to exceed their monthly allotment of minutes, messages or data, so a rule requiring it to issue such alerts isn’t necessary. But Consumer Reports says two staff members who are Verizon customers recently were notified only after they went over their allotment, at which time the company tried to sell them a pricier plan. (It now looks as if protection from “bill shock” is on its way. Under a mid-October deal with the Federal Communications Commission, members of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group representing 97 percent of wireless carriers, agreed to begin issuing alerts of impending overages. But the companies are not required to fully apply the alert system until April 2013.)
  • Liberty Travel It offers a three-night Disney vacation package, including air fare, theme park ticket and some food, starting at $559 a person. But the tiny type at the bottom of the advertisement says the price excludes taxes and fees of up to $250, baggage fees or other fees charged by the airline. And if someone needs to switch a flight? It’ll cost as much as $200 extra.
  • The Swiss Colony. Like many businesses, the 85-year-old mail-order food firm, based in Wisconsin, ties its delivery fees to the dollar amount of an order rather than the size and weight of the package — a practice Consumer Reports has criticized before. So if an order totals $25, shipping and processing is $5.95. But if the order costs a penny more, the freight jumps to $7.95. Plus, Swiss Colony asks customers to pay another $2.99 per shipping address, for unspecified reasons. When Consumer Reports called the company for an explanation, the customer service representative said the surcharge reflects the cost of a mailing label.
  • Southwest Airlines Want to complete online check-in earlier than the usual 24 hours before takeoff? Improve your boarding group position? Get a better seat (Southwest doesn’t assign seats; it’s first come, first served)? Sure, but any of those options will cost you an extra $10.
  • SiriusXM If a subscriber to this satellite radio provider wants to receive a bill in the mail and pay by check, he or she will face a $2 surcharge every month. (The penalty can be avoided if the customer gives Sirius credit card information and elects to be billed electronically on a recurring basis.)
  • GameStop This video game software and hardware merchant has a laundry list of conditions governing returns and exchanges. And in the end, GameStop proclaims, “We reserve the right to refuse any return.”

And now, the “nice” list:

  • Bi-Lo Most supermarkets will refund the purchase price of a product that doesn’t meet expectations. This Southern chain offers a double money-back guarantee on every item it sells, whatever the reason for the return.
  • Cablevision Telecommunications companies are a frequent target of consumer displeasure, but this industry giant offers more to subscribers who sign up for its Optimum Triple Play — Internet, phone, and television service. Perks include free movie tickets on Tuesdays and deeply discounted tickets on other days. Plus, customers who sign up for Cablevision’s free Optimum Rewards program get discounted popcorn and soda at participating theaters.
  • Live Nation The live-entertainment promoter, ticket distributor and artist-management firm gives fans three days to cancel their ticket order and get a refund at participating venues (typically until one week before the event). Live Nation also lets customers exchange seats for better ones that become available after a purchase.
  • American Express  If a cardholder buys a covered item with his or her American Express card and unsuccessfully tries to return it within 90 days, American Express can refund the full purchase price, up to $300 ($1,000 per account per year).
  • Orvis This seller of fishing gear and outdoorsy clothes offers help if an online customer lingers on a product long enough, initiating dialogue via live chat.
  • Crutchfield The electronics merchant offers help with installation, setup and troubleshooting around the clock, and technical support at no extra charge, for the life of the gear purchased.
  • Costco The chain automatically extends the manufacturer’s original warranty on TVs and computers to two years from the date of purchase.
  • Has taken a stand against wasteful and hard-to-open product packaging. It encourages customers to share photographs and feedback with manufacturers, who can then modify their package designs and submit them to Amazon’s engineers to see if they qualify as frustration-free. If so, the companies can use the “Certified Frustration-Free” logo as a marketing tool.
  • Microsoft If someone buys and installs software on his or her computer, most retailers won’t give a refund, no matter how much the customer hates the product. But consumers dissatisfied with a Microsoft software or hardware purchase from any retailer can send it back to the company within 45 days for a refund and reimbursement of shipping costs up to $7.
  • REI The outdoor outfitter has one of the most liberal return policies around. It accepts returns or exchanges at any time for any reason, and makes the process simple. Customers can return any item by mail or to any REI store, whether they bought online, by mail or in an REI store. The policy even applies to goods bought from REI’s online outlet.

Do you have your own candidates for the “naughty” or “nice” list? Let us know why in the comments section.

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