The Customer Service Hall of Shame through the years: And the winner is …

Uh, make that the loser — AOL. That’s according to an aggregation of four years of the Customer Service Hall of Shame, a yearly study of customer service done by MSN Money and Zogby International.

Who would have thought?

The worst companies were determined by the percentage of respondents who described their customer experience with a company as “poor.” The worst 10 make up the Hall of Shame. I should note that MSN also has a Hall of Fame for the best companies, but that’s a story for another day.

Let’s have a look at the worst companies through the years, starting in 2007, the first year the survey was conducted. AOL didn’t even make the cut in the first year. Instead, it was dominated by cable companies and wireless providers. But that was about to change …

By 2008, AOL had vaulted into first place. Another newcomer to the list was Abercrombie & Fitch.

Huh? How can a clothing retailer generate that many complaints?

Here’s the next year. Again, AOL in first, with the cables, wireless and banks trailing. And Abercrombie & Fitch, still hanging on by a thread.

By this year, we’re back to normal. Abercrombie appears to have gotten its act together, AOL is still on top, and the usual suspects remain on the list.

What’s wrong with AOL? The question should be: What’s not wrong with it? A cursory review of the complaints filed against the Internet service provider suggests its prone to double-billing customers, making it difficult to cancel, and otherwise delivering inferior service.

The banks and credit cards? That, too, is a topic for another time.

So now that you know who delivers the worst service, what can you do about it?

Evaluate your own situation. Are you getting bad service from one of these companies? If so, you might want to reconsider your loyalty. If not, stay put — but consider yourself warned.

Let the company know you’re disappointed. You need to give the company a chance to make things right, even if it’s at the bottom of the barrel. If it can’t, then move on.

Don’t threaten; just walk away. Your actions will speak louder than words. Shouting about your situation from the rooftops, while effective in the short term, doesn’t speak as forcefully as a customer who takes his or her business elsewhere.

How about you? Which companies deserve to make this list? Do you see any that shouldn’t be here?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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