By Douglas A. McIntyre, 24-7 Wall St.
Customers, employees, shareholders and taxpayers hate large corporations for many reasons. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a lengthy list of corporations for which there is substantial research data to choose the 10 most hated in America.
Research about companies comes in two sets. One is public research about consumer satisfaction, customer care, pricing of products and services, and brand impressions. Wall St. research takes into account another set of factors, which include present earnings, profit forecasts, product development and quality, and brand valuations.
Some of the companies on this list are widely despised because of the businesses that they are in. In an economic environment where resources are stretched, an airline or retail operation that has millions of customers is likely to make a lot of enemies. Similarly, banks and other corporations with a large number of retail outlets are at a disadvantage compared with businesses with few customers. Some of the corporations on this list also have had to fire significant numbers of employees due to the recession. Downsizing causes poor morale, increases the workload of the remaining staff and affects customer satisfaction when service is poorer.
We examined each company based on several criteria. We considered total return to shareholders in comparison to the broader market and other companies in the same sector during the last year. We reviewed financial analyst opinions on those companies that are public. We analyzed data from a broad array of sources, including Consumer Reports, JD Power, the MSN/Zogby Poll, ForeSee and the University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index. We also considered negative press based on 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis of media coverage and the Flame Index, which uses a proprietary algorithm to review more than 12,000 websites and ranks companies based on the frequency of negative words. Finally, we considered the views of taxpayers, Congress and the White House — where applicable.
Several companies that should have been on the list based on performance and public perception during the financial crisis did not make it. For example, it would be easy to argue that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be here. The bankruptcy and maintenance of the two by the federal government will cost taxpayers between $224 billion and $360 billion, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. But, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are no longer stand-alone companies in any normal sense. Their shares have been delisted. Each is in effect a ward of the U.S. government with no ability to control its own fate through the actions of management or public shareholders.
The U.S. Postal Service could also be a candidate for the list. It has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and it lost $5.1 billion in its last fiscal year alone. However, the Postmaster General and his staff have little or no control over the eventual fate of the USPS. Congress decides how and to what extent it will be funded. That means Congress essentially controls how many workers and offices will exist, and even — based on funding — how often the mail will be delivered.
It is worth noting that some of the companies on the list may have done very poorly by some measures, and well by others. A few of the most hated companies have had good stock performances. Others may have satisfied customers. All of this was taken into account when the decisions for the final list were made.
The following are 24/7 Wall St.’s Most Hated Companies for 2011, in no particular order.
Facebook currently has more than 800 million users. Any company of this size is sure to have some detractors. Compared to other leading social media sites, however, Facebook has the lowest customer satisfaction score from the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The site has repeatedly irked users by neglecting personal privacy. Notable events include the introduction of facial recognition software — which spurred an investigation by the European Union — and the Facebook timeline. Facebook received significant negative press for forcing new settings on users that change how their personal information is shared with others. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has only recently said that the company will no longer do this. According to the MSN Money-IBOPE Zogby International customer service survey for 2011, 25.9 percent of Facebook users described the company’s customer service as “poor” — the lowest rating.
2. American Airlines
American’s parent, AMR, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November. That virtually wiped out the value of the holdings of every shareholder. American recently was picked as the worst airline for customer service by the annual Middle Seat scorecard, published in the Wall Street Journal. “For the past five years, American has been among the worst three airlines at on-time performance, a key measure of an airline's operation since it impacts mishandled bags, bumped passengers and even canceled flights and customer complaints,” the survey’s authors said. The report states the airline was the worst among major carriers last year for baggage handling and canceled flights, canceling 70 percent more flights than United and Delta. With a score of 63 in the American Customer Satisfaction Index section on airlines, American falls near the bottom, well below leader Southwest, which has a score of 81.
AT&T recently received the lowest score given by JD Power for wireless customer care performance. It also was given the lowest rating for customer service by ACSI. AT&T has been dogged by problems with its 3G network, which are now largely behind it. AT&T was attacked by both the government and press for what many saw as an attempt to set up a monopoly through its buyout of T-Mobile. Consumers feared the combined company would have extraordinary powers to set prices. The wireless carrier also received the lowest satisfaction rating for cell-phone standard service providers, according to Consumer Reports. The MSN Money-IBOPE Zogby International customer service survey reports that 26 percent of customers rate service as “poor.”