The 6 Companies With the Best Customer Service

By Damian Davila on 8 September 2014 6 comments

Nowadays, it seems like every single company is trying to cut corners.

If companies are not laying off several employees, then they are forced to find creative ways to cut labor costs. Given the deadly combo of smaller budgets and fewer employees, it seems that great customer service is bound to disappear. (See also: 9 Ways to Get Exactly What You Want From Customer Service)

Does this mean that great customer service is dead? Fortunately, there are several companies out there working very hand to consistently deliver outstanding customer service. Here are the six companies in which great customer service appears to be alive and well.

1. Amazon.com

The online retail giant takes the the mantra "the customer is always right" very seriously. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos often leaves a seat open, representing the customer, at conference tables. The "empty chair" is supposed to represent "the most important person in the room."

Bezos takes customer service so seriously that he welcomes messages from any client to his very public email jeff@amazon.com. He is well known to read customer complaints and forward them to the relevant Amazon employee with just a single character addition: "?" Question-mark emails from Bezos are taken as top level action items by their recipients.

The empty chair and question mark strategies from Bezos seem to be getting the point across and creating a culture of great customer service. The 2014 Customer Service Hall of Fame list puts Amazon at the top for the fifth consecutive time with 57.5% of survey respondents giving Amazon's service an "excellent." Additionally, the American Customer Satisfaction Index has put Amazon at the top of its online retailing category since 2000 and within its overall top 10 for several years.

Need further proof? An Amazon service rep didn't even blink in replacing a $500 Playstation at no extra cost that got stolen from a customer's doorstep.

2. Morton's Steakhouse

When I asked on Twitter (BTW you can find me at @DavilaDamian!) for tips on companies with the best customer service, a follower, who prefers to stay anonymous replied via direct message: "You have to check out Peter Shankman's Morton experience."

Shankman is a busy author and speaker and back in 2011 he was stuck in a rut. He knew that between 3:30 a.m. and about 9:00 p.m. he would only have time for a single meal, during a lunch meeting. Since he is steak lover, he jokingly tweeted to Morton's Steakhouses if they would meet him at the Newark airport with a porterhouse. Turns out they did! Despite the 23.5 mile distance between the closest restaurant and the airport, the short three hour window to pull off the stunt, and the tweet meant to be a joke, Morton's came through with an outstanding example of customer service.

3. Nordstrom

The main source for Nordstrom employee's great customer service is empowerment. For several years, the company's Rule #1 in its employee handbook has been: "Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules." Employee autonomy has been identified by several industry experts as the source for Nordstrom's renowned customer service. This is why even housekeeping staff are able to help customers.

What do Nordstrom employees identify as their key differentiator from other retailers? A Nordstrom employee that worked in the corporate offices and store #001 reveals that it is the no-excuses return policy. Ever heard of the customer that returned tires to a Nordstrom in Alaska? (Catch: Nordstrom doesn't even sell tires!) Nordstrom accepts returns even without receipts and no matter how worn out a piece of clothing might be. She also points out that everything is in small details such as:

  • Answering the phone on no more than the second ring.
  • Walking a customer to a location instead of pointing to it.
  • Providing one-on-one service.

4. USAA

In the financial services industry, USAA often tops the best customer service lists. In the 2014 Temkin Customer Service Ratings survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers, USAA's banking business took the top spot, and USAA's insurance business tied with Amazon.com for second place.

A USAA customer for several years, Ligaya from Fort Rucker, Alabama, explains why she is loyal to the company: "Consistently great customer service, always upgrading banking options and polite service reps. I also like that they take customer security very seriously. I've never been in one of their actual banks but have never had a problem in over 10 years."

Founded in 1922 by a group of U.S. Army officers, USAA focuses on customers who are military members and their families. After reviewing 70 customer reviews from this company, it seems that Ligaya is not the only one happy with USAA service. A remarkable 67% of those reviewers give 5 out of 5 stars to USAA.

5. Ritz-Carlton

Despite being a very large hotel chain with several locations in 21 countries, the Ritz-Carlton has been able to maintain a strong reputation for outstanding customer service for over a century.

Take, for example, the story of Joshie the Giraffe. When a boy's beloved stuffed animal was left behind at a Ritz-Carlton in Florida, a father told him a white lie: Joshie decided to stay a bit longer at the resort. The same night, the staff from the Ritz-Carlton called the father and informed him that they had found Joshie. The father requested if they could take a picture of Joshie on a lounge chair by the pool. The staff did not only agree, but also carefully documented Joshie's extended vacation before sending him back along with some goodies.

This and other "wow" stories are shared during the company's daily 15-minute meetings. The same wow story is shared across all Ritz-Carlton hotels on the same day to congratulate staff that provided outstanding service and inspire everybody else. For example, employees are empowered to make decisions, such as providing freebies, to minimize the perceived waiting time.

6. Zappos

This list of companies with best customer service wouldn't be complete without including Zappos. This company has not one but several stories of legendary great customer service.

  • A best man for a wedding was saved from going barefoot by intercepting a pair of shoes that were being delivered to the wrong address and providing an overnight replacement pair of shoes to the right destination.
     
  • Zappos sets the expectation for both customers and staff members that everything can be returned. No questions asked and at no charge to the customer.
     
  • A woman, whose feet had been damaged by harsh medical treatments, had to order six different pairs of shoes to see if one would provide her comfort. The rep that helped her process the return of the unwanted shoes via phone wowed her with a bouquet of lilies and roses.
     
  • The company offers over 1,060 pairs of vegan shoes. No, that's not a typo. Zappos decided to take action and address the hundreds of requests for those that prefer non-leather shoes.
     
  • The company holds the record for one of the longest customer service calls: 10 hours and 29 minutes. The most amazing thing is that the rep remained friendly, even when most of the call was about providing advice on how to relocate to Las Vegas. The customer did buy a pair of Uggs boots.

These stories go to show that there are still companies around in which the customer is king.

What is your best customer service experience? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture
Scott

L.L.Bean has GREAT customer service and a FULL warranty on most products. www.llbean.com

Damian Davila's picture

You're right during my research I did find that L.L.Bean provides great warranty but I found mixed opinions about their customer service. It was a very close call!

Guest's picture
Anon

I know Sallie Mae has a terrible, awful reputation, but the best customer service I've ever received was from a few of their workers. I had no job when I had to start paying back my private student loans, but luckily they have forbearance option for a few months. Problem is, you have to call and be embarrassed by being broke. The third time I had to do this, I was really upset by my situation. I got a woman named Peggy who began asking me many questions, a lot more than I was asked before, and I broke down and tried to joke about my situation through tears. She began talking to me and reassuring me and giving me ideas about where to look for work and such. She told me about how she was in a similar situation and told me everything turned out okay for her. I was so grateful for that encouragement. A few weeks later I found a full-time job, not one I want by a far-shot, but one that will allow me to pay the bills. So thanks, Peggy, wherever you are.

Damian Davila's picture

Thank you for sharing your Sallie Mae story with us, Anon. Glad to hear that you're back on your feet.

Guest's picture
Kelly

I've had some awesome customer service experiences with both USAA and Amazon. Wasn't surprised to see that Amazon was willing to replace that guy's stolen Playstation - we had a box with a printer stolen from our doorstep once and they didn't hesitate to send another. They were also great about quickly resolving issues when things were sent to wrong addresses - refreshing to see from such a mammoth company.

Damian Davila's picture

That's great to hear Kelly. So glad to hear that Amazon was willing to replace your stolen printer, that must have been a great relief. Printers are not cheap!