Got a consumer-facing business? Here's a top 10 list you don't want to land on.
The auto industry may be rebounding financially, but automakers and dealers are still falling short in customer service, according to the latest report from the Consumer Federation of America and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.
The two groups collected data from state and federal consumer protection organizations, and found that the auto industry topped the list for generating the largest number of consumer gripes. Credit and debt services and home improvement businesses trailed right behind.
The fastest-growing categories, meanwhile, were fraud, debt collection abuses, violations of the "do not call" list, home improvement scams, and mortgage problems. (The full list actually includes 12 sectors, because of a couple of ties.)
Even if you try to run your business as honorably as possible, you could find yourself in a troubled category. That's bad news: Bad customer service rarely leads to good quarterly results.
Here is the complete Top 10 list of consumer offenders--and the complaints that turned up most often.
1. Auto: Consumers complained about advertising misrepresentations for new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes.
2. Credit/Debt: Among the problems were billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics
3. Home improvement/Construction: Homeowners complained of shoddy work, or the failure to start or complete the job.
4. Retail sales: Offenses included false advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.
5. Utilities: Users reported service problems or billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric, and gas service providers.
6. Services: Customers complained of misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform
7. (Tie) Internet sales: E-tailers got dinged for misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, and failure to deliver online purchases.
7. (Tie) Landlords: Complaints included unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics.
8. Fraud: Problems included bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, the "grandparent scam" (don't-tell-mom calls from apparent grandchildren), and other common frauds.
9. Real estate: Complaints centered on timeshare sales and resales, retirement communities and assisted living facilities, and out-and-out real estate fraud.
10. (Tie) Household goods: Owners reported misrepresentations, delivery failures, and faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances.
10. (Tie) Home solicitations: People cited "do not call" list violations as well as misrepresentations or failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations.
RON BURLEY is a nationally recognized consumer advocate and serial entrepreneur. He is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For and senior partner at Brushfire Consulting. @consumerrebel