Tech companies get tarnished in the 2018 Harris Reputation research results.

Longtime readers of the Nones Notes Blog have seen periodic articles about the evaluations done every year (since 1999) by the Harris Poll measuring the reputation of the 100 most visible U.S. corporations.

As perceived by the general public, in these annual rankings technology companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have tended to outrank most other iconic brands across a variety of attributes.

It was almost as if the tech firms could do no wrong … whereas other famous corporate names were more susceptible to being hammered on a routine basis, depending on the “news of the day.”

Harris’ 2018 research results have now been published, and they show that the reputation of tech companies has been hit rather hard – all except for Amazon, that is.

The Harris Poll scores the 100 corporations on a variety of factors, including:

  • Products and services
  • Financial performance
  • Workplace environment
  • Vision and leadership
  • Social responsibility
  • Emotional appeal

The opinion research is conducted annually, beginning with consumer top-of-mind awareness of companies that have either excelled or faltered during the year.  With the highest possible company rating being a 100, the Top 20 companies in the 2018 Harris Poll listing come in with reputation quotients ranging between 79 and 83:

  • #1. Amazon.com:  83.22 reputation quotient
  • #2. Wegmans:  82.75
  • #3. Tesla Motors:  81/96
  • #4. Chick-fil-A:  81.68
  • #5. Wald Disney Company:  81.53
  • #6. HEB Grocery:  81.14
  • #7. UPS:  81.12
  • #8. Publix Super Markets:  80.81
  • #9. Patagonia:  80.44
  • #10. Aldi:  80.43 
  • #11: Microsoft:  80.42
  • #12. Nike:  80.24
  • #13. Kraft Heinz Company:  80.15
  • #14. Kellogg Company:  80.00
  • #15. L.L.Bean:  79.83
  • #16. Boeing Company:  79.80
  • #17. Costco:  79.78
  • #18. Kroger Company:  79.67
  • #19. Honda Motor Company:  79.60
  • #20. Proctor & Gamble:  79.32

It’s true that Amazon continues to be top-ranked (repeating its performance in 2017), but Google fell out of the Top 20 altogether, dropping from #8 position to #28.

Apple tumbled even more precipitously, falling from the #5 position to #29.

Facebook isn’t even in the Top 50 any longer; it languishes in the bottom half of the companies evaluated, now living in the neighborhood of companies like General Electric and YUM! Brands.

Of course, even the no-longer high-flying reputations of the tech firms can begin to compare with the bottom-dwellers – the companies who saw their reputations get hit with a ton of bricks over the past year and are now marooned at the very bottom of the Harris listing.

You know them: Equifax, Wells Fargo, and the Weinstein Company.  How wonderful they are …

Companies behaving (not quite so) badly: Financial services firms continue their slow reputation recovery.

Financial services industryBack in 2009, no industry in the United States took such reputation beating as the financial services segment.  And to find out how much, we needn’t look any further than Harris survey research.

The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient study of American consumers is conducted annually.  The most recent one, which was carried out during the 4th Quarter of 2014, encompassed more than 27,000 people who responded to online polling by Harris.

In the survey, companies are rated on their reputation across 20 different attributes that fall within the following six broad categories:

  • Products and services
  • Financial performance
  • Emotional appeal
  • Social responsibility
  • Workplace environment
  • Vision and leadership

Taken together, the ratings of each company result in calculating an overall reputation score, which the Harris researchers also aggregate to broader industry categories.

Most everyone will recall that in 2009, the U.S. was deep in a recession that had been brought about, at least in part, by problems in the real estate and financial services industry segments.

This was reflected in the sorry performance of financial services firms included in the Harris polling that year.

Back then, only 11% of the survey respondents felt that the financial services industry had a positive reputation.

So it’s safe to conclude that there was no place to go but “up” after that.  And where are we now?  The latest survey does show that the industry has rebounded.

In fact, now more than three times the percentage of people feel that the financial services industry has a positive reputation (35% today vs. 15% then).

But that’s still significantly below other industry segments in the Harris analysis, as we can see plainly here:

  • Technology: ~77% of respondents give positive reputation ratings
  • Consumer products: ~60% give positive reputation ratings
  • Manufacturing: ~54%
  • Telecom: ~53%
  • Automotive: ~46%
  • Energy: ~45%
  • Financial services: ~35%

So … it continues to be a slow slog back to respectability for firms in the financial services field.

Incidentally, within the financial services category, insurance companies tend to score better than commercial banks and investment companies when comparing the results of individual companies in the field.

USAA, Progressive, State Farm and Allstate all score above 70%, whereas Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, BofA and Goldman Sachs all score in the 60% percentile range or below.

Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management and public affairs for the Harris Poll, contends that financial services firms could be doing more to improve their reputations more quickly.  Here’s what she’s noted:

“Most financial companies have done a dismal job in recent years of connecting with customers and with the general public on what matters to them.  Yet there’s no reason Americans can’t feel as positively toward financial services firms as they do towards companies they hold in high esteem, such as Amazon or Samsung, which have excellent reputations because they consistently deliver what the general public cares about …  

[Individual] financial firms have a clear choice now:  Prioritize building their reputations and telling their stories, or let others continue to fill that void and remain lumped together with the rest of the industry.”

Here’s another bit of positive news for companies in the financial services field:  They’re no longer stuck in the basement when it comes to reputation.

That honor now goes to two sectors that are Exhibits A and B in the “corporate rogues’ gallery”:  tobacco companies and government.

Both of these choice sectors come in with positive reputation scores hovering around 10%.

I suspect that those two sectors are probably doomed to bounce along the bottom of the scale pretty much forever.

With tobacco, it’s because the product line is no noxious.

And with government?  Well … with the bureaucratic dynamics (stasis?) involved, does anyone actually believe that government can ever instill confidence and faith on the part of consumers?  Even governments’ own employees know better.

Which are America’s Most Disliked Companies?

More than a few perennial “favorites” … plus a couple newcomers.

yuck factorI’ve blogged before about the companies Americans love to hate.  And now, 24/7 Wall St. has published this year’s list of America’s most disliked companies.  As the equity investment data aggregator and investment firm describes it:

“To be truly hated, a company must alienate a large number of people.  It may irritate consumers with bad customer service, upset employees by paying low wages and disappoint Wall Street with underwhelming returns.   

For a small number of companies, such failures are intertwined.  These companies managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked.”

In developing its list each year, 24/7 Wall St. reviews various metrics on customer service, employee satisfaction and share price performance.

Only companies with large customer bases are evaluated, based on the premise that for a company to be widely disliked, it needs to be known to a large number of people to begin with.

Among the sources reviewed by 24/7 Wall St. are the following:

This year’s list of the most disliked companies includes the following:

logo#1  General Motors — More than 30 million recalls pertaining to vehicular problems that have been linked to more than 40 deaths brings this company to the top of the list … along with a lot of dissembling about the issue.

#2  Sony — The hacking of the company’s computers and the resulting chaos surrounding the (non)-release of the movie The Interview was just the latest in a string of bad news, including a string of financial losses and fruitless reorganization attempts that seem more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic than a recipe for righting the ship.

#3  DISH Network — Super-poor customer service ratings along with ongoing fights with the Fox network, leading to the blackout of popular programs that have done nothing but rile the customer base even more.

#4  McDonald’s — Its menu has lost favor with consumers — particularly when compared to competitors’ offerings.  Negative press about low employee wages doesn’t help, either.

#5  Bank of America — BofA can never seem to score above the average for its industry.  In fact, it’s been the least popular big bank in the ACSI surveys for years.  Even worse, Zogby Analytics has BofA with the second lowest share of “poor” reviews of any business in its 2014 customer service survey.  On top of that, the bank continues to have major problems in the mortgage sector, with a slew of fines levied to clean up mortgage practices that ran afoul of the U.S. regulators

#6  Uber — No doubt, this app-based ride sharing service is wildly popular with many users, even as it’s the bane of the traditional taxi business in major American and European urban centers.  But few companies so popular have faced as much controversy at the same time.  Perhaps it’s a natural side effect of being a disrupter in the market, but it’s caused many enemies for Uber in the process.

#7  Sprint Corporation — “The great disappearing phone service” might be one way to describe this firm.  Sprint has lost nearly 2.5 million customers in just the past two years.  In fact, it’s had 11 straight quarters of net decline in subscribers.  The result is lost employee jobs (2,000 and counting), along with reduced customer service and industry competitiveness.  And the share price of Sprint stock has fallen by half in the past year.

#8  Spirit Airlines — Imagine this list of maladies in the airline industry:  flight delays, long customer lines, invasive security, lost baggage, hidden fees.  Now imagine them all wrapped up in one air carrier and you have Spirit Airlines.  Enough said.

#9  Wal-Mart — According to ACSI, few companies have lower customer ratings than Wal-Mart.  It’s low even in comparison with other big-box discount and department stores, as well as supermarkets.  Its own employees also rate the company low — and there are 1.4 million of them, so their opinions really matter.  Meanwhile, some consumers see Wal-Mart as hurting or destroying local businesses wherever it chooses to open a store in a new community.

#10  Comcast — Whether we’re talking about its television or Internet services, this company comes in with really horrific customer satisfaction ratings.  They’re “standout bad” in an industry that’s infamous for poor customer care.  It didn’t help when a phone recording of a Comcast customer service representative went viral — the rep who took up nearly half an hour refusing to help a customer cancel his service.

[Interestingly a few companies that were on 24/7 Wall St.’s list last year no longer appear — notably retailers JCPenney and Abercrombie & Fitch.  For Penney’s in particular, it seemed a slam-dunk prediction that it would remain on the list this time around, but the company is actually in the midst of a modest turnaround — and consumers and investors have noticed.]

There’s another interesting and perhaps ironic factor about America’s “least liked” companies.  It’s that four of them also appear on the list of the ten most-advertised brands in the United States.

That is correct:  Based on 2013 U.S.-measured media ad spending as calculated by AdAge, Chevrolet (General Motors), McDonald’s, Walmart Stores and Sprint rank in the Top Ten list of the most-advertised brands:

  • untitled#1 AT&T
  • #2 Verizon
  • #3 GEICO
  • #4 Chevrolet (General Motors)
  • #5 McDonald’s
  • #6 Toyota
  • #7 Ford
  • #8 Walmart Stores
  • #9 Sprint
  • #10 Macy’s

Evidently, “all that advertising” isn’t doing “all that much” to burnish these brands’ image!

Bank of America: The Financial Institution Everyone Loves to Hate

Bank of AmericaIf you’ve ever had an unpleasant or unfulfilling experience regarding Bank of America and how it handles transaction fees, branch operations or customer service in general, raise your hand.

Uh-huh.  I thought so. 

Our family’s lone experience working with BofA (when an inherited bank CD matured a few years back) was enough to elicit the famous cry:  “Never again!”

Evidently, we’re not alone.  According to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index report, customers give Bank of America its lowest satisfaction score in more than a decade.

In fact, BofA’s 2012 score of ACSI score of 66 out of possible 100 points is two points lower than its 2010 score.

There’s more:  Not only does BofA trail all of its main banking competitors, it’s the only financial institution with a customer satisfaction grade that is actually lower than its pre-recession level.

Not surprisingly, the bank is also the least popular one among consumers.  It’s had that ignominious distinction for four years running.

Just how are big banks faring in general?  The ACSI report reveals the following index scores (out of a possible 100):

  • JPMorgan Chase:  74 (up 7 points from 2010)
  • Wells Fargo:  71 (-2)
  • Citigroup:  70 (-1)
  • Bank of America:  66 (-2)

In general, consumers tend to rate smaller banking institutions, with an aggregate score of 79, higher than their big-bank rivals.  But the highest ratings in this sector are reserved for credit unions (82).

Incidentally, the American Customer Satisfaction Index is also calculated for the major insurance carriers — one of the 47 industries and 10 sectors that it surveys quarterly.  Who’s on top there?  Blue Cross/Blue Shield scores best among health insurance firms with a 73 rating, while Aetna brings up the rear with a 67 score.

As for property and casualty insurance providers, the scores are somewhat better.  State Farm and Progressive lead in this category with an 81 score … but none of the other major firms do significantly worse.

If you’re interested in exploring the results in greater depth, you can review the current and historical ACSI scores here.

What do consumers think of America’s corporations?

Corporate Trust ... Corporate ReputationWith the budget negotiations in full swing – and high dudgeon – on Capital Hill, naturally the public’s critical eye is trained on our political figures. And Congress is most assuredly taking a beating in the political polls, with approval ratings plunging astonishly below the 20% figure.

[Of course, is that really so surprising? After all, Congress is pretty evenly matched between the two parties … so partisans see much to criticize on both sides.]

The focus of attention on Washington has taken the spotlight off of corporate America – at least in terms of media attention. But that doesn’t mean that “John Q. Public” is giving companies much of a break.

I’ve blogged before about corporate reputations — most recently commenting on a field survey conducted early this year by Harris Interactive that measured the appeal of 60 of the “most visible” American corporate brands. That survey showed an uptick in positive opinions about those firms when compared to prior-year results.

But a May 2011 survey by GfK Custom Research North America shows otherwise. The findings from GfK’s online field survey of ~1,000 U.S. consumers include this doozy: Two-thirds of respondents believe that it’s harder today for American companies to be trusted than it was three years ago.

Furthermore, ~55% say it will be harder for companies to gain their trust in the years to come.

What’s bothering people about U.S. corporations? In order of significance, here are the key concerns:

 The perception that CEOs and other senior executives of corporations are overpaid.

 Corruption in senior management circles.

 Companies make up lost earnings at the expense of their customers.

 More products than ever are being manufactured overseas.

Interestingly, there’s less concern about declining product or service quality as a reason for lower levels of trust. And as has been found in other studies, the public’s view of technology companies is somewhat higher than its trust for companies in other industry segments.

But back to the rather grim overall findings … fewer than one in five survey respondents anticipate that corporate corruption will become better over time – a result that’s substantially lower than what was found in similar field research conducted by GfK a few years ago.

This survey underscores the fact that corporate America has a long way to go to change the sharply negative impressions consumers have of the world of business. Clearly, the financial crisis of 2008 continues to extend its long shadow more than two years later.

And it looms over everyone – public and private sector alike.

This helps explain the generally sour mood people are in these days.

A surprise? Corporate reputations on the rise.

Corporate reputations on the riseWhat’s happening with the reputations of the leading U.S. corporations? Are we talking “bad rep” or “bum rap”?

Actually, it turns out that corporate reputations are on the rise; that’s according to findings from the 2011 Reputation Quotient® Survey conducted by market research firm Harris Interactive.

Each year since 1999, Harris has measured the reputations of the 60 “most visible” corporations in the United States. The 2011 survey, fielded in January and February, included ~30,000 Americans who are part of Harris’ online panel database. Respondents rated the companies on 20 attributes that comprise what Harris deems the overall “reputation quotient” (RQ).

The 2011 survey contained 54 “most visible” companies that were also part of the 2010 survey. Of those, 18 of the firms showed significant RQ increases compared to only two with declines.

The 20 attributes in the Harris survey are then grouped into six larger categories that are known to influence reputation and consumer behavior:

 Products and services
 Financial performance
 Emotional appeal
 Vision and leadership
 Workplace environment
 Social responsibility

Each of the ten top-rated companies in the 2011 survey achieved between an 81 and 84 RQ score in corporate reputation. (Any RQ score over 80 is considered “excellent” in the Harris study). In cescending order of score, these top-ranked corporations were:

 Google
 Johnson & Johnson
 3M Company
 Berkshire Hathaway
 Apple
 Intel Corporation
 Kraft Foods
 Amazon.com
 Disney Company
 General Mills

At the other end of the scale, the ten companies with the lowest ratings among the 60 included on the survey were:

 Delta Airlines (61 RQ score)
 JPMorgan Chase (61)
 ExxonMobil (61)
 General Motors (60)
 Bank of America (59)
 Chrysler (58)
 Citigroup (57)
 Goldman Sachs (54)
 BP (50)
 AIG (48)

Clearly, BP and AIG haven’t escaped their bottom-of-the-barrel ratings – and probably won’t anytime soon.

What about certain industries in general? The Harris research reveals that the technology segment is perceived most positively, with ~75% of respondents giving that sector a positive rating.

The next most popular segment – retail – had ~57% of respondents giving it a positive rating.

For the auto industry, the big news is not that it’s held in high regard (it’s not) … but that its ratings jumped 15 percentage points between 2010 and 2011. That’s the largest one-year jump recorded for any industry in any year since the Harris RQ Survey began.

What industries are bouncing along the bottom? Predictably, it’s financial services firms and oil companies.

But the news from this survey is, on balance, quite positive. In fact, Harris found that there were actually more individual companies rated “excellent” than has ever been recorded in the history of the survey. Considering the sorry state of the economy and how badly many brands have been battered, that result is nothing short of amazing