Ace Hardware Aces Out Home Depot in Customer Service


Recently, BusinessWeek rolled out their list of top companies ranked by customer service. There were a few yawns and one or two surprises. L.L.Bean, USAA and Apple claimed the podium with 1st, 2nd and 3rd places on the list. L.L.Bean impressed me by improving their score more than 10% over 2009. In what is generally considered to be a tough year for customer service, this is worth noting.

Also worthy of mention is Publix Super Markets. They earned a solid 5th place in a business that is widely known for using price promotions to drive revenue. It’s easy to expect luxury brands to hang their hats on great customer service. It’s more surprising when a ho-hum, tiny-margin business like grocery stores commits to good service. Kudos to Publix.

I’m a little surprised by Barnes & Noble making the top 10. My personal experience is they are incredibly average in their customer service. And their incessant sales pitches from the cash registers diminish the customer experience even more.

It’s nice to see a little store beat out their big-box competitor. Most (all?) Ace Hardware stores are locally owned, neighborhood businesses. Many are reminiscent of the mainstreet hardware store of days gone by. And they often have long-time employees who know how to help customers find exactly what they’re looking for. My mom swears by them.

Here’s the top 10:

Click here to see the whole list. The entire list is worth looking at because it’s dynamic. You can change the order of the list by clicking on the different heading. So you can rank the list by these factors:

  • Quality of Staff
  • Efficiency of Service
  • Total Score
  • Change from 2009
  • Definitely Recommend Brand
  • Definitely Repurchase Brand

This becomes interesting when you rank the list by brand loyalty (“Definitely Recommend” and “Definitely Repurchase”). Then the list changes. Loyalty seems to correlate with overall customer service score but is influenced by industry.  Insurance companies have a higher loyalty rating than hotels, for instance, no matter what their customer service score is.

Is there a lesson here for the rest of us?

One is that brand loyalty does tend to track with customer service. The better you take care of your customers, the more of them will come back.

A second is that even in a bad economy, you can improve customer service. L.L. Bean, Apple and Nordstrom all proved that.

Another lesson is that people notice good service. When you consistently take good care of your customers they will notice. They will come back. And they will give you high rankings in surveys like these. Which might drive even more customers to your business.