What the 15 Most-Hated Companies Can Teach Us

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Can you guess the 15 companies Americans loved to hate in 2010? Some are obvious, and at least one is surprising. But even more shocking are the ones that didn't make the list.

American Airlines and Bank of America. AT&T and Johnson & Johnson. Toyota and Nokia.

Those are just some of the companies we loved to hate last year, according to an amazingly in-depth study by  24/7 Wall St. The investment analysis website collected polling data from Consumer Reports, JD Power, and the MSN-Zogby poll, among many others. They also studied negative press coverage and even the opinions of congressional members.

The result is a three-page detailed listing of the 15 most hated American companies of 2010, but here are the highlights as well as some intriguing analysis of our own – and what we can learn from it all.

The offenders in alphabetical order

Here are those 15 companies, which 24/7 Wall St. is careful to note is just a grouping and not a ranking. Being hyper-organized, we’re listing them alphabetically…

  1. American Airlines
  2. AT&T
  3. Bank of America
  4. Best Buy
  5. British Petroleum
  6. Charter Communications
  7. Citigroup
  8. Dell
  9. DirecTV
  10. Dish Network
  11. Johnson & Johnson
  12. McDonald’s
  13. Nokia
  14. Toyota
  15. United Airlines

Some of these are no surprise. Anyone stunned by leaky BP’s presence? Or recall-crazy Toyota? But if you look past the company names and at their industries, some interesting patterns emerge.

Analyzing the offenders

Two much-maligned industries are represented by two companies each: airlines (American and United) and financial institutions (B of A and Citigroup). That makes sense, since horror stories of hours-long tarmac delays and canceled flights competed for headlines last year with banks sloppily rushing foreclosure proceedings and doling out bonuses while accepting government bailouts.

But why aren’t there more banks and airlines on the list? For instance, where’s the much-maligned AIG? As 24/7 Wall St. explains…

“AIG became a pariah when the federal government spent huge sums of money to keep the insurer from going bankrupt. However, AIG has since done a very good job selling off assets and improving earnings to pay back the money the federal government lent it. Its stock has nearly doubled over the past year. There is a chance that AIG could pay back all of its obligations to taxpayers.”

So bad behavior can be compensated for with cold, hard cash. But nothing excuses poor customer service. Case in point…

A third industry with two companies on the list is satellite TV service (DirecTV and Dish Network). That’s somewhat of shock, since it was only a few years ago that those two companies attracted customers by touting in their advertising that the big, bad cable companies offer lousy customer service and sock you with hidden fees.

So why did DirecTV and Dish Network make the 2010 list? For using those same exact tactics. About DirecTV, 24/7 Wall St. wrote…

It automatically extends customers’ contracts for 24 months when new equipment is added. Customers often receive unexpected fees, such as a $480 cancellation fee. Recently the company reached a settlement with all 50 states over allegations that it misled consumers about pricing and policies.

And Dish Network?

It recently received unusually poor ratings from the MSN-Zogby customer service poll – 31.2 percent of those familiar with Dish Network’s service called it “poor.” Consumers were particularly upset with what they view as “surprise” fees for Dish service.

But does being hated really matter? Some companies on this list are doing just fine, thank you. For instance, McDonald’s still serves billions and billions but is included here because it’s “the poster child for unhealthy food in America.” But 24/7 Wall St. admits, “The bad PR appears not to have hurt the company’s share price, however, which has soared up nearly 25 percent in the last year.”

So who do you think we’ll hate in 2011?

Stacy Johnson

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