The 10 Worst Companies in America

Last Updated May 4, 2011 7:37 AM EDT

If you work in customer service, chances are your company didn't make the bottom part of the latest Harris Interactive U.S. Reputation Quotient. If it had, you're probably busy sending out your resume today.

Don't let me distract you.

For the rest of us, listen up: There's plenty to be learned from the bottom of the list. Harris surveyed more than 30,000 members of the American general public â€" your customers â€" and asked them to evaluate companies based on a list of criteria that included emotional appeal, products and services, social responsibility, vision and leadership, workplace environment and financial performance.

Here's the bottom 10:

51. Delta Air Lines
52. JP Morgan Chase
53. Exxon Mobil
54. General Motors
55. Bank of America
56. Chrysler
57. Citigroup
58. Goldman Sachs
59. BP
60. AIG

Notice anything about the list?

Almost every one was either a key player in the last recession or was responsible for environmental destruction on a Biblical scale. Voters threw in Exxon Mobil and Delta for good measure. There's a little-known rule that every list like this must include at least one airline. Bet you didn't know that.

What we can glean from the biggest losers list
As I look at the losers, and as I review the criteria used to evaluate the companies, it strikes me that reputation is more about perception than anything else.

For example, how familiar is the average consumer with a company's financial performance? If they were, could they dock a company like Goldman Sachs or Delta back when the poll was taken? Probably not. Same with products and services: Are we to believe motorists are unhappy with their BP or Exxon unleaded fuel â€" or are they just punishing the oil sector for the Deepwater Horizon disaster?

It's helpful to review last year's losers. Sure enough, they included the usual suspects, minus the oil companies â€" and, of course Delta. (Remember â€" it's a rule.) Also on the list were Fannie Mae (58) and Freddie Mac (60).

So what? It means facts don't matter as much â€" they may not matter at all, actually â€" when it comes to your company's reputation. Rather, you may be unlucky enough to be in a recession, or the same industry as a company that has destroyed the Gulf of Mexico with a gusher.

Or you might be an airline.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, or email him directly.

Photo: UggBoy/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the He is at work on a book about customer service issues.