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Related topics: customer service, consumer guide, complaints, retail, hotels

MSN Money asked IBOPE Zogby International to conduct an online national survey in which 3,022 randomly chosen respondents rated customer service at 150 companies from 15 industries. The response choices were "excellent," "good," "fair," "poor," "I haven't had an interaction with this company's customer service" and "not sure." The poll was conducted in late April.

We used several criteria in choosing the companies, including those with the largest sales in such customer-facing industries as retail, hotels and restaurants. We reviewed the lists from the past four years so that the survey would reflect how companies were doing over time. In addition, we went back to the comments we received from readers on previous surveys, to make sure we hadn't overlooked companies that were notorious for bad service but not quite large enough to make this year's initial list. Then we juggled our list to reflect name changes, ownership turnovers and the latest sales trends.

Once Zogby reported its results to us, we eliminated the responses "not familiar" and "not sure" from our tallies to focus attention on the responses from customers who were familiar with companies and expressed opinions about them.

The final cut for our list eliminated companies that had fewer than 500 responses that met the aforementioned criteria. That level of response corresponds to what Zogby considers a sample size with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. That left 109 ranked companies.

The 10 companies with the highest percentage of "poor" rankings became our Hall of Shame. Using the same methodology, the 10 with the highest percentage of "excellent" rankings became our Hall of Fame.

To get a sense of what went into survey respondents' answers, we also asked what aspect of a company's customer service was most important to them. The clear winners: a friendly and knowledgeable staff. Those were the top answers for more than 60% of respondents (see the full list below).

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When thinking about a company's customer service, which one of the following features is most important to you?

Feature% most important
Knowledgeable staff47.0
Friendly staff14.7
Readily available staff12.5
Service after a sale12.4
Flexible policies for merchandise exchanges/returns8.0
None; product is all that matters2.6
Not sure/Other2.6
Source: Zogby International