There's one place that people clearly aren't feeling the love: at the big banks. Of the 20 companies at the bottom of our customer-service ranking, nine sell financial services. Of the bottom 10 -- those making the MSN Money Hall of Shame -- half are banks, credit card servicers or both.

By now the gripes about the big banks are well-known: taxpayers lent them money to stimulate the economy and they grasped their fingers tight around it, restricting lending and even reducing existing credit card lines.

Bank of America (BAC, news), which serves more U.S. consumers than any other bank, got the worst marks, landing in the No. 2 spot in our Hall of Shame with a greater percentage of people calling its service "poor" (34.6%) than "fair" (24.8%), "good" (30%) or "excellent" (10.7%).

Wells Fargo (WFC, news), also with a huge network, fared only slightly better.

Even American Express, typically a standout for customer service, saw the percentage of respondents with positive feelings about the credit card company slide from 69.9 to 60.2 over the past two years.

Telecommunications companies continued to round out the Hall of Shame, as in previous years, but they've shown some improvement, with Sprint Nextel (S, news) and Comcast (CMCSA, news) making gains of 8 and 10 percentage points, respectively.

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Nonetheless, the cable companies are still failing to empathize with their customers, experts say. Attractive pricing bundles end after one year, luring new customers for the company but penalizing existing customers later on, all at a time when people are struggling to pay their bills.

"They seem to take the customer for granted," Dartmouth's Kopalle said.

The risks of doing that too long are perhaps best illustrated by AOL (AOL, news), which once again ranked worst in the Hall of Shame. The company has changed dramatically from its days as the pre-eminent Internet service provider, but reader posts on MSN Money's message board after past surveys show that customers still remember service problems dating back 10 or even 20 years.

Don't surprise me

In a time of economic uncertainty, the last thing people want is a surprise bill.

Even worse than a high price, for the customer, is an unexpected charge. A mere $3 fee can send the blood pressure skyrocketing. Dish Network (DISH, news), which makes its first appearance in the Hall of Shame, got into trouble for apparently confusing language regarding its cancellation fees and other costs, a move that cost it $6 million in a legal settlement and probably more than a few customers.

The companies that will fare well after the recession: those reducing customers' stress now, experts say.

"You have to deliver on what you advertise," said Honack, of Northwestern. "People have an expectation when they walk through the door. If what they get is different, that's when they get upset."

Take a look at the high scorers in the MSN Money survey. Costco says it's a warehouse, and it delivers consistently low prices. At FedEx (FDX, news) and United Parcel Service (UPS, news), the package arrives.

People know that if an item from Nordstrom doesn't work out, they can return it without a hassle. And at Netflix (NFLX, news), simply let the company know which movie you want to watch, and a DVD magically arrives, along with an easy-to-use return envelope. If a rental gets lost in the mail, Netflix understands and takes care of it.

"The bottom line for the good versus the bad, is, is it all about the consumer or is it about the company," said Edwards, the investment analyst. "If you're trying to make it about the consumer, you're going to win. If you're trying to make it about you, the company, you're going to lose."