Reputation: Top 10 consumer complaints of 2016

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When consumers complain and good will is lost, an organization quickly becomes vulnerable. (Pixabay)

Every CEO recognizes how important it is to build a positive reputation for a company’s merchandise and services. Products that live up to their word-of-mouth provide consumers with greater value and, therefore, can bring in a higher price. What’s more, the customers who buy them are more loyal–providing the promise of higher future earnings and sustained growth.

But the opposite also is true: When consumers complain and good will is lost, an organization quickly becomes vulnerable–and it only takes one incident to jeopardize a growing or established business.

Witness what happened when United Airlines violently dragged a passenger out of his assigned seat and off its plane last April. No company wants to cause, or deal with, that kind of drama.

So what were the most denounced products and services of the year in 2016?

The list of the year’s 10 most detestable items and services has been compiled jointly by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI)—and was released on July 27 by ABC News.

Automakers came in number one—heckled for problems ranging from advertising issues to mechanical problems, to faulty repairs, to towing disputes. And let’s not forget those airbag incidents.

Complaints about shoddy or incomplete home repair or construction ranked as the second-highest dispute category.

The full list released by the consumer agencies, starting with the worst offenders (and described by the actions that bothered consumers most), includes the following:

  1. Automakers: False claims in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes;
  2. Home improvement and construction contractors: Slipshod work, failure to start or complete the job;
  3. Utilities: Installation issues, service problems, and billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services;
  4. Retail Sales: Misleading advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, failure to deliver, and issues with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates;
  5. Financial organizations: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, and illegal or abusive debt collection tactics;
  6. Healthcare products and services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, and medical billing issues;
  7. Other services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, and failure to perform;
  8. Landlord/tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe livingfailur conditions, refusal to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, and illegal eviction tactics; (tie)
    Household goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances;
  9. Internet sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases; (tie)
  10. Home solicitations: Misrepresentations, do-not-call violations, abusive sales practices, and failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations.

And in addition to highlighting the most common consumer complaints during 2016, the survey also collected information on emerging consumer issues.

Used car leasing and solar energy sales both surfaced in this year’s survey as areas of growing concern, said Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy for CFA.

Specifically, respondents said that used car leases carry exorbitant interest rates and are not given the same protections as new cars under consumer laws. In turn, solar energy sales open a whole new can of worms, consumers said—noting their growing irritation with aggressive sales, confusing contract terms and faulty installations.

Grant described local agencies as being often the first to hear about and address a consumer issue. “It’s tempting to take state and local consumer protection agencies for granted,” she said. “They stand up for the little people.”