Today is “Due to heavier call volume day” when I must deal with the ever-increasing number of companies that help themselves to my credit card and charge me for goods and services I don’t want or didn’t authorize. Companies that engage in these practices invariably have appalling customer service located somewhere overseas. Their long hold times are because Samesh and Fatima over in Bangalore are the only two persons working in customer service, usually not at the same time.
Hearing the dreaded “heavier call volume” lie makes me angry. But today I thought I’d test a theory that I’ve repeatedly read about: “Happy People Think Happy Thoughts.” So instead of souring my mood focusing on companies I despise with all my body and soul — I’m talking to you Verizon, Chase, and Microsoft! – I decided to test myself and see if I could come up with a list of 10 companies that I feel good about.
To my surprise, I did.
And the envelopes please:
10) Rackspace and GoDaddy
Although Rackspace and GoDaddy are separate companies, I use them for various functions but I’m often unsure which ones, so I’ve lumped both together. I had a serious issue years ago on Christmas day and both companies had knowledgeable people readily available to help me troubleshoot them. I’m still very grateful.
I especially appreciated that the customer support people I dealt with were in the good ol’ USA – Rackspace’s people were in San Antonio and GoDaddy’s people were in Gilbert, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix. For reasons unknown to me, Arizona is where some of the best customer support people often reside.
It’s my hope that Rackspace and GoDaddy still provide stellar customer service, but it’s to the credit of both companies that I haven’t had to call them in years because of service issues. I also appreciate they don’t send me phony holiday greetings and other promotional emails.
The best technology companies are out of sight, out of mind, except when customer service is required and then someone located in the U.S. is readily available.
9) Peet’s Coffee on Westwood
I don’t particularly like Peet’s Coffee, but I appreciate they serve their java piping hot. What attracts me to the West Los Angeles store is the unbelievable staff who at the crack of dawn without fail make me feel welcome and appreciated. Watching the hard-working team is something to behold – they work well together, and when there really is unusually heavy volume, they quickly provide back-up support to ensure long lines don’t form.
There was a time I’d vouch for the entire Peet’s chain, as I found their San Francisco stores first-rate when I lived in the Bay area. The pandemic has sidelined my travels, so I’m only vouching for Peet’s on Westwood in L.A. It’s an extraordinarily managed store, even with the recent loss of Rob, the longtime manager.
Brian, one of Rob’s deputies, hasn’t missed a beat.
Apologies if this is TMI, but Malin+Goetz is where I buy my bath and shaving supplies. Discovering the company was a godsend: I was a longtime user of The Art of Shaving products, going back to when it was a tiny boutique operating on New York’s Upper East Side. But the owner sold out to Gillette, which lost me as a customer when the company began running ads telling me to control my “toxic masculinity.”
Malin+Goetz products don’t irritate my skin or cause my scalp to flake. I could order them online, but I like visiting the company’s store in the Century City Mall, one of only two reasons to visit that god awful complex (the other is Panini Kabob Grill.) The enthusiasm Tanya and her team have for their company and its products is contagious. Amazingly, they always remember my name.
Of course, I always leave my toxic masculinity at the door before entering the store.
Chewy has a controversial and shameful past. For a time, it was owned by PetSmart, which is controlled by a private equity firm. I’ve previously warned why animal lovers should avoid PetSmart, veterinarian practices, and any other entities controlled by private equity.
But Chewy was spun off in June 2019, and I feel safe recommending the company, which I’ve ordered from for years. I buy 32-pound bags of prescription kibble, which is a big shlep to carry from the store, load into my car, and then carry into the house. Chewy delivers the package to my door and gives me a discount for my automatic orders.
I’ve had a few hiccups with Chewy, but I always managed to get a customer service person in the U.S. on the phone almost instantly. I’m more trustful ordering my dog’s food through Chewy than I’d be buying from Jeff Bezos’ Amazon or PetSmart.
6) Hillstone Restaurant Group
You might not know Hillstone Restaurant Group, but hopefully you’ve had a chance to visit some of their restaurants, including Hillstone, Houston’s, Rutherford Grill, and Palm Beach Grill. A Hillstone-run restaurant is consistently of superior quality, in terms of both food and service but at considerably more affordable prices than eateries run by A-lister restauranteurs Danny Meyer and Wolfgang Puck. Hillstone is majority-owned by George Biel, who could sell out for billions taking his company public. He prefers to grow organically.
The Hillstone restaurants I most frequent is South Beverly Grill and the adjacent Honor Bar in Beverly Hills, where Hillstone has a corporate office across the street. Employees tell me that Biel is a great guy, which perhaps explains how the restaurant attracts such a professional and loyal staff.
Along with Dave Keon, Biel ranks high among the people I’d most like to meet. Naturally, at a Hillstone corporate restaurant.
5) In-N-Out Burger
In-N-Out Burger makes me proud to be a Californian. The company was selling fresh ingredients long before the first millennial was born, and its commitment to quality is uncompromising. Four years ago, they closed all their stores in Texas for a few days because the buns weren’t up to snuff.
In-N-Out is renowned for treating its employees well and given them opportunities for advancement. Store managers earning more than six figure salaries worked their way up from flipping burgers. The company’s burgers appeal to people from all walks of life, including billionaire Larry Fink and Hollywood celebrities. The burgers taste especially flavorful if you visit a location off Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
I’ve admired from afar CEO Lynsi Snyder, 39, who overcame multiple family tragedies as well as drug addiction because of her Christian faith. Forbes estimates Snyder’s net work at $4.2 billion, but she could be worth considerably more if she took the company public. Thankfully, In-N-Out is also committed to growing organically.
While other companies are bailing out of the Golden State, In-N-Out appears committed to its California roots. The company in November turned down a personal appeal from Florida governor Ron DeSantis to relocate to the Sunshine State.
I was a user of Apple products long before they became mainstream. Microsoft products, in addition to being buggy and unreliable, strike me as being designed by nerds and follow nerd logic. Apple products were designed by technologists with common sense, which means I often can troubleshoot issues on my own. If I can’t, Cousin Rob usually can.
Until recently, Apple’s customer support was stellar. The customer support app allowed you to initiate a call almost instantly, and in most instances the person on the line was knowledgeable. If they couldn’t solve a problem, they’d get someone more experienced on the line who could.
Apple has redesigned its customer support app to make it trickier to initiate a call, but it’s still possible to connect with a reasonably well-trained person in the U.S. or Canada. (Understandably, I have no issues with U.S. companies opening call centers north of the border.)
When Apple comes out with its electric car, I’m sure it will be more stylish, better made, and more reliable than Elon Musk’s Teslas. Good thing, too. Cousin Rob drives a Tesla, so I’ll be on my own in the EV world.
I love my Subaru and what owning one says about me. When someone buys a Subaru, they are signaling to the world, “I am not an a-hole!” As well, the owner is statistically likely to own a pet.
Subaru makes utilitarian cars with an emphasis on safety and reliability. In my experience, Subaru has always lived up to its reputation. I’ve had a few issues over the years, but the company quickly resolved them, in one instance more than fairly.
I also appreciate Subaru’s historically progressive values, which are genuine and not intended to garner favorable media attention. Decades ago, Subaru’s market research revealed that its Forrester brand was popular with lesbians. The company embraced the lesbian community and began advertising in publications that catered to them. While today companies trumpet their commitment to gays and lesbians and want medals for their efforts, Subaru opted to do the right thing when it was very controversial to do so.
So much for you readers who dismissed me as a right-wing Republican!
Costco members require no explanation as to the company ranks high on my list: Quality goods, fair prices, and the most liberal return policy in retail. As someone prone to making impulse purchases, I appreciate that if I change my mind some 20 years later about something I bought at Costco, I can still return it providing I have the original box and receipt.
Here’s an example of what distinguishes Costco from most of its competitors.
Years ago, I called customer service to inquire about my rewards. When the agent advised that my rewards were assigned to my Citibank Costco credit card and she’d be happy to connect me, I balked.
“I don’t feel like killing half my day waiting on hold to talk to someone in India who quite possibly won’t know what I’m talking about,” I said.
The agent replied: “Our deal with Citibank is they have to answer our calls promptly by someone in the U.S.” Sure enough, she had a Citi agent on the phone almost instantly.
Think about that. When Costco awarded Citibank its lucrative credit card business, the company demanded that Citibank couldn’t jerk around Costco customers the way the bank treats its own customers.
I’ve previously written about my awe of Fidelity. I’ve been a customer for decades and continue to be amazed with the company and its employees. I consider Fidelity the HR wonder of the corporate world.
Running customer support 24/7 is no mean feat, particularly when it comes to financial services, which requires considerably more knowledge and training. Except for its credit card operations, my understanding is that Fidelity doesn’t outsource any customer-facing functions. The customer service I’ve gotten from Fidelity’s credit card vendor is superior to my supposedly other “premium” cards which charge me a pretty penny. The Fidelity credit card offers two percent cash back on all purchases, which I consider a much better deal than “points” which invariably are useless whenever I want to use them.
Like In-N-Out and Hillstone, Fidelity prefers to grow organically and has avoided the public markets so it can ensure the quality of its business and its commitment to customers. CEO Abigail Johnson has been a great steward of her family’s business.
There you have it. Ten companies that make me happy. Did writing this post brighten my mood?
I confess, it did.
But I still despise Microsoft, Chase, and Verizon!