Got a question about your credit? Good luck reaching someone at Experian, the national credit bureau. They won't even give you their phone...

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Got a question about your credit? Good luck reaching someone at Experian, the national credit bureau.

They won’t even give you their phone number until you order a copy of your credit report.

Having trouble with your Eureka vacuum? Don’t press 0 — the manufacturer hangs up on you if you try to dodge its automated phone system.

Need information from Chrysler? Choose from one of five menu options on the car company’s phone system — or be trapped in an endlessly repeated loop from which there’s no escape.

Experian, Eureka and Chrysler are among the companies receiving an F grade for their telephone customer service from, a consumer-advocacy organization.

Gethuman has released a new report card rating 500 large American companies on how they serve consumers over the phone. The group also was featured in a Seattle Times story Nov. 12 that offered tricks for circumventing automated phone systems at major companies.

Those three businesses were in good company: Nearly 85 percent of the companies flunked Gethuman’s evaluation.

Phone service report card

Less than 10 percent of 500 companies and government agencies evaluated by earned a C or better for their phone service:

The “A” list: Hertz, Commerce Bank, Dillard’s, Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Hyatt Corp., Walt Disney World.

Earning a “B”: Allstate Motor Club, Budget Rent A Car, National Car Rental, American Express Business Gold, Chase Credit Cards, Bear Stearns, ING Direct, the FBI, the White House,, Bose, Eddie Bauer, Cabela’s, Williams-Sonoma, Best Western, JetBlue Airways, Motel 6, Radisson, Southwest Airlines, Super 8.

Earning a “C”: Ryder Rentals, U-Haul, Charles Schwab, Goldman Sachs Mutual Funds, Google AdWords, Motorola, T-Mobile Smart Access/tech support, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hormel Foods, Tyson Foods, Timberland, Verizon fraud reporting line, Vonage, Hampton Inn, Lufthansa, Spirit Air.


In fact, just nine companies out of 500 earned A’s: Hertz Rent A Car, Commerce Bank, Dillard’s department store, retailers Lands’ End and L.L. Bean, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Hyatt Corp. and Walt Disney World.

“We were disappointed that the companies did as badly as they did,” said Lorna Rankin, Gethuman’s project director.

Many of the country’s most prominent companies — Wal-Mart, Visa, Washington Mutual, Apple, Toys R Us among them — are failing their customers on the phone, according to Gethuman. In fact, entire industries flunked Gethuman’s audit, including all TV and satellite companies as well as most insurance, shipping, software and hardware companies.

The group, launched by Internet entrepreneur Paul English, hopes to empower consumers to do business with customer-friendly companies.

But Rankin also hopes that naming names will goad companies to do better by their customers.

“If we see companies over time raising their grade, I would view that as a very positive thing,” she said.

Each month, three teams of Gethuman volunteers will audit each company’s phone system and rank companies based on how they measure up against 10 standards voted on by visitors to Gethuman’s Web site.

“It’s not just whether you can get to a person, but what happens to you along the way,” Rankin said.

Can you ask for a call-back rather than wait? Do you get an estimated wait time? Can you understand the agent when one finally comes on the line?

Among the sins companies must avoid to get a good grade:

• No hiding the zero: Callers should be able to dial 0 or say “operator” for a human.

• No repeats: Callers should never have to repeat information already provided to a human or an automated system during a call.

• No happy talk: Companies should avoid patronizing, overly cheery computer voices and cliché phrases such as “Your call is important to us.”

At least one F-rated company said it’s already working on improvements to its phone system.

Electrolux Home Care Products, manufacturer of Eureka vacuums, was reviewing its automated phone system before Gethuman’s rankings were published.

“I feel it’s too hard to get to a human being,” said company spokeswoman Jackie Tanner. Electrolux will add a new menu option soon so that the 60,000 customers who call during a typical month can more quickly reach human help.

At the same time, Tanner said she’s trying to balance the desire for human contact with the need to minimize wait times. “We don’t have lots of people answering phones … , and we don’t want to fix one problem and cause another.”

At retailer L.L. Bean, the phone hadn’t even started ringing on our end when an agent answered the call.

“Providing a human option is critical to our business model,” spokesman Rich Donaldson said. Customer-service representatives employed by L.L. Bean answer calls at four centers in Maine. It’s costly to do business that way rather than hiring contractors or relying on automation, but Donaldson said the company views it as a long-term investment.

Doing away with the human touch “is something we wouldn’t consider,” he said.

And Experian, the credit bureau that won’t even reveal its phone number unless you order your credit report first?

We don’t know what they have to say about customer service. They didn’t call us back.

Jolayne Houtz:; 206-464-3122.