At some point during the past Spring semester I made a snarky comment during a class about one of the corporate parties in a case or a hypo, and a student challenged me to name a corporation I liked. Which seemed like a fair demand — especially as it took me some effort. In a way, that shouldn’t be surprising: in capitalism red of tooth and claw, a corporation that is liked may be leaving some consumer surplus on the table that it maybe should be grabbing and turning into producer surplus. Then again, perfect price and service discrimination is not yet possible: so, assuming I am not the absolutely average consumer even in the mythical world of free and perfect competition there ought to be some firms whose delivery of goods and services is sufficiently great as to give me some warm fuzzies.
I was reminded of this because a very pretty and inexpensive table we bought just a few years ago — from a store we will not be going back to — is showing signs of imminent collapse. To replace it we recently ordered a table from one of my favorite local companies, written before. And we recently celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary at a fabulous local restaurant that we go to only for the most special occasions.
Of the big national firms that I deal with, the ones that I think I do the best job and are most pleasant to deal with are, in alphabetical order:
- Aetna. It may be strange to list a health insurance company, and in part this may be a case of exceeding very low expectations. And, yes, the premiums have gone up a lot over what we paid a decade ago. But for that money we seem to have gotten a good policy. Aetna paid out pretty well when I had my aortic valve troubles – there was only one piece of attempted unreasonable behavior and we got it sorted quickly; financially the end damage was more like buying a new car than a new house (or, at the rack rate, waterfront property). When I call them for assistance with something billing-related, the people on the phone are usually (not inevitably, but almost always) not just friendly but competent and efficient.
- Costco. Too far away, and I doubt we actually save money there, but we sure eat better when we shop there. Staff at checkout work like beavers to get you through.
- GEICO. Yes, another insurance company. Hands down the best phone service from any company I deal with. Plus, they have done things that I didn’t expect and saved me significant money. Example: They don’t charge anything extra for a teen driver when your teen is in college, even if he spends the summer at home; I would have expected something pro-rata.
- UPS. I get a lot of packages. They are almost never late, and in 20 years even more rarely lost. The tracking system online is excellent. The driver who comes to our house is always very pleasant. The prices seem reasonable when I want to ship something. So they always park illegally downtown — no one is perfect.
I was tempted to add Whole Foods to the list, because I love their cheese and the staff are nice, almost creepy nice, but the prices are so absurdly high that I don’t go often. Similarly, the rare times I’ve dealt with Williams-Sonoma it’s been great, but pricey. And the experience of dealing with Puget Systems to buy the computing equivalent of a noiseless Ferrari for the kids’ gaming machine (had to be silent as it would be in the family room) was excellent. The product was beautiful, indeed noiseless, and I’ve never seen such fine cabling and documentation. It really felt like a luxury product and luxury purchasing experience, but I still can’t believe how much I paid for it. Or that I’d like another one for myself.
I ought also to mention a small software company, Thornsoft, the makers of Clipmate. Not only is this probably the single most useful piece of productivity software I’ve relied on for about 20 years, but on the rare occasions I’ve had a problem and emailed support, I’ve had a prompt responsive helpful reply from the programmer himself, Chris Thornton. Great stuff.
Plus, as I mentioned recently, I’m a big fan of the Gables Stage, although I don’t know if this counts as it’s a non-profit.
Notably absent from the list above are any banks, and any electrical or air conditioning maintenance/repair companies. I don’t seem to have much luck with those.
What are your favorite national or South Florida firms, winners not just in terms of price/quality but also in terms of quality of customer service?