The 12 companies that treat you right

'Gosh darn it.'' I got cranky at one company's voice-activated telephone answering service last week. It's not very effective, but it made me feel better.

Ever found yourself so exasperated by a ''state-of-the-art'', cut-down-on-staff customer service system that you've similarly lost it?

Voice-recognition software remains one of the biggest complaints to Smart Investor magazine's annual service - or SMILES - survey. Our Smart Investor League of Exceptional Service study gives Aussies an opportunity to vote for the companies, in 12 industry categories, that are actually looking after them - rather than those that may just claim to be.

And we are not happy.

We far prefer local, person-to-person call centres. Four other features we want are accessibility, user-friendliness, quick responses and if we hold different products from the same provider, integrate your systems already!

Instead, fund managers, risk insurers and utilities suppliers are having a race to the bottom. The average score for these providers is just 65 per cent.

It's pretty obvious why we've marked down utilities companies so. Finally, a comeback for those eye-watering price rises. What's key is that we turn this vote with our fingers into votes with our feet; there are cheaper options - on every front - out there.

You've told us those companies that treat customers right are Queensland regional electricity provider Ergon Energy (79 per cent) and, on a national level, Origin (64 per cent).

For fund managers, investors are understandably still disillusioned with their failure to insulate against sharemarket mayhem. Many are nursing big losses and worried about how retirement will now look.

It's telling that the top provider in this category, with an impressive 81 per cent rating, is Vanguard, a company that offers products seeking to match market returns rather than exceed them. The latter is far more risky and comes with the possibility of falling far below.

Risk insurers typically come up short in our survey, largely because of their core business. They protect us if something unthinkable happens, which we prefer - yep - not to think about. This category was the only one to fall overall this year, albeit slightly.

In any case, CommInsure apparently makes the whole business most palatable, chalking up a decent 72 per cent.

The laggards in our survey, on that average 65 per cent, are at the other end of the spectrum from the top overall performer online savings providers, with an average of 82 per cent. UBank notches up the highest individual ranking, in fact the highest of any provider in any industry in the country: 85 per cent.

This is a good product - the interest rate is always competitive and, importantly, only a small amount is forfeited if you don't meet monthly qualification conditions. In other words, you get a decent rate no matter what. And recent improvements have smoothed out what was previously a clunky online banking offering.

The most-improved award in terms of categories goes to super providers, which have upped their average from 63 per cent to 71 per cent. The odd positive number on our annual statement makes us feel far more predisposed to positive ratings.

Public-offer industry fund QSuper claims top spot with 73 per cent, as service and systems compensated for soft performance across the sector.

Where should you look for health and general insurers that care? To GMHBA and AAMI, respectively.

GMHBA is a Geelong-based non-profit health fund that, on 80 per cent, is apparently making policyholders very happy. It knocked the competition out of the park when it came to claims resolution.

AAMI, the highest-rated general insurer open to all Aussies, with 75 per cent, will be known to everyone and is a regular in our survey. Perhaps Rhonda and Ketut helped this year. Also check out RAC if you're in Western Australia (80 per cent).

These ratings compare with an average score in each category of just 73 per cent.

Internet providers notched up the same average, with Internode coming top on 81 per cent. That's a far cry from mobile providers, though, who we still love to hate. The average was just 69 per cent, with Telstra and Vodafone again in the firing line. Voters rated TPG the highest with 82 per cent.

And speaking of providers with image problems, what of the banks? They maintained their average satisfaction scores overall. The standouts are St George for best home lender (75 per cent), and perennial people favourite Bendigo Bank for day-to-day banking (83 per cent).

Nicole is the editor of afrsmartinvestor.com. Follow her on Twitter @NicolePedMcK.

The story The 12 companies that treat you right first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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