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The annual Harris Interactive poll that measures public attitudes toward various industries shows that “supermarkets continue to get better scores than any other industry; fully 90 percent of all adults think they do a good job and only six percent think they do a poor job, giving them a net positive score of 84.

Tobacco companies (-43) and oil companies (-32) come at the bottom of the list, far below the other 19 industries, according to the poll.

Next in the list of industries with the best reputations are online search engines (65), computer hardware companies (64), computer software companies (59), hospitals (53), and Internet service providers (52).

The two other industries with negative scores are managed care companies (-14) and health insurance (-9), which are now more or less synonymous. Three other industries have low score below 20: cable companies (14), pharmaceuticals (15) and airlines (18). Indeed, three industries have seen what the poll refers to as “truly massive declines in their reputations since Harris first asked these questions eleven years ago in 1997.” They are oil companies, which have fallen 56 points from 24 point positive to 32 negative; airlines, which have fallen 48 points from 66 positive to 18 positive since 1998 (they were not included in the 1997 survey); and pharmaceutical companies, which have fallen 45 points from 60 positive to 15 positive this year.

According to a summation of the poll results, these results are all linked: “Real world events, bad service and bad experiences can lead to bad media coverage. But there are also cases where personal experiences are relatively positive and media coverage tends to be negative (such as health insurance). Clearly industries need to focus on good customer service and running their business successfully with a strong focus on the public interest. When the price of an industry’s goods and services rises sharply, the quality of their services decline or they get a lot of unfavorable press coverage, they should expect to become more unpopular.”

KC's View:
Memo to supermarket industry…

Don't screw it up.

The industry ought to go to school on the issues that have brought down so many other industries – lousy customer service, lack of transparency, irrelevance, arrogance…

The worst mistake the industry could make is to think that its position at the top of these rankings is somehow unassailable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every position is assailable and every advantage is temporary.

I once gave a speech to a retailing organization that would be considered to be legendary, and the company’s owner said he wanted the overarching message to be a simple one – that while the companies managers and leaders were to be congratulated for their achievements, those were all in the past. “Being legendary,” he said, is a reputation that the company had to earn every day. No exceptions.

Here endeth the lesson, as Jimmy Malone once famously said.