Since 1999, Nielsen has conducted the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ), which measures the reputation of America’s most visible companies as they are perceived by consumers. Consumers are asked to identify and rate the nation’s most visible companies based on their image, good or bad.

This year’s RQ reveals a number of important trends, including a shift in trust for technology and finance companies, an overall improvement in corporate reputation, and a continued emphasis on maintaining a strong company reputation.

The 2014 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) Rankings

How do high profile companies measure up? These are the companies with the top ten best (and worst) reputations in 2014:

Companies with the best reputation:

  1. Amazon
  2. The Coca-Cola Company
  3. Apple
  4. The Walt Disney Company
  5. Honda Motor Company
  6. Costco
  7. Samsung
  8. Whole Foods Market
  9. Microsoft
  10. Sony

Companies with the worst reputation:

  1. Sprint Corporation
  2. JP Morgan Chase & Co.
  3. Sears Holdings Corporation
  4. AIG
  5. Goldman Sachs
  6. Dish Network
  7. Halliburton
  8. Monsanto
  9. BP
  10. Bank of America

Corporate leaders in the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ) are scored on six reputation dimensions:

Consumers Have More Faith in Corporate America than Recent Years

The financial crisis of 2008 laid waste to many a corporate reputation. The layoffs, bailouts, and prolonged unemployment soured the opinion of many consumers on major corporations, both individually and as a whole. But according to the RQ, consumer opinion of corporate America has finally bounced back, with numbers that are now better than 2008 ratings.

This year, only 20% of consumers say that corporate America’s reputation has improved. A vote of confidence from only one in five consumers is dismal, but not when compared with recent years. That 20% figure is about 25% higher than 2013 numbers, and double what was reported in 2012. Further, the number of companies achieving Excellent scores increased by three this year.

Of course, it’s telling that it’s taken a full six years for corporate America to recover its reputation, an important lesson for organizations considering the long term impact of reputational problems. Consumers do not seem to be quick to forgive and forget, though it does appear that with time, they will allow for reputation recovery.

This is especially evident in the financial services industry, where banks, insurance companies, and finance companies continue to report negative reputations. They are showing positive gains, however, with large RQ score increases for financial services firms including AIG, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup.

On the other end of the spectrum, the technology industry maintains a positive reputation, with a positive rating for 80% of the companies represented in the poll. To compare, 32% of financial services companies, 13% of tobacco companies, and 13% of government agencies had a positive reputation.

Privacy Impacts Trust and Reputation

In the poll, we see that consumers place great emphasis on the privacy of personal information. According to the poll, more than three-quarters of consumers are concerned about the private information companies collect from consumers, and less than half of them trust companies to act responsibly with their private data. That’s bad news for the likes of Target and others who have experienced serious data breaches that shook the confidence of consumers.

  • 76% of consumers strongly or somewhat agree that they are concerned about the increasing amount of personal information companies capture about their consumers these days.
  • Only 44% of consumers strongly or somewhat agree that they trust companies to act responsibly when it comes to using all the private data they have on consumers.

Consumers Regularly Research Companies

Perhaps the most important information revealed by the Harris Poll is the fact that nearly 6 in 10 consumers will research companies before doing business with them. And another six in ten have decided not to do business with a company based on the company’s conduct. Further, nearly five in ten consumers have proactively tried to influence the perceptions of friends and family.

Even more important, these numbers are on the rise. In 2012, only 50% of consumers sought out information, while in 2013 and 2014, that number rose to 56%. This tells us that reputation continues to matter and make a difference for companies, especially high profile organizations with public-facing actions.

What are Reputation Leaders Doing Right?

We know that trust and privacy are especially important to reputation this year, but that’s not all consumers care about when choosing which companies to work with. What makes a company’s reputation outstanding?

Amazon took the top spot for the second year in a row, with a reputation score of 83.87 that improves upon last year’s 82.62. This is Amazon’s sixth consecutive year with an Excellent reputation rating.

“Amazon’s customer-centric focus continues to pay reputation dividends as it dominates both Emotional Appeal and Product and Service dimensions,” reports the Harris Poll.

Even beyond the Harris Poll, Amazon does very well in customer satisfaction. This year, Amazon topped the online retail category in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, and received the best score for customer satisfaction in a Zogby Analytics poll.

Is Amazon’s reputation success all about customer service? Possibly. As Harris executive vice president for reputation management Robert Fronk explains, “Amazon’s ability to execute and deliver is unparalleled. They handle the rational and the emotional side of the customer experience equally well.”

A U.S. News report points out that there’s more to Amazon than simple customer service, though. They are incredibly careful with private information, helpful without being intrusive, and make taking care of problems simple. Remarkably, they do it all without much hands-on customer service: most employees operate in the background, and Amazon’s customers are likely to have never spoken to an Amazon employee.

Coca-Cola, the company with the second-highest RQ, also shares important reputational lessons. The beverage giant shot up from the sixth to second spot this year, and was ranked in the top five for all of the reputation dimensions measured. Most notably, Coca-Cola has had a consistently strong reputation, recognized by the RQ for an Outstanding reputation nine years in a row.

Coca-Cola’s strength lies in its ability to hit all of the reputation dimensions that matter to consumers. Though they were only ranked first in Vision & Leadership and Financial Performance, Coca-Cola’s presence in the top five for each reputation dimensions indicates that the company takes a well-rounded approach, focusing not just on great products and services, but social responsibility, a good workplace environment, and emotional appeal, among other factors.

Reputation Lessons from the Harris Poll

  • There is no substitute for great customer service. It’s no coincidence that Amazon, the company with the highest rated reputation, is also a leader in customer service. Your corporate reputation greatly depends on your ability to consistently satisfy customers, and make it right when you don’t.
  • Consumers value privacy. In the past year, we’ve seen several data breaches that have damaged the trust between consumers and companies that collect personal data. Companies that place an emphasis on limiting the collection of personal information and developing the most secure resources for privacy will earn the trust of consumers.
  • Consumers will not forget major incidents quickly. Six years after the 2008 financial crisis, the reputation of the financial services industry is seeing an uptick, but many companies in this sector continue to find themselves among the lowest reputation rankings. Consumer trust has been shaken, and it will not be won back easily.
  • Consumers care about more than just what you can give them. These days, the most successful companies demonstrate a willingness to give back, not just to customers, but to their corporate community and the world. Two of the most important reputation dimensions in the poll are a company’s workplace environment and social responsibility. Consumers want to know that employees are happy, and that the company has a positive impact on society.