If you've ever spent an eternity on hold, waiting for a customer service rep to get back to you, you might have devoted a few of those minutes to wondering which firms get it right. Dalbar to the rescue! The Boston-based consulting company routinely surveys the corporate landscape, evaluating customer service, among other things.

This week it released results of a test to see which major retailers offered the most responsive call center service. Those who answered the phone were asked for information on products, return policies, warranties, and so on. The winners, according to BusinessWeek, are:

  1. Lowe's (NYSE:LOW)
  2. Best Buy (NYSE:BBY)
  3. Gap (NYSE:GPS)
  4. QVC, part of Liberty Media (NYSE:L)
  5. Circuit City (NYSE:CC)

Also scoring well were Williams-Sonoma (NYSE:WSM) and its Pottery Barn unit. (Best Buy has been featured as a recommended company in our Motley Fool Stock Advisornewsletter.)

That's the good news, but Dalbar throws some cold water on it, pointing out that "only 5% of retail company representatives were friendly and welcoming to customers compared to 65% in financial service firms [such as Fidelity Investments and Vanguard]." Of course, it might merit noting that Dalbar isn't the most objective researcher, as its business focuses on serving financial firms.

Still, there remain some takeaways for investors. Those invested in Home Depot (NYSE:HD), for example, might find themselves less than thrilled with the Lowe's rating and Home Depot's absence from the top of the list. A reputation for exceptional customer service can be an important competitive edge. Companies making the list are likely spending significant time and money training employees to be especially effective, and presumably, they're reaping some ultimate reward for the effort.

Regarding the disparity between retail and financial firms, part of the explanation might lie in the different perceived importance of the two industries. When people ask questions about their money, they probably take the questions, answers, and service much more seriously than when they place calls about sneakers, doorknobs, or televisions. Therefore, companies providing financial services may take extra care in providing service. There are surely other explanations, though -- share your ideas on our discussion board. (We're offering a free trial of our entire vast discussion board community right now -- give it a whirl!)

And when evaluating possible companies to invest in, give some consideration to customer service. Good service keeps customers coming back, while bad service tends to get groused about to friends and strangers.

If you're looking for some investment ideas, check out our suite of newsletters that offer stock and fund picks. Take advantage of our free trials and free reports, and while you're at it, see how good our customer service is!

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.