Research in the UK and US has highlighted the customer
service leaders and laggards among credit card issuers in the
countries. Those at the top of both charts had one thing in the
common: they aimed to treat customer service as a business driver
rather than a cost. Sarah Fitzmaurice reports.


US satisfaction: US – JD Power customer satisfaction surveyViewing customer service as
a business driver rather than a hurdle is fundamental to delivering
top-quality customer service, according to the top performers in
recent surveys.

Card issuers which came out on top
of recent customers service surveys in the US and UK said
recruitment policies, remuneration and investment in contact centre
staff were their main customer service initiatives. The surveys
also showed a strong and differentiated online proposition was also
popular among consumers.

American Express (Amex) scored top
marks in a US satisfaction survey, conducted by research company JD
Power and Associates, for the fourth year in a row. It scored 769
points out of 1,000 in the research, which compared to an
industry-wide average of 714.

Reena Panikar, business leader of
the telephone services centre at Amex, said the company had
recently completed an 18-month project to redesign its approach
towards customer service.

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Panikar said the business has now
stopped recording phone calls to measure performance at its call
centres. Instead, it is collecting feedback direct from its
customers to better tailor its service.

Panikar said it was important to
give customers what they said the wanted rather than what Amex
though that they wanted.

“Other companies focus on dealing
with customers as quickly as possible, and we wanted out customers
to dictate how long we spend with them,” she said.

“We used to monitor every customer
care call and we would look at each call to see if it was a good or
a bad call. We were driven by internal policy,” Panikar added.

“We don’t do that anymore, we don’t
monitor the calls in that way. We let the customers tell us how we
are doing. We stopped second-guessing them.”

Viewing customer care as a business
driver is something Rod Bulmer, managing director of retail banking
at Co-operative Financial Services, firmly believes in too. CFS
came third in a customer services survey conducted by the UK’s
Which? magazine with a 76% customer satisfaction rating
from its credit card customers.

It was behind Smile, the
Co-operatives’ online bank (83%); and First Direct (78%), an online
subsidiary of HSBC.

“Customer service is not about
delivering profits but about putting the customer first in every
way,” said Bulmer.

“When you do that it massively
changes the way you run your business,”

Like American Express, CFS does not
focus on getting through volumes and do not have target times to
deal with customer queries.


UK satisfaction: Which? customer satisfaction surveyThe people behind the

As well as focusing on the way customer service is viewed within
the business, investing in the people behind the service is a key
focus for UK and US banks who scored highly in the customer service
satisfaction surveys.

Bulmer believes this is a
fundamental factor to customer satisfaction.

“We spend more time looking at
candidates who can really engage with customers rather than solve
technical issues,” said Bulmer.

“Our advisers go through an academy
and are also put through training teams to ensure there are really
engaging with customers.

“We invest in our advisers so they
develop much more emotional capabilities than our competitors,”
Bulmer added.

Recruiting the right staff is also
important. Amex has introduced a targeted recruitment policy, where
it looks to employ individuals from the hospitality and retail
services sector in its customers services centres. It then
pay-grades the employees based on customer feedback responses.

A sound online offering can also
play an important role in driving satisfaction. The top two
performers in the UK survey were online banks, both of which had
outperformed their parent company service (for Smile, CFS and for
First Direct, HSBC).

The difference was most notable at HSBC, where First Direct
received a 78% satisfaction rating, compared to HSBC, which managed
just 65%, below the UK average of 66%.