Over the summer, J.D. Power released its annual study on customer satisfaction in the credit card industry, and it showed two very different cards tying for the top ranking.
American Express focuses on high-end reward cards and those that feature travel benefits, while Discover is seen as a fee-free alternative to the major card networks like Visa and MasterCard.
Do these results make sense?
To arrive at this interersting conclusion, J.D. Power surveyed 20,000 cardholders about six factors:
- billing and payment
- benefits and services
- problem resolution
Both of these companies scored 819 points out of 1,000.
American Express has a legion of fans that enjoy high-end benefits for travel and shopping, valuable rewards, and a reputation for going out of its way to assist its card members. Its four main cards also come with annual fees between $95 and $450, and you must pay off your balance in full each month.
Discover has equally rabid fans who can’t boast enough about the rewards they receive for no annual fee. In 2013, Discover also took steps to enhance this reputation by consolidating all of their products into the Discover it card, which offered competitive rates, fees, and rewards in a single card.
How to be a satisfied credit card customer
“Amex and Discover tie for first place” is a compelling and accurate headline, but there’s more to this story.
It turns out that the average score for the entire industry is 778, which represents an improvement from last year and a record high for the eight years J.D. Power has conducted this study. In my opinion, there isn’t a huge difference between the scores of 819 and 778 — at least not so much that the typical credit card user is really going to see the difference.
Instead, here is what all credit card users can do to improve their odds of receiving great customer service…
1. Avoid sub-prime credit cards. There may be little separating the top card issuers, but there’s a vast gulf between the major banks (and credit unions) and the cards offered by sub-prime lenders. These cards often come with monthly fees and may not offer an interest-free grace period. If you don’t qualify for major cards, don’t succumb to these scum. Check out the best credit cards for those with bad credit.
2. Ask for what you want. One of the positive changes Discover made was to automatically waive a cardholder’s first late fee. Yet every credit card issuer will do the same thing up on request. You can also ask to have late fees waived, interest rates lowered, or to earn more rewards — and you might be surprised how often the answer is, “Sure.”
3. Develop a relationship. Businesses tend to treat their best customers better than others, and credit card users who have bank accounts with the same institutions will often receive better service. In addition, they might have a branch they can walk into to receive personal service on their accounts.
4. Let them know when you aren’t satisfied. People love to complain to their friends about companies that offer poor service but seldom express that to the one place that can actually fix the problem. You don’t have to yell at the customer service representatives (who aren’t personally responsible for your problems), but you can state clearly and calmly that you’re not satisfied. Ask to speak with a supervisor, and mention you’re considering taking your business elsewhere. The credit card industry is incredibly competitive — and profitable — so card issuers will do everything possible to make sure you’re happy.
If you do these simple things, it almost doesn’t matter what J.D. Power says. The most important customer will be satisfied: You.