With the economy dragging, delinquencies on credit cards are up. People are stressed, angry, and broke.
Margaret Keane, who heads GE Capital's retail consumer finance arm, has responded with familiar tactics for a credit-card firm: tightening credit and adjusting pricing. Beyond that, she has worked to ensure good communication with customers and keep them on board.
Keane implemented "massive" training for call-center representatives to assist people with repayment plans or explain the impact of new card regulations on rates, fees and disclosures. (GE Capital Retail Consumer Finance provides credit cards for such retailers as Dick's Sporting Goods.)
"Credit card statements are very scary now," says Keane. "They say, 'If you only make a minimum payment, you won't pay this off until you're dead." Keane thought it a good idea to add statement information on how much consumers saved each month through discounts and rewards.
Her efforts to reach out to the roughly 40 million customers appear to have paid off: Chargeoff rates in the first quarter were 6.6 percent, while similar card issuers had rates of 14.5 percent to over 50 percent.
Service reps do what they can to help. But, says Keane, "A lot of times there's nothing we can do. It's hard for people to get on the next call."
Thank-you notes from managers go a long way in maintaining morale, says Keane.