Banks, known for subpar customer service, fare decently when compared with other industries, a new survey suggests.

Of the 16 banks included in Temkin Group's customer service survey of 235 companies, 12 scored at or above 50% — a middling benchmark — in customer satisfaction. The survey, set to be released Wednesday, asked 10,000 U.S. consumers to evaluate recent customer service interactions.

"Overall, banks were actually among the higher-performing industries in the survey," says Temkin Group managing partner Bruce Temkin. "But most were still in the mediocre range for customer service."

Personalized interactions and streamlined online and mobile services distinguished the banks at the top of the heap, Temkin says.

USAA, a longtime standout in this kind of ranking, bested the competition with a 75% customer service satisfaction rating, beating the next highest-ranked bank, U.S. Bancorp (USB), by a full 13 percentage points. USAA serves 9.8 million members of the U.S. military and their families; its main bank subsidiary has $62 billion in assets.

"USAA does a phenomenal job of focusing on the needs of their customers," Temkin says. "A lot of their customer service happens remotely. They work with their phone reps to make sure they understand their customers' situations, and their reps have a lot of empathy for the people they talk to."

The bank is also emerging as a leader in online and mobile customer service, Temkin says. "Mobile is their fastest-growing channel," he says, "and they've done a lot of work to make sure that their mobile customer service is as strong as it is on over the phone." USAA plans to release about 30 additional transactions on its mobile apps over the next few months, including more money-movement options and credit card service transactions, according to its assistant vice president of emerging channels, Neff Hudson.

The $352 billion-asset U.S. Bancorp credits its 62% rating — a double-digit improvement from last year - to a recent push to resolve problems on customers' first calls.

"When a customer makes the decision to call us, we want to make sure we have knowledgeable people ready to resolve the problem quickly," says Jean Fichtel, executive vice president for 24-hour banking at the Minneapolis lender. "We've done a number of things from a process standpoint to empower our front-line folks to do that."

Most of banks in the survey — including Chase (JPM), Fifth Third (FITB), SunTrust (STI), PNC (PNC) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) — fell somewhere in the middle of the pack, scoring between 50% and 56% in customer service satisfaction.

Most banks' customer service problems come down to byzantine products and processes, Temkin says.

"Banks are pretty good at creating complexity," he says. "They'll have multiple customer records for one individual and multiple systems for product lines. This complexity makes it difficult for customers to interact with them, especially in service situations."

That's particularly true for larger banks, according to Temkin.

A quartet of big banks scored below 50% in customer service satisfaction: Wells Fargo (WFC), Capital One (COF), Bank of America (BAC) and HSBC (HBC). HSBC came in last in the industry at 39%, down six percentage points from the previous year.

For banks striving to improve their customer service ratings next year, Temkin recommends authorizing employees to waive fees and make other independent decisions while working with customers. "These are the things that help raise the bar in customer service," he says.

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