Tell your customers what fees you charge. Keep your branches clean. Greet people when they come in, and thank them for their business.
These may not sound like high hurdles, but J.D. Power and Associates' latest consumer banking satisfaction survey suggests many banks, especially the largest ones, aren't clearing them. One measure of how poor the industry's reputation for service has gotten is that the study's director predicts customer satisfaction will improve next year — but only because one of this year's most consistent sore spots, charging overdraft fees without informing the customer, will be illegal.
"Customers want to understand the terms and have a choice," said Michael Beird, head of J.D. Power's financial services group. "That's all we're saying."
The survey, filled out by more than 48,000 consumers in January, asked respondents to rate the institutions they banked with on six different fronts, from product offerings to problem resolution. The results were released Wednesday.
Among J.D. Power's conclusions is more customers are likely up for grabs than ever, and poor customer service is the biggest reason why.
Since 2007, the percentage of respondents who said they "definitely do not" intend to switch banks within 12 months has fallen from 46% to 34%.
Big banks are responsible for most of that decline. While J.D. Power did not release national data, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and its Washington Mutual network, Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. ranked below average in every region where they operate. Wells Fargo & Co. and its Wachovia outlets, meanwhile, were the only exception to big bank relative underperformance, ranking above average everywhere.
Being a regional or smaller institution by no means guaranteed good performance. As is common, Beird said, customers across the board reported being far less pleased with banks than with other financial services businesses such as brokerage and insurance firms. But the survey found that the customers of smaller banks generally reported "higher customer satisfaction with in-person service and attention."
"I see reasons why people prefer going into the smaller bank branch," Beird said, though big institutions enjoyed advantages because of customer perception of increased stability.