Many credit card issuers are not doing enough to promote their products' benefits and are missing opportunities to boost customer satisfaction, according to J.D. Power and Associates.
Rocky Clancy, the market research firm's executive director of financial services, said these issuers need to show more "marketing zeal" about all sorts of perquisites: account-activity e-mail alerts, annual account summaries, bill-payment services, shopping discounts, and exclusive access to concerts and sporting events.
"Make sure people have the user's manual and they know what they're getting, and the more they use it, the better off you are," Mr. Clancy said Wednesday.
Credit card programs currently focus on acquisition, use, and retention, "but what about the piece that says 'How do I increase engagement?' " Mr. Clancy said. "What are the features and functions, what are the benefits? The more that I can use" such benefits, "the more satisfaction" the cardholder receives, and the more loyal that person will be to the issuer. Satisfied cardholders are more "likely to recommend you, to keep using you, to use additional products and services," he said.
American Express Co. and Discover Financial Services are the best at such consumer marketing and engagement, according to Mr. Clancy. As they did in the first one, Amex ranked first, followed by Discover, in the second annual credit card customer satisfaction survey, which J.D. Power released Wednesday.
J.D. Power, of Westlake, Calif., surveyed 7,665 credit cardholders in April and May; First Annapolis Consulting Inc. participated in the analysis. Amex scored 783 and Discover 751 on the survey's 1,000-point scale; they were the only two issuers to beat the industry average of 724.
Mr. Clancy said Amex "offers the suite of services, and they do a good job of marketing the benefits" of being a cardholder. Along with "a larger range of benefits, there's a focus on the recognition — 'You're special,' and they make people aware of it." Because many of Amex's cards carry an annual fee, he said, such sustained marketing is necessary to retain cardholders.
Discover cards, meanwhile, are "more simplified, more straightforward" than other issuers' products, with no annual fees and widely available rewards, Mr. Clancy said. J.D. Power praised the Riverwoods, Ill., issuer's "superior call center customer service" and said that only about 5% of Discover customers reported having problems, half the industry average. (For Amex the figure was the same as the average, but Mr. Clancy said "how that problem is resolved" by the company "is above average.")
The survey asked cardholders to rate issuers in five areas: interaction, billing and payment process, fees and rates, reward programs, and benefits and services. Interaction replaced last year's category of "problem resolution," so Mr. Clancy cautioned against comparing the two surveys.
Despite increased regulatory and lawmaker scrutiny of the credit card industry, J.D. Power found that overall customer satisfaction with issuers increased slightly from a year earlier. "Our best guess is, if we had left the survey alone, we would have seen the industry average go up about 12 points," Mr. Clancy said. "There's this sort of negative sentiment when you talk to people about 'the industry,' but when you talk to them about their particular bank, they're generally OK with it."