It's not exactly love, but American consumers appear to be
developing growing affection for -- or maybe it's just growing
toleration of -- their credit card companies, according to a
comprehensive survey released Thursday.
For the third year in a row, J.D. Power and Associates found
that credit card users are becoming increasingly satisfied with the
way they are treated by most card issuers. Overall satisfaction
averages 753 on a 1,000-point scale, an increase of 22 points over
last year, 39 points over the result in 2010 and 48 points over the
The latest score represents the highest credit card customer
satisfaction since J.D. Power began conducting the survey six years
ago. Every credit card issuer, even those lagging at the bottom of
the list, registered some improvement in customer satisfaction over
"This is great news for the users of credit cards," said Jim
Miller, senior director of banking services at J.D. Power and
Associates. "For customers in general, their experiences clearly
He and other survey specialists attributed the positive trend to
a growing sense of stability throughout the overall financial
system, but particularly when it comes to credit card fees, credit
limits, credit terms and the like.
"A lot of the changes we were seeing in the industry are now two
or more years old," Miller said. "Actually, we are seeing these
improvements show up more in the credit card industry than in the
rest of the banking system."
As in the past, the survey evaluated these six factors: customer
service, credit card terms, billing and payment systems, rewards,
problem resolution, and benefits and services. The credit card
industry registered improvements in all six of the categories.
Some notable examples:
- An impressive 31-percentage point improvement in problem
resolution -- a major source of customer discontent in the past.
The average amount of time required to resolve a problem fell to
four days this year from five days in 2011. Moreover, a solid 61
percent of the respondents had their problems resolved during
their first contact with their card company. The increase in
problem resolution coincided with the first year that a new,
national credit card complaint system has been offered by the new
federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- A nearly-as-impressive 28-point improvement in customer
satisfaction with credit card rewards programs.
- Only 11 percent of the surveyed customers reported
experiencing a problem of any kind with their credit card issuer,
a 7-point decrease from 2009.
When all of that is combined with a period of relative calm --
including stability in interest rates and other financial aspects
of credit cards -- customers respond affirmatively. That applies to
both major types of customers -- people called "revolvers," who
don't pay their full balances every month, making them sensitive to
interest rate increases, and people called "transacters," who do
pay their full balances every month and have a special interest in
"When it comes to stability, when rewards aren't being taken
away from you and interest rates aren't going up, people become
more accustomed to what they're seeing and they're more satisfied
with the results," Miller said.
In addition to an enhanced sense of economic stability (even as
the nation still struggles to recover from the Great Recession),
the relatively new consumer protections required by the federal
Credit CARD Act of 2009 certainly didn't hurt the results. The J.D.
Power study involved responses from 13,725 credit card customers
and was conducted in June 2012.
"The advantages of the CARD Act certainly are a factor, along
with the competitive nature of the business, which is driving
issuers to become more customer focused," Miller said. "It's the
combination of the two that is coming into play."
American Express, Discover lead
Looking at the major issuers, at the top of the heap this year, as
they consistently are: American Express (with a score of 807) and
Discover (799). Those two companies have held the same top two
slots since the first year of the survey.
American Express' results were noteworthy for high marks in
customer service and the company's rewards program; Discover scored
particularly well in the areas of problem resolution, customer
service and rewards.
"They're both very strong, even this year when the industry
average has increased and every company in the study saw some
increase," Miller noted. "American Express and Discover are
particularly strong in communicating with their customers, whether
that be in helping them understand the rewards programs or helping
them understand the benefits that come with the cards."
American Express representative expressed their own satisfaction
over the results.
"While our goal is to satisfy our customers, and not to get
awards, we are thrilled to have received this terrific recognition
every year since 2007," said Kenneth I. Chenault, the company's
chairman and chief executive officer. "Hearing that we scored
the highest in customer satisfaction directly from consumers
through an independent and prestigious source like J.D. Power is
A spokesman for Discover declined to comment until the company
could fully study the survey.
As was the case last year, Bank of America finished in ninth
place, this time with a score of 728 points. One of the nation's
largest issuers of credit cards, Bank of America had no immediate
comment regarding the survey.
Of course, despite the advances, some credit card customers
obviously experience problems.
About 1 in 4 of those problems involved the stubborn and
aggravating problem of credit card fraud, according to the survey.
Now, the good news: more than half of those customers were
contacted by their credit card issuer before they realized they had
"Credit card companies are very proactive in detecting credit
card fraud and protecting their customers," Miller said. "In fact,
when their credit card company detects fraud, it actually improves
customer satisfaction. It's still disruptive to the customer, but
the customer appreciates that their card company is looking out for
their best interests."
Overall, he said, the survey's message to credit card customers
"They can expect to find an issuer who can meet their needs and
provide them with the product and service that they expect," Miller
said. "And if they are not getting that where they are doing
business, this shows that there are places they can go and be very
satisfied with their credit cards."