Customers give slightly higher marks to retail banks for their overall customer service than they do to credit card issuers, even if the credit card service is a division of the same bank, according to a recent survey of credit and debit cardholders.

Though banks ranked well in customer service, they frequently fielded inquiries about card replacement or forgotten passwords and PINs and need to seek ways to improve those processes, Auriemma Consulting Group said in its 2014 fourth quarter payments report.

Interacting with bank customer service was common for the more than 500 U.S. debit cardholders Auriemma surveyed during the fourth quarter of 2014 to compile the report findings. The cardholders were asked about both credit and debit card customer service.

Nearly 75% of respondents said they have interacted with the customer service department of their retail bank, with nearly half saying they have done so within the past six months.

In what amounts to good news for banks, 86% of respondents rated bank customer service as either excellent or good, with 45% giving an excellent rating. However, credit card customer service received only 29% as excellent and 51% as good.

By comparison, only 16% of respondents gave government agencies' customer service an excellent rating, while 34% said they were good. Banks also fared far better than utility companies (24% excellent, 44% good) and mail-order retailers (28% excellent, 45% good).

"Customer service is an area many retail banks are investing in," said Scott Strumello of New York- and London-based Auriemma. "The good news is that most seem to be delivering well on the service."

Even with high customer service ratings, the Auriemma research discussed areas in which banks could improve.

"Forty-two percent of the customers were asked to authenticate themselves multiple times during the same customer service interaction, and that can be annoying," Strumello said. In an indication that customers are getting used to a multi-authentication world, most respondents felt it was only a slight inconvenience, Strumello added.

Eighty-two percent of respondents interact with customer service by phone, though younger consumers are more than twice as likely to try e-mail first, the report said.

"Changing consumer preferences is something banks should keep in mind as we head into the future," Strumello said.

The most common interactions were questions about account balances, replacing a debit card, disputing a charge, changing a PIN or password, or requesting the bank to reverse a fee.

"There is a legitimate need to ensure security, yet exploring more efficient ways to address these issues can potentially improve customer service interactions," Strumello said.

Banks may want to explore giving customers the capability to change a PIN or password at the ATM, the report said.

Banks also need to concentrate on resolving customer issues after just one call to the service department, as 95% of respondents said quick resolution is an important service attribute. Only 37% of respondents said it is appropriate to give faster service to customers with higher account balances, while 43% felt it was inappropriate and 20% had no opinion.

While customers rate their bank's service with high marks, they generally aren't too keen on sharing that praise by filling out or responding on the phone to a bank's customer service survey.

"Surveys used by many banks to evaluate the customer service interactions are completed only by just over half of all consumers," Strumello said. "Our research suggests perceived time constraints are the biggest impediment to higher participation in these surveys."

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