Credit Card Customer Service Roundup

by : Debbie Dragon

When determining which credit card company is right for you, it's important to consider everything the credit card company has to offer. Equally as important as a low APR or advanced security features is the credit card company's customer service.

Because most consumers overlook customer service until it's too late, we made calls to the top five credit card companies (American Express, Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Discover), then ranked them on how well they met the following customer service benchmarks:

Helpful Web sites. First we visited their sites to see how user-friendly they were, and whether toll-free phone numbers were easy to find.

Knowledge of agents. We asked three advanced credit card questions (security features, 0% APR availability, and debt consolidation features), then rated their responses.

Helpfulness of agents. Finally, we assessed our general sense of treatment as valued customers, which went into an overall rating of each company's customer service.

American Express

TIME TO 800 NUMBER: Less than two minutes.

HELPFULNESS OF AGENTS: When we got through, we talked to a helpful and professional representative. Even their automated voice system woman who greets you when you first pick up is very concise and polite, as far as robot ladies go.

KNOWLEDGE OF AGENTS: The customer service representative spoke confidently about their 0% APR cards for select customers, as well as low APR cards and offers. The only question the agent was not able to answer was about credit card debt consolidation features. However, Amex did provide direct and concise information for all other questions we asked.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: The service rep was clear and not pushy (albeit mechanical), and let us know that someone is available to help further at their toll-free number, 24/7.

Bank of America

TIME TO 800 NUMBER: Less than two minutes.

HELPFULNESS OF AGENTS: We called the main number and went through ten button-presses before being connected to a live human (though admittedly some of those keypresses were out of confusion). Some of the steps were obsolete and frustrating -- for example, selecting to respond by voice or by hitting a key. On one occasion, a poorly-timed sneeze caused us to have to go back in the menu. When finally connected to a "Bank On Call Specialist," it was clear that, though thorough, the gentleman on the other end was in as little mood to be friendly as we were by this point.

KNOWLEDGE OF AGENTS: When asking about the basic security features the card offered, the rep responded by mentioning the "Safe-card" feature that generates random numbers each time the card is used, instead of a traceable account number that "could potentially be stolen." We playfully replied, "That's got to be a good feature if you're up to no good." He did not find this funny. Even after saying "That was a joke," the Bank On Call Specialist didn't even give up a pity-snicker.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Operating out of Los Angeles, the Bank of America 800-number is not 24/7 like some of the others, but does operate late and on weekends. (Please note, however, that this information was given by the service rep in person; meanwhile, the Bank of America Web site proudly boasts 24/7 customer service representatives on call. We didn't bother calling back 23 times to figure out which it really is.)


TIME TO 800 NUMBER: Less than a minute; quick and easy.

HELPFULNESS OF AGENTS: With but one button-press after calling, you are speaking to a live operator. We spoke to a good-humored gentleman who, though having to transfer us to the "application department" to answer general questions, laughed genuinely at the response "Okay, super-duper" when he asked us to briefly hold. (Customer service reps who don't hate their jobs always reflect well on the company.) He transferred me to a female agent who was equally well-tempered, and the whole ordeal was genuine and friendly.

KNOWLEDGE OF AGENTS: They promptly filled me in on topics like rewards card bonuses and low APR credit cards. Citibank seems to handle issues like stolen credit cards with sensitivity and care, and they assured me that "Identity Theft Specialists" handle any potential issues one-on-one.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Citibank agents seem particularly user-friendly in times of crises. Also, Citibank's customer service hotline is available 24 hours.


TIME TO 800 NUMBER: Less than two minutes; one click from homepage. A little overwhelming were the various numbers to call based on topic, but the list was explained and labeled.

HELPFULNESS OF AGENTS: After a few selection menus and a reasonable amount of holding time, we got through to a professional (if somewhat dry) customer service representative. Also, right on the Web site was the information that cardholders can receive 24 hour automated services by phone, or live representatives from 7:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. daily.

KNOWLEDGE OF AGENTS: The agent answered questions about 0% APR and low APR cards generically, promising only that "select customers" are eligible.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: We left feeling that Chase dictates who is deemed "eligible" for certain offers the way the cool kids at high school decide who sits together at lunch. (Just a feeling.) The exchange is professional and void of hullabaloo, if not otherwise robotic and monotone.


TIME TO 800 NUMBER: It took but a moment to locate the phone number (listed in the style of Chase's Web site, only minus the visual chaos).

HELPFULNESS OF AGENTS: Once calling this 24/7 live-operator (and automatic-optional) service number, it was only seconds before being connected. The customer service representative was the sweetest and not-in-a-fake-way of all the credit card companies we tested.

KNOWLEDGE OF AGENTS: The agent answered all questions with specifics, and plenty of pertinent information (security issues, costs, eligibility for special offers, etc.). Additionally, many of the offers seemed to far surpass the competition: for example, 0% fraud liability on the spot, and more-than-fair graces towards simple customer errors or lapses.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Both for the information and the manner in which it was delivered, the taste left in our mouth was all sweet and no-parts bitter.


We ranked the top five credit card companies on customer service (American Express, Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Discover), and here are our final results.

#5: Bank of America. Though offering the standard services, and having a widespread name and corporate recognition, the actual customer service perhaps suffers at the hand of being such a titanic operation. It's difficult to find information on the Web site (at least, information that agrees with their live operators), and the personal care touch is gone. Perhaps Bank of America outsourced their customer service operation. Outsourced it to Mars.

#4: Chase. Although adequate, Chase has every one of those small-annoyance features that are frustrating to customers: limited information about APR and the like until agreeing to apply; hold time with crummy music; a slightly confusing Web site; dull and/or mechanical service representative interaction; and limited hours of live person availability. are all attributes that prevent Chase from boasting wonderful customer services. Not really a pain-in-the-neck customer service system, Chase is just average. Not bad bad, but not great.

#3: American Express. American Express does the job. No bells and whistles, but a well-rounded customer service department, with enough features to leave us generally satisfied. The rep made a card recommendation for me after only a few questions, and after further talking it turned out to be a good analysis. American Express's customer service skills are much like the aesthetics of the card itself: not the most brilliant gold color, but definitely still gold.

#2: Citibank. Great customer service. It's nice to report that there was almost a tie for first place rather than a tie for last place, and in this case Citibank should be proud of that close call. Nice clear Web site directory, one-touch access to a live person, and interactions with human beings who made it clear they didn't hate working for Citibank at all. Agents told us about great featured bonuses for customers, but not in a way that made us feel pressured. Wonderful customer service upkeep, Citibank!

#1: Discover. Who knew it really pays to Discoverâ„¢? Aside from offering the easiest, most practical perks (regular 5% cash back on purchases made at restaurants, gas stations, etc., as well as comprehensive security and credit rating services), the interactions with the Discover folks make you feel valued and respected. Be it hospitality or above-and-beyond professionalism, the general response we had after interacting with Discover is that we want to move to where Discover is headquartered, then raise our families and send our kids to school there. Talking to a credit card company's customer service line rarely leaves you feeling so warm and fuzzy.

We hope our credit card customer service roundup is helpful, but as always your mileage may vary. The best way to find out is to call yourself. Good luck finding those 800-numbers, though!