Study: In Customer Service Battle, Big Banks Win

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – November was a big moment in the sun for credit unions. Put off by an onslaught of new checking account fees at big banks, and further fueled by populist anger towards Wall Street, thousands Americans committed to joining credit unions as part of the Bank Transfer Day movement. And they had good reason to make the switch: In addition to often being more fee-friendly than banks, credit unions tend to have much more favorable rates on deposits and loans, and members praise the institutions for their customer-friendly ways and community feel.

But it now appears that credit unions, for all their benefits, just aren’t as good as big banks at closing the deal with prospective customers.

Our sister site RateWatch teamed with IntelliShop, a mystery shopper service, to gauge how big banks (those with more than $10 billion in total assets), small banks and credit unions perform when it comes to wooing customers who express interest in opening an account. To conduct the study, IntelliShop sent its shoppers into 120 financial institutions across the country and had them report back on everything from parking availability to the attire and demeanor of the bank or credit union’s representative. What they found revealed a lot about the challenges that smaller institutions face in keeping up with the giants of the banking world.

Who Made the Best First Impression?

The differences become apparent as soon as one walks in the door. Mystery shoppers entering credit unions were immediately greeted by a customer service representative a little more than half the time (53%). By contrast, visitors to large banks were immediately greeted 76% of the time. Smaller banks fell in the middle, with mystery shoppers getting an immediate greeting 63% of the time. It seems that the larger the institution, the more likely it is for a prospective customer to get immediate service.

“It seemed as if they were not looking for new customers,” recounted one mystery shopper after entering a credit union in Michigan. “I actually really wanted to open an account here, but now I am thinking that it is not a good idea. The reception I received was lackluster at best and getting information from the representative was like pulling teeth.”

Did They Ask the Right Questions?

Once prospective customers actually sat down with a representative, the big banks once again showed a more polished approach. The mystery shoppers were given a list of 11 crucial questions they might expect representatives to ask in order to better understand the customer’s needs, including “do you require online banking?” and “how many checks do you write per month?” The large banks were much more consistent than the smaller institutions at asking the right questions to determine a prospective customer’s needs.