Ally is Best, TD Worst, in Call Center Experience Study

  • Philip Ryan
  • September 28, 2012
  • 2

Banks' Telephone Customer ServiceIn an exclusive study of the call centers at the nation’s largest banks by Bank Innovation, Ally Bank turned in the best contact center customer experience for 2012.

TD Bank and PNC Bank fared worst in Bank Innovation’s mystery shopping exercise.

Bank Innovation called 10 of the nation’s largest banks, two times for each, in September and presented their call centers with a basic request:  “I’m thinking of opening a checking account and would like to know what my options are.” The call center representatives took it from there.

Banks were scored on a 12-point scale, with points awarded for whether a customer service rep offered his name, described multiple products, and explained benefits or rewards without prompting, among other factors.

The chart below details each bank’s scores.

Call Center Customer Experience

The mystery shopping effort is part of a broader Bank Innovation initiative to regularly score key facets of banking customer acquisition and retention. These efforts will be published monthly. Next month we’ll tackle a facet of mobile banking.

What follows are details on our customer experiences at each bank, ordered by bank size.

JP Morgan Chase: Neither representative we spoke to from JP Morgan Chase offered his name, and one was bored to the point of rudeness. Both representatives said that opening an account in the branch is easiest and that over the phone it would take two to three weeks, because a signature card would need to be mailed out and returned. Plus side: Chase representatives mentioned their mobile app and its features (which are good.) This is a rarity.

Bank of America: The automatic system that greets a Bank of America is caller is confusing and off-putting, and hold times before being joined by a live representative are long, up to 90 seconds. The upside is that sign-up over the phone (done with out-of-wallet verification by using public records) is as fast as signing up at the branch.

Citibank suffers from a confusing automated phone system that does not have an option for new accounts. Hold times are also subpar: about 30 seconds. One representative said that the fastest way to start an account was “at the branch, of course,” and that over the phone it would take a week or perhaps less “if you have access to a fax machine.”

Wells Fargo also has an automatic system with no option for new customers. Live agents, once reached, begin building a customer profile that includes DOB, SSN, and employer. This is fairly intrusive for a caller just asking for information. After the profile is built the caller is transferred to a sales representative. Hold times are long. Originating an account over the phone theoretically happens right away, but it takes a week or so for the paperwork to be mailed, because account numbers can’t be given over the phone and agents are not authorized to send emails to customers, which is the rule at all 10 banks we spoke to.

U. S. Bank has a clear phone tree and representatives answer calls right away. Representatives described signing up at the branch as “the quickest and easiest [way] by far.” The phone “seems easy, but it might be held up in review. If you’re in a hurry, it’s not for you.” We were also told: “Be sure to use your right email address because we send out a lot of offers through the email.” Tempting. And when using the online system, “Don’t use abbreviations like S-T-period. Write out ‘street’ because otherwise our system will not accept it.”

HSBC has an unhelpful automated system and oddly intense hold music: You will not fall asleep on hold at HSBC! A representative whose tone wavered from uncertain to irritable explained that the branch was the fastest way to sign up, but the phone can be very fast provided the account is “instantly funded somehow.”

PNC Bank’s automated system is difficult and it takes time to reach a representative. Service was desultory. At the branch, new customers can have a new account the same day, while over the phone, customers would need to be mailed a signature card, sign and return it. One representative still gamely tried to dissuade callers from going to the branch: “You have to fight traffic, wait in line, so the phone is more convenient. The PNC Call Center is here to make your banking experience easier.”

Capital One offers a clear automated system, but calls are bounced around between representatives. The Capital One reps described points and their usage clearly, but could not explain, for instance, how cashback payments were awarded. Accounts cannot be originated over the phone: a visit to the branch is required: “If you’re within a 10-mile radius of a branch, we have to refer you there.” Representatives did leave direct callback numbers, which was unusual.

TD Bank came up very short. Both calls placed to TD Bank received a recorded message that “All agents are busy helping other customers,” and to leave a number so that TD could call back. The first time, no one ever called back. The second time, after 10 minutes an automated call landed in voice mail and went on for some time issuing prompts to the voice mail system. When a live human finally came on the line (after several calls and more waiting on hold,) she said, “You would need to visit the local branch to an open a new account. Once your account has been open nine days, you can open a second account over the phone.”

Ally Bank makes it clear right away that customer service is a priority. The representative skipped the interview process common with other banks (“What sort of balance do you plan to carry?” etc.) and launched into explaining checking account options. Sign-up over the phone is fast — Ally has no branches. Representatives emphasized the bank’s 24-hour service: “You can do all your banking with us over the phone, if that’s what you’re more comfortable with.” After the call is a customer survey in which callers can request follow-up. All in all a very satisfying experience.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism. He can be reached at

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2 thoughts on “Ally is Best, TD Worst, in Call Center Experience Study

  1. I have had many Bankers tell me that Branches which will continue to receive further investment given that they are the #1 channel for new accounts. My view is that Branches remain #1 sales channel
    1) is not a statistic that should not be stated proudly; given that the Branch is the most expensive and least convenient channel for consumers, and
    2) it is likely to be so because the Bank has failed to provide consumers with a convenient alternative (call center, online, and mobile).

    Your study seems to support the above findings (at least the later point) – clearly much work remains to be done for Banks to streamline their sales capabilities…

  2. Thanks for all your efforts that you have put within this. very interesting information. “Ridicule is the initial and last argument of fools.” by Charles Simmons.

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