The best and worst credit card providers for customer service
Changes to the way credit cards operate were introduced this year, bringing greater clarity for consumers and an end to the practice of negative payment hierarchy, where credit card holders used your payments to clear the cheapest debt first. While this will help to improve consumers' trust in the credit card market, our awards highlight the fact that there's more to being a trusted provider than sticking to the rules.
MOST TRUSTED: FIRST DIRECT
First Direct picked up this award again this year. The bank offers two cards, a standard credit card and a gold card, but it's the attention to service that wins its customers' trust.
Many customers praise the reliability of the company and the excellent customer service. As an example, one First Direct cardholder said he was voting for the provider "because you get through to someone straight away and they bend over backwards to help you".
Although First Direct is part of one of the big banks, HSBC, the shortlist of Trusted Providers was dominated by retail brands with John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Tesco Bank nestling alongside Nationwide and The Co-operative Bank.
BEST CREDIT CARD FOR CALL CENTRE SERVICES: FIRST DIRECT
Calls to credit card companies tend to occur in moments of crisis: your card's been declined or you've forgotten to make a repayment. Already stressed, you want to speak to someone who'll be polite and, most importantly, efficient. Having picked up a number of titles for its call centre customer service it's not surprising that First Direct also wins top prize for its credit card call centre.
Speaking about the times they've rung up to discuss their credit card, one cardholder said: "First Direct has excellent customer service and its fraud detection system is very good. Customer service personnel are always helpful and efficient."
Customers also liked the fact that they got through to real people rather than a series of automated menus and that the call centres were based in the UK.
BEST CREDIT CARD FOR ONLINE SERVICES: FIRST DIRECT
Using online services to manage financial products is common today and this is no different for credit cards. Being able to log on, check your balance and make a payment whenever you like puts you in control of your credit card.
First Direct picks up this award, winning praise from its credit card customers for its online service, which one customer describes as "excellent". Features that are regarded as particularly whizzy include its online statements and bill payment functions.
And, while keeping an eye on your online balance is a good way to spot a fraudulent transaction, customers also value the service First Direct provides to prevent fraud. "The bank often calls me to check transactions before they become a problem. Superb service," said one customer.
WORST CREDIT CARD PROVIDER: SANTANDER
Although it didn't feature in the relegation zone for its credit cards last year, Santander was left at the bottom of the pile in the category this year. Customers expressed a variety of concerns, with the call centre a main focus for their frustrations.
One customer said they didn't like calling 0870 numbers, often a premium rate number, especially when the service centres are offshore. Other common complaints were about long waiting times, poorly trained staff and needing to make lots of calls to get one issue resolved.
One customer also questioned the service they'd received, saying: "they sent me a bill for three pence. What's the point of that? I had to visit the branch to pay it off."
The practice of locating your financial affairs (banking, savings, investments) in a country other than the one you’re a citizen of, usually a low-tax jurisdiction. The appeal of offshore is it offers the potential for tax efficiency, the convenience of easy international access and a safe haven for your money. However, offshore is governed by complex, ever-changing rules (such as 2005’s European Union Savings Directive) and, as such, is the exclusive province of the wealthy and high-net-worth individuals.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.