The best and worst current account providers for customer service

Published by Sam Barrett on 23 June 2011.
Last updated on 30 June 2011

Customer service checklist

Currents accounts are central to most people's financial lives, allowing us to do everything from set up a direct debit to pay the gas bill to accessing the readies to splash out on a treat. More than 11,000 people voted in the category, with online specialists and smaller banks proving more trusted than the big banks. 

MOST TRUSTED: SMILE

Current accounts are an important part of our everyday finances. Because of this breadth of service, being able to trust your provider is essential. This year's winner is Smile, scoring highly for trustworthiness and picking up the title for the second year running.

Customers praised the bank for its friendly and professional customer service; its UK call centres, well-designed website and secure messaging service and its ethical policy. 

Just how much its customers trust it was shown by their views on how Smile deals with problems and complaints. One customer summed it up by saying: "I almost never have problems with Smile and when I do they are fixed properly and quickly."

BEST CURRENT ACCOUNT FOR ONLINE SERVICE: SMILE

Online banking
is incredibly convenient, allowing you to do everything from check your balance to transfer money to another person. But while the early adopters were happy to put up with clunky systems and limited usability, today's internet savvy public wants reliability and top-notch functionality. 

Smile is top for customer service this year, steaming up from last year's shortlist to take the title from its parent company The Co-operative Bank. Unsurprisingly, it received plenty of compliments. One customer describes Smile as "consistently good", and praises its UK call centres and ethical policy. Another likes that Smile doesn't send out any junk mail while another current accountholder likes the fact they can contact Smile online and get a quick response.

BEST CURRENT ACCOUNT FOR CALL CENTRE SERVICE: FIRST DIRECT

Call centres are a well-established part of the way service is delivered today but while some are good, others can be the cause of endless frustration. Being left on hold; speaking to someone who is unable to deviate from a script; or being passed between staff are common customer grievances.

Getting call centre service right is therefore important and this year First Direct is top, with a clear margin over its nearest rivals. One customer summed up all the frustrations with other call centres by saying of First Direct: "Human beings answer the phone 24/7 and solve your problems. Simple."Customers particularly like the use of UK-based call centres and the 'can do' attitude of the staff, describing them as polite, efficient, quick and reliable.

BEST CURRENT ACCOUNT FOR BRANCHES: THE CO-OPERATIVE BANK

While more and more of us are banking online, branches remain an important part of many people's banking requirements. Being able to pop into a branch to pay in cheques or arrange a banker's draft can make our finances so much easier to manage.

In first place this year for branch service is the Co-operative Bank. Customers praised its branch service for a number of reasons, including the helpfulness and friendliness of staff; the size of the branch network; and the fact there are no long queues. The nature of the Co-operative Bank's service offered by staff  is highlighted by one customer who said: "They're always friendly. We can get an appointment with our adviser every time and he remembers us. Lovely personal service."

The bank also recognises that it needs opening hours that reflect its customers' busy lives, so its branches are open from 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday with some of them also open on Saturdays too.

WORST CURRENT ACCOUNT PROVIDER: SANTANDER

After picking up this title last year, Santander once again can claim the dubious honour of worst provider for current accounts. The bank scored poorly for its call centre, online and branch service. "It doesn't listen,"said one customer while another said they didn't think the bank was interested in its customers. "Once it has your business it's not interested anymore. It never includes me in its latest offers," they said.

 

Read: Why is Santander's service so poor?

Santander says it's keen to change this though. Its director of service quality, Steve Williams says the bank has recruited around 1,000 new customer service roles in branches and call centres and promises "it will do more."

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