In the battle for customer satisfaction, the country’s largest banks are leveraging technology and listening skills to catch up to regional and community banks and credit unions, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

The marketing and information services firm’s 2013 U.S. Banking Satisfaction Study, released this week, indicated that smaller financial institutions could risk losing customers to bigger banks, who have long won the battle for convenience, but traditionally lost the war for customer satisfaction to their smaller, more community-oriented counterparts.

“While big banks have traditionally had an advantage over smaller banks in terms of convenience of branch locations and technology, their disadvantage was often in the personal service customers desired,” said Jim Miller, senior director of banking at J.D. Power and Associates. “Many of the big banks have made great strides in listening to what their customers are asking for: reducing the number of problems customers encounter and, more importantly, improving satisfaction with fees. Consumers today are likely to find banks of all sizes offering the level of convenience, technology and personal service they have come to expect.”

J.D. Power surveyed more than 50,000 U.S. banking customers, gaining feedback on a number of areas, including:¬†account information; channel activities; facility; fees; problem resolution; and product offerings. All-in-all, banks enjoyed the biggest overall growth in customer satisfaction that they’ve seen in several years, according to the J.D. Power release, with big banks driving the most significant increase in satisfaction.

Much of that satisfaction is being driven by technology, as customers spend less time at branches and more times interacting online, by phone, over email or through mobile banking. As J.D. Power’s Miller points out, big banks have succeeded in two ways: by improving the basic service that takes place in the branch and on the phone, while at the same time giving their customers more ways to do their banking.

“Customers in the past had to choose between convenience and service,” he said. “As the service at the large banks increases, customers don’t have to make that choice any more.”

He added that many small banks are still performing well in terms of service, but fewer excel when it comes to technology. Of course, he said, there are still some customers that always value banking at their local branch. For smaller banks to succeed, it comes in part from maintaining strong relationships with those customers, and also leveraging their position as members of the community.

“They are also going to have to invest in technology so that the big banks don’t have a tremendous advantage around online, mobile and ATM,” Miller said.


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