Big Banks Have Better Customer Service Than Credit Unions?

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An article on MainStreet reports on a study conducted by RateWatch and IntelliShop that found that:

“Credit unions, for all their benefits, just aren’t as good as big banks at closing the deal with prospective customers.”

The study, which was based on mystery shopping, not consumer surveys, found that big banks (>$10B assets) are better than credit unions when it came to:

  • First impressions. Mystery shoppers entering large banks were were immediately greeted by a customer service representative 76% of the time, compared to 53% of the time at credit unions.
  • Asking the right questions.  Mystery shoppers went in prepped to answer 11 anticipated questions. According to the article, “the large banks were much more consistent than the smaller institutions at asking the right questions to determine a prospective customer’s needs.”
  • Building confidence. The article reports that “42% of mystery shoppers left the big banks feeling ‘confident that this bank would be the right choice,’ compared to just 30% who said the same of the credit unions and 22% at the small banks.”

My take: The title of the MainStreet article is a gross misrepresentation of the study’s results.

What the study captured was the sales performance of the different types of FIs, not the customer service performance. 

And in that context, the study’s findings aren’t surprising at all.

In my research on the digital marketing performance of FIs, big banks score significantly higher on demand generation, demand conversion, and account creation capabilities than credit unions. So, it’s little surprise to me that the big banks’ sales capabilities would be superior offline, as well. 

What the RateWatch/IntelliShop study demonstrates is not that big banks have superior customer service capabilities, but that their sales processes are more effective. 


There are some questions the study raises:

1. How does someone determine that someone else’s personality is “truly outstanding” in such a short interaction?

2. Why is having male service reps a sign of “gender equity”? Can men not deal successfully with female service reps? Does the gender ratio of reps have to match the ratio of branch visitors? (If it does, please let me know what idiot came up with that rule).

3. Who said that “asking the customer if s/he wants to open an account today” is a good thing?

The infographic’s bottom line regarding “confidence” misses an important point: It ignores how a customer decided to go into the branch in the first place. It’s likely, in this day and age, that someone deciding to open a new account has done their homework (i.e., research), and formed some opinions regarding which FIs to consider for the new account they need. 

In other words, asking “did you leave the bank confident that it was the right choice” can really only be answered in the context of what the customer’s expectations were going in — and not based solely on the branch interaction.


Bottom line: I’ve said it before, will say it again, and will keep on saying it: Credit unions have to stop patting themselves on their back for their (perceived?) superior customer service and get better at marketing and sales. Figuring out how to do that in both offline and digital channels will be a challenge for many credit unions. 

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