"The volume of contacts has increased" since many people have pandemic-related questions, says Emily Yellin, a journalist and author of "Your Call is (Not That) Important to Us." In addition, more customer service employees are working at home for the first time, which may slow them down, especially if they are juggling child care, and newly hired people workers face a learning curve, she adds.
Here are ways to avoid calling entirely and, if a phone call is necessary, what to expect from some of the largest card issuers.
Alternatives to waiting on hold
Long wait times are frustrating, but there are ways to deal with it or even circumvent the line. Yellin plays soothing meditative music on YouTube while she’s on hold. If she knows in advance that she'll be on hold for a while, then she plans to multitask, paying bills or sorting emails at the same time.
You can also try to avoid calling altogether. Following the company on Twitter — especially if it has a customer service handle (such as @ChaseSupport, @AskAmex or @BofA_Help) — and then tagging that handle in a tweet about the problem can lead to a faster resolution. (Just don't share any personal information like your account number publicly.)
Downloading the bank’s app and sending a secure message through it can also lead to a faster response, as can chatting through the website portal or sending a secure email. But waiting for a response can often take days or even weeks, and your issue might be urgent.
Wait times vary
Not all credit card companies are alike when it comes to customer service. The J.D. Power 2020 Credit Card Satisfaction Study, which surveyed 29,106 credit card customers from September 2019 to June 2020, found that American Express came was No. 1 in customer satisfaction among the national issuers, followed by Discover, then Bank of America. The study also found that overall, customer satisfaction has declined throughout the pandemic.
Chase says it has been experiencing higher-than-normal call volumes, so hold times might be longer. According to American Express, while wait times went up at the beginning of the pandemic in March, hold times have now returned to normal. Wells Fargo says wait times have stabilized at the company after it expanded digital services, including online and mobile payment deferment options.
Capital One says that while call center agents are always available, the quickest way to get a response is with the live-chat function on the desktop site, the mobile app or through the company’s social media channels.
At Discover, as at many companies, the entire customer service team is working from home. At the same time, the company is experiencing a higher volume of charge disputes on merchandise as well as more calls asking about pandemic-related assistance.
"Our goal is to answer 90% of our calls in less than a minute, and in July our average wait time was 45 seconds," says spokesperson Jennifer Delgado.
At Barclaycard, during the heaviest call times, wait times can extend to about 10 minutes, according to George Caudill, a company spokesperson. Those who prefer not to wait can send a secure message through the online portal. "The majority of requests for assistance can be conveniently managed [this way] with no need to call our customer care center," he says.
Still, companies and consumers are almost universally under new pressures because of the pandemic, and that often means customer service is strained, too.
"I think we have to modify our expectations for this national crisis. But it is hard to do," Yellin says.