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Credit Card Customer Service: Best Issuers, Best Features

Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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Choosing a credit card based on its customer service is a little like choosing a car based on its cup holders. It doesn’t seem like a make-or-break item, unless you’ve gone without it in the past. Then, it’s one of the first things you look for.

If customer service is a priority, here are the best issuers of the bunch, plus features to look for that could make it easier to solve problems and get answers.

  • Best issuers for customer service
    • Best for customer interaction: Discover
    • Best for problem resolution: American Express
  • Best customer service features 
    • Best for quick questions: Live online chat
    • Best for dealing with lost cards: Remote card-freezing technology
    • Best for packed schedules: 24/7 customer service

Best issuers for customer service

J.D. Power’s credit card satisfaction survey from 2016 is the most comprehensive evaluation we’ve found. It’s the product of 20,206 completed surveys from consumers who had used major credit cards in the previous three months. The data show that most major issuers offer fairly good customer service — but a couple of issuers stand out as a cut above.

Discover: Best for customer interaction

Discover ranked best for customer interaction in the J.D. Power survey with a score of 863 out of 1,000. The average customer interaction score among the 10 issuers surveyed was 832. 

Discover’s focus on personal interaction might have contributed to its high marks. “We offer our customers 100% U.S.-based service and the ability to speak with a live person 24/7, without having to navigate through a number of automated prompts,” says Dennis Michel, senior vice president of customer service and engagement at Discover. Offering 24/7 live support with limited prompts is relatively rare among other issuers, large and small.

Discover also uses your account data to provide “anticipatory service,” Michel says. In other words, it tries to guess what type of question you might have before you actually ask it, which allows for speedier service. The issuer also offers online chat.

In May 2017, Discover announced it was rolling out a new messaging service on its mobile app, allowing cardholders to carry on text-message-style conversations with customer service representatives without needing to stay continuously connected. The service differs from traditional credit card chats, which require cardholders to remain online during a chat and, if they disconnect, to start over in a new chat session.

If you’re looking for better customer service answers for everyday questions, Discover’s personalized, live customer service makes it an excellent choice.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best Discover cards

American Express: Best for problem resolution

American Express ranked first in problem resolution on the J.D. Power survey with a score of 847 out of 1,000. This was a tricky category in which some issuers didn’t score well. The industry average was 769. This score measures how quickly and satisfactorily issuers respond to cardholder problems, such as billing errors, processing problems or fraud.

When something goes wrong, the company tries to make it right for the cardholder and learn from the experience, says American Express spokesman Daniel Clayton. “We focus on the relationship, not simply handling a transaction,” Clayton says. He says AmEx takes a different approach to hiring. Instead of looking only for call center experience among workers, it also seeks experience in “a range of caring professions, including service, nursing and hospitality.”

AmEx’s focus on problem resolution makes it the best option if you’re most worried about how your issuer might handle those rare worst-case credit card scenarios. It also scored high on customer interaction, coming in a few points behind Discover.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best American Express cards

Best credit card customer service features

Sometimes, getting your credit card issues straightened out is all about having the right tools. If you want efficient solutions for particular problems, you might want to look for a card with one or more of these features.

Live online chat: Best for quick questions

Live online chat lets you send instant messages to customer service agents online. The best part: You won’t have to stay on hold, listening to elevator music indefinitely, before getting an answer. Several major issuers, including American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Citi and Discover, offer some form of live chat. Usually, you need to log in to your account and click a live chat icon to start a conversation.

Live chat isn’t the best way to make more complicated requests, such as to close an account. That generally requires an old-fashioned phone call. But for everyday questions, it’s the best way to get fast answers while skipping the phone tree.

Remote card-locking technology: Best for dealing with lost cards

If you don’t know whether your credit card is lost, stolen or just temporarily misplaced, you will want some time to look for it before requesting a replacement. That’s when remote card-locking technology comes in handy. Some issuers let you freeze or lock your account remotely from a computer or mobile device, ensuring that no one can make charges on your account while your card is missing. 

Discover calls this feature “Freeze it,” while Citi calls it “Quick Lock.” USAA also has a similar feature on its mobile app. Bank of America allows you to freeze debit cards (but not credit cards). Expect more issuers to offer similar features soon.

24/7 customer service: Best for packed schedules

If you work long days or an odd schedule, you might have to deal with credit card hiccups outside of business hours. When questions arise, having an issuer that offers round-the-clock support can be a real boon.

Most issuers offer automated help 24/7, but some issuers — including American Express, Capital One, Discover and U.S. Bank — let you speak to people 24/7. 

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

Updated June 2, 2017.