We recently completed a review of the call centers at leading brokerage firms for our Broker Monitor report and, overall, things have improved in the past three years since the last time we looked at this issue.The firms Broker Monitor tracks are a mix of full-service and discount brokerages and each model has its inherent strengths and weaknesses. While they are different beasts, support people must deal with many of the same types of requests and questions. We set out to find if the level of service differs between the two groups. Are full service firms that typically rely on advisors able to translate that feel and quality to standard, phone-based customer service? Do the web-centric discount brokerages rely too heavily on their websites to handle customer queries?
We called each firm three times at various points throughout the day. After navigating through the automated call menu, we explained to the rep we reached that we wanted to have information about opening a brokerage account (including an application) mailed to us. Our request was intentionally open-ended - instead of offering a lot of information up-front, we wanted to see how deeply reps probed in terms of qualifying us as potential customers. In keeping our request rather vague, we wanted to see if the full-service firms took the chance to connect with us on a deeper level, qualifying us for accounts and services.
All calls were made to the customer service number we were able to locate on each firm's website and tracked the following:
• Call start time • Number of prompts (steps) through the automated system to reach a rep • Time on hold • Total time of call (including time on hold) • Questions asked/information provided by rep • Customer service hours of operation
Among the findings, which are discussed in our July Broker Monitor report, average time spent on hold went down at 75% of the firms we reviewed. The greatest improvement was seen at Schwab, which reduced its time by over two minutes to 10 seconds.