Santander has once again been voted the worst bank account provider for customer service, while First Direct has retained its position as top dog in a poll of users.

Some 32% of Santander customers who voted in our current account service survey rated their experience over the last six months with the bank as poor.

This is yet more embarrassment for the giant which has come bottom in all our polls over the past 18 months.

However, the bank is getting slightly better. In our last poll in August 2011, 39% of its customers rated its customer service as poor. Compared to August 2010 it is much better, as 62% rated it poor back then.

Halifax and Bank of Scotland (Hbos) is next worst with 21% of its customers who voted in our poll, which closed this week, saying its customer service over the past six months has been poor.

This is three percentage points worse than last August.

Barclays is next with a 19% poor rating, followed by NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland (18%).

Lloyds TSB saw an improvement with 15% rather than 19% rating it poor compared to six months ago.

The best banks

The best bank for customer service remains First Direct. A huge 90% of its customers questioned rated its service as great.

Co-op is still second best with a 74% 'great' rating and Nationwide Building Society (included, though it's not a bank, as it's a big current account player) third.

In fact, Nationwide's 'great' rating is up from 54% to 57% compared with six months ago. It has been getting gradually better, after a 47% 'great' rating in February last year.

Both the Co-op's and First Direct's great ratings have fallen from 78% and 91%, respectively, from last August.

Below are tables of how the major current account providers fare on customer service from our poll which received 6,261 votes, split between the best and worst.

Current account service rating the worst (August 2011 results in brackets)
Rank Provider Poor OK Great
1 Santander 32% (39%) 40% (37%) 29% (25%)
2 Halifax/Bank of Scotland 21% (18%) 46% (42%) 33% (40%)
3 Barclays 19% (18%) 44% (41%) 38% (41%)
4 Natwest/RBS 18% (19%) 42% (40%) 40% (42%)
5 Lloyds TSB 15% (19%) 47% (45%) 38% (37%)
6 HSBC 18% (20%) 40% (35%) 42% (45%)
Ranking determined by subtracting 'poor' figure from 'great' figure. Percentages based on that provider's customers only. Figures may not hit 100% due to rounding.

Current account service rating the best
(August 2011 results in brackets)
Rank Provider Great OK Poor
1 First Direct 90% (91%) 8% (6%) 2% (3%)
2 Co-op Bank 74% (78%) 19% (17%) 7% (5%)
3 Nationwide 57% (54%) 33% (34%) 10% (12%)
Ranking determined by subtracting 'poor' figure from 'great' figure. Percentages based on that provider's customers only. Figures may not hit 100% due to rounding.

In-credit vs overdrawn service

We also split the voting depending on whether customers are generally overdrawn or in credit. We found service was generally seen as worse for those overdrawn, probably due to the high charges many providers levy.

For instance, 40% of Santander customers polled who are typically overdrawn rated service as poor compared to a lower 30% of those in credit.

Click on this bank customer service breakdown link to get the full results.

Santander's response

John Wren, director of customer experience at Santander, says: "We have been working hard to make improvements to service and during 2011 customer satisfaction with service in branches and by telephone did improve, as our monthly surveys of 20,000 customers have shown.

"We have invested in more staff in branches, brought our contact centres back to the UK, and set up a dedicated complaints helpline for customers. Complaints in the first half of 2011 were down 31% on the same period in 2010.

"However, we acknowledge we still have much to do. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to our customers who haven't received the level of service they would expect.

"The coming year will see more improvements, especially in branches, where we have been rolling out a training programme for our 14,500 branch and call centre staff. We are committed to improving the customer experience with Santander."

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