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How Vanguard Aims to Improve Customer Service

The popular asset manager is responding to long-standing customer complaints.

Vanguard Works to Improve Customer Service

Susan Dziubinski: Alec, I attended the Bogleheads Conference here in Chicago last fall, and attendees were expressing their frustration with Vanguard’s customer service. Can you tell us a little bit of about what’s been going on there and what Vanguard has been doing to improve on this front?

Alec Lucas: Customer service complaints have always been sort of a feature of Vanguard’s history. If you go back to the days when Bogle led the firm—this is a point that I made at that conference—there were lots of complaints over the years about Vanguard’s customer service. I like to compare Vanguard to, say, those of you who shop at Aldi. If you go to Aldi, you have your quarter, you get your grocery cart, you bring your own bags, or you put it in boxes. I would say Vanguard has got more customer service ethos than that, but it is something where it’s not necessarily been known for high-touch customer service. And it is trying to become a leader in customer service and to really improve its technological offer.

So, what Vanguard is trying to do is, because it has experienced over the course of its history and continues even in this first quarter, experienced such asset growth, it’s trying to enable investors to do as much as they can as simply as they can online, so without talking to a human advisor. And they’ve really made investments in technology. They’ve modernized their technology platform, and they’ve seen increased resiliency and increased customer service scores.

The big snafu they made in 2020 was—this is Vanguard, they’re always thinking about investor assets and costs and trying to save money on behalf of investors—so, in 2020, when the market turned down, they stepped back and they looked and they saw that historically when the market falls, client communications fall off a cliff. So, they actually slowed their hiring of customer service representatives right at a time when—in fact, what happened, with the lowering of interest rates, is that investor demand shot up, and that caused, I think, significant wait times and lots of frustration. They have normalized that, and I think are committed to being a little bit more, call it, I don’t know if cautious is the right word, but they’re going to be more prone to overspend I think on what they expect they will need to try and improve customer service. In talking with Vanguard leadership, they feel like they’ve heard that and they’re trying to become known for best-in-class customer service. That is a goal of theirs, and they say they’ve made progress in that. It remains to be seen. We hear a lot of comments from that here at Morningstar. But the big thing always to keep in mind is that Vanguard serves a lot of customers. So, you’d expect that some of them would be frustrated. And I’ve heard both success stories and stories of frustration, and we’ll see if the stories of frustration are minimized over the coming years.

The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

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About the Authors

Alec Lucas

Director of Manager Research
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Alec Lucas is director of manager research, active funds research, for Morningstar Research Services LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Morningstar, Inc. He is a voting member of the Morningstar Medalist Ratings Committee for U.S. and international fixed-income strategies, covers fixed-income strategies from asset managers such as Baird and American Funds.

Lucas is also active in parent research. He is a voting member of the U.S. parent ratings committee and previously served as the lead analyst for Franklin Templeton, Capital Group, and Vanguard, among other firms.

Lucas was a strategist on Morningstar's equity strategies team prior to assuming his current role in June 2022. He covered equity strategies from asset managers such as Primecap and American Funds and received the 2019 Citywire Professional Buyer Rising Star Award.

Before joining Morningstar in 2013, Lucas worked as a minister as well as a professor for Loyola University Chicago, among other institutions. From 2010 to 2011, he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Heidelberg.

Lucas holds bachelor's degrees in philosophy and classics from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he graduated summa cum laude and with departmental honors, and a Master of Divinity, summa cum laude, from Trinity International University. He also holds a doctorate in theology, with distinction, from Loyola University Chicago and has published several articles and one book within that field.

Susan Dziubinski

Investment Specialist
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Susan Dziubinski is an investment specialist with more than 30 years of experience at Morningstar covering stocks, funds, and portfolios. She previously managed the company's newsletter and books businesses and led the team that created content for Morningstar's Investing Classroom. She has also edited Morningstar FundInvestor and managed the launch of the Morningstar Rating for stocks. Since 2013, Dziubinski has been delivering Morningstar's long-term perspective and research to investors on

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