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A Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) logo is seen on Bay Street in the heart of the financial district in Toronto, January 22, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

© Mark Blinch / Reuters/Reuters

Royal Bank of Canada has taken the top spot among the big banks in an influential annual survey of customer satisfaction, knocking off Toronto-Dominion Bank, which had held the honour for 10 consecutive years.

According to the J.D. Power 2016 Canadian Retail Banking Satisfaction Study, RBC ranked highest in overall customer satisfaction among the five biggest Canadian banks, with a score of 765 on a 1,000-point scale.

"We take client experience and service very seriously, and to achieve the J.D. Power award is a heck of an accomplishment," said Kirk Dudtschak, RBC's executive vice-president in personal and commercial banking.

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He credited the win largely to the way RBC has trained employees, giving entry-level branch tellers a clear road map for progressing toward becoming, say, a commercial banker or financial adviser.

"We invest heavily in giving them technical training, advice-based training and, in some cases, accreditation, to allow them to progress in their careers," Mr. Dudtschak said.

J.D. Power noted that RBC performed well in all seven categories measured in the survey, including product selection, online and mobile-phone capabilities, level of personal service and the appearance of branches. How well the bank communicates with customers, provides financial advice and resolves problems rounded out the survey's factors.

RBC narrowly beat second-place TD, which scored 761 in the survey, ending a decade-long winning streak that supplied a steady stream of trophies to an overstuffed display case in TD's head office.

"While the news is disappointing, we knew the chances of us repeating these wins again and again would be a challenge in such a competitive market," TD said in a statement.

Indeed, this year's survey showed that the banks are far more closely ranked than they were. Just 12 points separates first-place from fifth-place, down from a difference of 19 points in 2015, 28 points in 2014, 31 points in 2013 and 47 points in 2012.

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The annual award is important to the banks because it provides one measure of how well they are meeting customer expectations relative to their peers, giving executives an achievement to tout and a goal to reach for. A number of chief executive officers have vowed to improve their customer-satisfaction scores, underscoring the importance of the surveys.

Last year, J.D. Power warned in its satisfaction study that banks were losing touch with their customers after the average score declined in 2015 compared with the previous year.

This year, though, J.D. Power highlighted the fact that the average satisfaction score jumped by 23 points, with all five banks showing notable improvements. Bank of Montreal led the gains, with its score rising 33 points from last year; RBC showed the second-best gain, of 27 points.

"The improvements indicate that customers are becoming less sensitive to new pricing structures, which caused satisfaction to tumble in 2015," Paul McAdam, senior director of banking services at J.D. Power, said in a statement. "The banks are doing a better job communicating with their customers, who now are seeing the value they are getting in return for higher fees."

J.D. Power said that 34 per cent of bank customers used mobile banking services in 2016, up from 27 per cent in 2015 and 20 per cent in 2014. It noted that customers who use mobile banking tend to report better satisfaction scores than customers who don't, partly because they might not notice a shrinking branch network or show sensitivity to rising fees.

Among midsized banks, Tangerine again took the award in overall customer satisfaction. The digital bank, which is a division of Bank of Nova Scotia, achieved a score of 840, widening its lead from last year over second-place President's Choice Financial.

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Overall satisfaction index score for Big Five banks

BankScore
RBC Royal Bank765
TD Canada Trust761
BMO Bank of Montreal760
Big Five average760
CIBC754
Scotiabank753
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