Overall customer satisfaction with credit cards has bounced back from a three-year low in 2009.

But the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study shows professed loyalty continues to slip due to continued skepticism that card issuers are focused on customers' best interests.

Overall credit card satisfaction in 2010 averaged 714 on a 1,000-point scale -- up nine points from 2009. However, customers who say they "definitely will not switch" primary cards in the next 12 months continues to decline, averaging 22 percent in 2010, compared with 25 percent in 2009 and 30 percent in 2008. While customers perceive card issuers as "financially stable" and even "reliable," they are significantly less likely to view them as "customer driven."

AMEX the leader

American Express ranked highest in customer satisfaction for a fourth consecutive year with a score of 769. Discover Card was second with a score of 757 and U.S. Bank ranked third with a score of 727. The common denominators of performance among the highest-ranked issuers are exceptional rewards and benefits offerings; superior service experiences across phone and online channels; and a focus on reducing problems and resolving those that do occur with minimum time and effort for customers.

Obviously, not everyone gives these companies high marks.

"I am just fed up with the poor service form American Express Rewards," Jirina of New York, tells ConsumerAffairs.com. "I pay my bill in full every month, but sometimes the payment doesn't get there on the day the Rewards service uses as a cut off. Each time I forfeit my points. I think it is super poor service."

Dawn of Chandler, AZ, thinks Discover Card "manipulates various means" to silently collect fees and interest payments. "I contacted Discover card as early as February, 2009 to request that they changed my due date to the 28th of the month which was something that it had no problem to do as it stated. Instead, Discover quietly changed my due date to the 26th and never bother to let me know that it could not accommodate my request or what it did."

Continued skepticism

"Despite massive efforts by the credit card industry during the past year to educate customers about credit card terms as a part of the CARD Act, customers' grasp of those terms continues to be elusive," said Michael Beird, director of banking services at J.D. Power and Associates. "Sixteen percent of card customers report that they did not receive CARD Act disclosures. Among those who did, only two-thirds state that the disclosures improved their understanding of how the act affects their individual circumstances. Furthermore, only one-third of cardholders say they 'completely' understand their credit card terms."

According to the J.D. Power Web Intelligence Division, online consumer conversations about credit cards indicate that many consumers perceive their relationships with credit card companies as an ongoing game of "cat and mouse," with each side trying to outsmart the other. Social media discussions regarding credit cards also indicate that many consumers view even CARD Act disclosures with cynicism.

Measuring satisfaction

The study, now in its fourth year, measures customer satisfaction with credit cards by examining six key factors: interaction; credit card terms; billing and payment process; benefits and services; rewards; and problem resolution.

The increase in overall satisfaction from 2009 is driven primarily by improvements in credit card terms and billing and payment process. The largest increase in satisfaction with credit card terms is among revolvers, or customers who typically carry account balances from month to month. In contrast, satisfaction among transactors, or customers who always or usually pay their entire credit card balance each month, has declined slightly, compared with 2009.

"It appears that revolvers are expressing a perception that 'it could have been worse,'" said Beird. "Although 29 percent of revolvers report experiencing a rate increase in 2010, compared with 24 percent in 2009, the increase was less obvious than among transactors -- 21 percent of transactors report a rate increase in 2010, compared with just 13 percent in 2009. In addition, revolvers, who tend to be more sensitive to fees and rates, are significantly more likely to say that CARD Act disclosures improved their understanding of their credit card terms."