Vanguard’s customer service issues are not a recent development—it has never been a leader in customer service. Heck, here is a 2004 article in The Wall Street Journal about Vanguard’s service failing to keep up with rapid inflows. Sounds like an article that could’ve been written anytime over the last two decades!

I suppose underwhelming service comes with the territory when you’re the low-cost leader. Vanguard customers have, unfortunately, come to accept that fact.

That said, here’s a question I didn’t think I would have to answer: How are we supposed to contact Vanguard? Even more troubling, does Vanguard even want us to contact them at all?

In May, I told you that Vanguard made a significant change to its Amendment to the Vanguard Brokerage Account Agreement. In particular, the new “Digital Interaction Expectations” section raised my eyebrows and, when I reported it, those of many others.

In the agreement, Vanguard warns that it can terminate your account for “excessive reliance on [their] phone associates.” What exactly is excessive reliance? I don’t know, and Vanguard didn’t provide a definition when I asked. Instead, Vanguard told me that,

In recent years, Vanguard has intentionally and strategically invested in modernizing our digital pathways – including our website and the Vanguard mobile app – as part of our commitment to providing a world-class experience for our clients. We encourage our investors to web register and utilize Vanguard digital channels for an efficient, effective, and secure client experience. 

That doesn’t answer the question. However, it echoes the Digital Interaction Expectations section of the agreement, where Vanguard says it expects shareholders (who, by the way, are also owners) to

… primarily use digital channels for interactions and communications regarding Your Account, inclusive of e-delivery. VBS provides You with various options to do so, including but not limited to, Our mobile app, instant chat, secure message center, and other electronic means to facilitate efficient and convenient interactions. [emphasis added]

Let’s consider each of those “digital channels.” Do they allow for “efficient, effective and secure” communication with Vanguard?  

The Website

The Support Center has many how-to guides and frequently asked questions (FAQs) you can read. To be fair, Vanguard has put a lot of effort into these guides—they want this to be your first stop when you have questions. However, FAQs are the lowest rung of the customer service ladder.

If you can’t resolve your issue with those guides, you can click on “Contact Us.” This will take you to a page with several phone numbers to call, depending on who you are in the Vanguard pantheon—a regular Joe, an institutional investor or maybe a retirement investor.

On the page, Vanguard says, “Serving investors is what we do” and “We’re here for you,” but we know from the fine print in their brokerage agreement that Vanguard doesn’t really want us to call.

Also, Vanguard’s only there for you on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern time. So, someone on the West Coast leaving work at 5 pm is out of luck—or had better wake up early to get their call in.

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