25. Customers applaud

As Hibernia emerged from the worst days of Katrina and Rita, customers began to tell the company how much they appreciated its efforts to get back on its feet and to help them.  One such letter from Carson Davis, a real estate developer in Hammond, LA, was representative of the kinds of things they were saying.  It was addressed to Steve Lousteau, head of retail banking in Baton Rouge:

HIBERNIANS STEP UP: They did whatever was needed to make custoemrs feel better / Photo: Staff

HIBERNIANS STEP UP: They did whatever was needed to make custoemrs feel better / Photo: Staff

Dear Mr. Lousteau:

I have noticed over the years that if anyone does something wrong, most people tend to complain about the wrong act.  Conversely, it has been my observation that when someone does good, that act is only expected, and most people tend to ignore the good deeds or do not care to take the time to praise those good deeds.  Today I am taking the time to let you know that Hibernia in Hammond has led the way in banking recovery in our community.

First, let me say the leadership, Jessie Jones, was on the front lines (literally) to assist customers.  I observed her outside in the heat greeting customers and helping those folks who really expect that “extra” effort in this community.

Second, I think Hibernia was first to get back to the business of banking.  I observed Jessie Jones coming in early, before 7:00 a.m. and leaving late, 7:00 p.m.  My reason for knowing this is because your Hammond branch is between my home and my office.  I travel that route daily between 7:00 a.m. and 7 p.m.  Without the loyalty of your employees and their strong work ethics, it is my opinion the bank would not have recovered as quickly.  Certainly, the customers must appreciate their efforts as I do.

Last, I want to thank you for allowing me the time to applaud the efforts of your Hammond branch.  The leadership has been effective in helping your bank grow, as evidenced by the expansion of your parking lot.  Jessie has been taking care of business in Hammond, and it is my opinion Hibernia would not have seen the growth without her at the head of your bank.

Customer and Friend, Carson Davis


Lousteau wrote to Jones: “JJ – What a great testament to your leadership in the handling of a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.  I think Carson’s comments are ‘right on.’  I know I speak for Herb [Boydstun] and the rest of Hibernia’s management in thanking you sincerely for all that you and your team do for us in the Hammond area.”

Taking their pulse

While the letters and emails were gratifying, the company wanted to assess customer feelings after the storms, and the marketing department, at Randy Bryan’s direction, undertook an opinion survey, engaging the widely known Gallup organization.  Key findings of this check-up validated what bankers were hearing directly from their customers.  Results presented to management on Oct. 27, 2005, included these findings:

  • Customers generally gave Hibernia high marks for the way it dealt with the hurricanes.
  • A vast majority rated Hibernia’s response more favorably than that of other service firms.
  • Most remained extremely satisfied with Hibernia overall.
  • Customers agreed that Hibernia and its employees were available, made it easy to get answers and helped solve problems.
  • They also agreed they were treated as valued customers and were likely to come back for future service.
  • Customers noticed disruptions caused by the hurricanes, especially when using online banking and the 800 customer service phone number.
  • Problems with the 800 number were considered the most disruptive.
  • Across all encounters with the bank, approximately 5% involved hurricane-related problems that were either disruptive or extremely so.

Few customers could not get service

Not surprising to Hibernia’s customer-contact people who were deluged with activity, the survey found after the hurricanes, customers interacted with Hibernia in a variety of ways – from 24% calling the 800 number to 73% who used a branch drive-up window.  Only a few reported they could not use any of Hibernia’s six access channels – inside a branch, at the branch drive-up, over branch telephones, through online banking, at an ATM or via the 800 customer-service line and voice response unit.

Satisfaction highest in branches

However, their satisfaction with different modes varied widely, from less than half being extremely satisfied with their telephone interaction to 70% being extremely satisfied with a recent branch visit or ATM transaction.  It was not clear from the survey to what extent these differences were hurricane-related, but, given challenges the telecommunications network had for a while, it seemed plausible that some were.  Distraught evacuees told employees repeatedly that they appreciated finding Hibernia offices open in Texas.

Disruption noted but understood

While customers were more likely (34%) to have noticed hurricane-related disruption when using online banking or calling the 800 number, only one-fifth or fewer noticed problems in other transaction channels.  Interestingly, customers said they had more disruptions with online banking, but rated these annoyances the least severe.  By far, they rated 800-number disruptions the most severe, with one third calling them “extreme.”  Overall, customers said they had hurricane-related problems in about 25% of all interactions with the bank.

Employees got high marks

Customers strongly agreed that Hibernia’s employees were readily available to answer questions (73% strongly agreed).  They also felt they had been treated like valued customers, and would look to Hibernia first for future financial services.

Two thirds or more thought Hibernia communicated clearly about changes, made it easy to get answers to questions, was helpful in solving problems and appropriately balanced its response to the disasters with its day-to-day dealings with customers.

Their lowest scores came on statements that the company minimized disruptions and provided good access to account information.  Nevertheless, Hibernia got very favorable ratings on its ability to minimize disruption compared to other service providers affected by the hurricanes, with 39% rating Hibernia much better and only 4% somewhat worse.

Important recovery areas

Customers found four important things the bank did in the aftermath of the storms:

  • Help in solving problems.
  • Active involvement in rebuilding local communities.
  • Minimizing customer disruptions.
  • Making it easy to get answers to questions.

Interestingly, customers who found Hibernia to be much better than other service providers were far more likely to be extremely satisfied with Hibernia overall.

Results no surprise to employees

The results confirmed what Hibernia’s people – in branches, on the other end of the telephone or in other contact points – already knew about how customers felt.  The statistical picture was interesting and useful but it lacked heart.

Hibernians had heard words of deep emotion every day of the recovery.  They knew where they were succeeding, where they were just getting by and, regrettably, where they were failing.  In almost all regards across the enterprise, they were laboring mightily to improve each day.  A few of their recollections:

  • Teller Nekitha Russell, at the Gretna branch that re-opened in late September:

“The customers were so understanding.  They did not gripe, even though it was only four tellers, but they did not gripe once … They understood, and they were very patient.” 

  • Irene Kotval, veteran manager of the Sherwood Forest branch in Baton Rouge:

A lot of customers came in asking, ‘can you help me?’ … also non-customers who said they wished they banked with Hibernia … People were crying … Everyone cried.  Especially the older ones wanted someone to talk to.  We put our neck on the line (for some of them) and gave them a certain amount.  I went out on the limb a lot of times, (but) it hasn’t come back to haunt me yet. 

We were so overwhelmed … We tried refreshments, water, cookies … That first month, we could not take a break.  New Orleans employees came in to help.  They had no clothes.  They washed what they had each night.  They just wanted to do something, wanted to help.  Even Baton Rouge audit staff helped. 

It was stressful hoping we made the right decisions … we just did the best we could.  The first few days when we had no computers were the worst.  We were open, but we couldn’t look up anything … they (the customers) wanted miracles.  We’d open the doors (and be deluged) … We couldn’t even eat or go to the bathroom.…”

  • Kathy Saloy, a New Orleans office manager who evacuated to Houston and was asked to open a special facility at the Astrodome there:

“It was overwhelming.  We would start with small talk, then there would be tears and I would tell them I was from New Orleans, too, and they were so grateful for a friendly face… and for Hibernia.”

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