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Kristi Nelson
Kristi Nelson
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Hibernia Jazzes Up Its E-Mail Response System

Although customer e-mail volume has soared, Hibernia National Bank has not only maintained its 24-hour response pledge, but is closing in on 12-hour responses.

Hibernia National Bank got a little more than it bargained for when it encouraged customers visiting its Web site to communicate via e-mail.

Although the New Orleans-based institution was coping with the 1,000 e-mails it was receiving each month, by inviting more volume it was jeopardizing its 24-hour response pledge to customers.

All of the e-mails came through one person, whom the Internet group dubbed "Tiffanyware." She would either answer the e-mail or look to subject-matter experts in the bank for appropriate answers before crafting a response. Though this process had the rudiments of a queuing and routing system, it was still very manual.

"If we wanted to maintain the service level, there were a couple of ways we could do it," said Jeff Heinzelman, vice president of Internet delivery at $16.6 billion Hibernia National Bank. "You could throw more heads at the problem and live with the lack of consistency issue, or automate the parts that lend themselves to automation."

The bank last year turned to software vendor Kana, Menlo Park, Calif., which has developed a suite of eCRM solutions.

"Hibernia National Bank wanted an intelligent way to automate responses, and at the same time, build a knowledge base of data that would help us service customers beyond just e-mail," said Heinzelman.

The bank was able to implement Kana's Response product in under 90 days. Today, Hibernia employees across the enterprise respond directly to customer e-mails. The system automatically routes messages to the appropriate work queue and provides suggested responses.

A tree-organized response library groups standard answers to customer questions. A set of rules determines what content will be associated with which kinds of questions. Additional rules determine which types of messages will be forwarded to which groups.

An auto suggest feature allows bank employees and customer service reps to view the inbound inquiry alongside a suggested response that the system has generated based on keyword matching. Employees can then double-check the response and click on a send button.

There's also an auto response feature that takes the human review out of the process, making the e-mail system even more efficient. Used in conjunction with Web forms that structure information, the system can automatically generate and send responses to straightforward inquiries, such as branch and ATM locations.

According to Heinzelman, the bank has begun delving into the auto response, but for the most part, e-mails are still queued and routed to the appropriate person based on keyword match.

In the year that Hibernia has been using Kana Response, e-mail volumes have risen to almost 4,000 per month. Even so, the bank has not only maintained its 24-hour pledge, but is closing in on 12-hour response times.

The product's reporting capabilities are used to not only track response times, but to also monitor the types and quantity of customer inquiries. The knowledge thus gained has enabled Hibernia to tighten up and clarify its Web site and brochures.

"One of the most popular things about Kana Response, from day one, has been the reports," said Christopher Olin, director of product management at Kana. "Companies have been alerted to a number of different types of problems by noticing that some category has jumped to the top of the list."

Encouraging and monitoring e-mail inquiries has also given the bank new insight into customer expectations.

"E-mail is such an anonymous mechanism that people tend to be a little more frank with their comments than you would be on the phone," said Hibernia National Bank's Heinzelman. "They tend to be more descriptive and give a lot more information on that first contact. We get a richer sense of what our customers are really looking for."

"We're finding that customers want to do business with us beyond the traditional phone and branch channels," Heinzelman continued. "Those are still very popular options, but the more alternatives you can provide a customer, the more likely they are to be a happy and contented customer."

The bank, for its part, has been able to avoid hiring additional people to handle the increased e-mail volume.

Installation costs range from $100,000 on up, depending on the size of the financial institution and which suite components are installed. The return on investment period is between 9 and 10 months. "The return on investment is almost always under a year," Olin said. "People can deploy Kana Response, IQ, or Connect products, get them up and running in a few months and start seeing value immediately."

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FAST FACTS

INSTITUTION: Hibernia National Bank

ASSETS: $16.6 billion

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Encourage more e-mail from customers while maintaining 24-hour response pledge

SOLUTION: Kana Response eCRM

KEY QUOTE: "We're finding that customers want to do business with us beyond the traditional phone and branch channels."

- Jeff Heinzelman, VP of Internet delivery

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