Citigroup Inc.'s campaign to repair its U.S. customer-service reputation may be making progress: Clients are becoming more likely to recommend the bank rather than disparage it, an internal memo said.

The consumer unit's "net promoter score" — a gauge of how many people would recommend or denounce its service — has climbed to a 2010 high of 54%, from 46% at the end of last year, according to an Oct. 25 staff memo from the division's chief, Manuel Medina-Mora. A score of at least 50% shows business is likely to grow, according to Satmetrix Systems Inc., an owner of the measure's trademark.

Citigroup's image was battered by more than $29 billion of losses during the past two calendar years tied in part to subprime mortgages, and it was propped up by a bailout that included $45 billion of taxpayer money. On top of that, the retail bank ranked last or second-to-last on customer service in three of the five regions in which it operates, according to a survey in January and February by the marketing consultant J.D. Power & Associates.

"They're digging their way out of a hole," said Jack Trout, president of the Trout & Partners Ltd. marketing strategy firm in Old Greenwich, Conn. "I would say you might call it progress, but it's very slow progress, and they have a long way to go."

The contents of Medina-Mora's October memo were confirmed by Natalie Riper, a spokeswoman for Citigroup, which is 12% owned by the federal government.

Medina-Mora, 60, was appointed in January to shake up the North American consumer unit, and he told 9,000 employees to undergo training. Client sentiment has benefited from the training program, Medina-Mora wrote in the memo. "This and other actions are already resulting in noticeable improvements in net promoter scores," he wrote. "We must continue on our journey to make progress in this area."

Citigroup recognizes that its net promoter score "is just one measure," Riper said in an e-mailed statement. "We still take very seriously external customer surveys including J.D. Power, where we know we have a long way to go."

The score is a "loyalty metric" that evaluates a company's growth prospects by asking customers whether they would recommend it to their friends and family, according to netpromoter.com, which is maintained by Satmetrix in San Mateo, Calif. Leaders in the U.S. include Apple Inc., with a score of 78%, and Amazon.com Inc., at 71%, according to research published by Satmetrix in March.

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