Wells Fargo Improves Communications With Ethnography

Robin Beers (VP of Customer Insights) and Helene Alunni-Botteri (Vice President, Strategic Planning) at Wells Fargo briefed me about a research project in which the bank used ethnographic techniques to examine its written communications. It was a pretty novel approach, so I published a research report about the effort. Here are some of the highlights of their project.

The objectives.Wells Fargo (like all large banks) sends a wide variety of communications, both online and offline, to their customers. Wells Fargo wanted to make sure that the collection of these communications were “customer friendly.” In particular, the bank wanted to see how customers responded to its “Writing With C-A-R-E” (Consistent, Approachable, Resepectful, and Empathetic) guidelines.

The study.The bank recruited 20 customers who matched their three target personas to comment on all of the communications (e.g., account service notification, marketing solicitations) they received from Wells Fargo and other organizations over a 30-day period. These customers called a toll-free number to share their immediate reaction about the documents and they also kept a scrapbook in which they wrote comments about each communication. The bank brought the most engaged customers together to debrief them in-person about their scrapbooks.

Lessons learned. Here are some of the insights that Wells Fargo took away from the research:

  • The bank’s communications were meeting the basic needs of customers, but were falling short on the humanistic dimensions of “approachable” and “empathetic.”
  • Customers wanted the bank to communicate like it knew them, similar to other communications they received from organizations like AARP.
  • Marketing messages, especially those with presumptive language like “Congratulations!” or “Good News,” were viewed quite negatively; customers used words like “ploy” and “scheme” to describe them.
  • The bank could mitigate negative reactions to bad news like a notice of insufficient funds if the communications provided relevant advice.
  • Many consumers view the bank’s Website as the primary visual reference point; noticing differences with layout, color, and other design elements in the communications.
  • To ensure that the results were actionable, key stakeholders were engaged throughout the process. The findings were “socialized” with 700+ content writers across Wells Fargo during 30+ workshops.

Thanks. Thank you Robin and Helene for sharing this information.

The bottom line: There’s no substitute for the customers’ point of view.

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

3 thoughts on “Wells Fargo Improves Communications With Ethnography”

  1. Great information – thanks!
    I love that Wells Fargo was not afraid to trust the customers, instead of their own opinions. It’s interesting to note how the web site is becoming the main visual reference for a brand. Visual brand consistency goes hand-in-hand with message consistency. For the future, I would love to know how Wells Fargo is going to maintain the new awareness as they develop communications and send them to customers. Training might not be enough.

  2. Jeannie: Great observation. Gaining consistency at one point in time is sometimes much easier than maintaining it over a span of time. We’ll check back with Robin and Helene next year and see what they’ve learned.

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