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Wells Fargo’s Mission to Make Banking More Human

As I began my conversation with Robin Beers, I had to address Wells Fargo’s recent issues, and their need to rebuild trust.

Robin is Head of Customer Experience Insights for Wells Fargo’s commercial banking business. As you may well know, Wells Fargo is dealing with the aftermath of a scandal within its retail banking business that has left many customers angry. She says that regaining customer trust is something that all Wells Fargo employees are forced to confront – and are committed to rebuilding – even though they were not involved at all.

“Many of us on the inside were just as surprised and saddened as our customers were,” she tells me. “We’ve been confronting the facts and the fallout…Our whole mission is to make this a more human organization…We want to make it right.”

That last point really struck me. How can a bank become “more human”? And how, exactly, is Wells Fargo doing it? These were some of the questions I asked Robin for the latest episode of my Outside In podcast.

The 164-year-old Wells Fargo is no small operation. Today, one in three North American households are its customers. “We’re re-establishing and rebuilding trust one customer at a time,” Robin says.

Customer-driven leaders like Robin are key to fulfilling that mission. Her expertise has become even more essential as Wells Fargo works to regain trust and continues to improve the banking experience. Her priority today is the same as it has always been: to get employees in every department to adopt a customer-centric mindset. One in which they discover better banking solutions through design thinking techniques, iteration, and an ongoing dialogue with customers. This, she says, will help mitigate risk, save time and resources, and increase customer loyalty and employee engagement.

“We do not know the answers to future problems,” Robin admits. Instead, you must “learn your way into the answer.” Sparking curiosity and imagination in employees’ minds is a process of “conscious collaboration” – multidisciplinary teams are encouraged to ask questions and to always push the limits of what they think they know about the business and its customers.

“We really try to meet internal clients where they are and get involved with them at whatever stage of the product development lifecycle that they’re in,” Robin says. It’s an approach she calls “integrated insights,” which aims to tell a complete customer story through a synthesis of all kinds of information, including ethnography, behavioral data, and other quantitative and qualitative methods. It brings customer data to life – making it feel “more human” – for stakeholders. In turn, that creates urgency to act because it engenders an emotional connection to customers and introduces diverse perspectives when framing and solving a business challenge.

At every step, three simple questions guide Robin and her team: “What? So what? Now what?” This helps them to evaluate what they learn, understand what it means in terms of assumptions, and what – if any – changes should happen next. “All the researchers who work within the customer insights group are trained as consultants,” Robin says of her team. “Research isn’t transactional…it’s the start of a conversation.”

In practice, that conversation takes many forms. For example, her team holds regular advisory councils with customers and host what she calls “pop up usability labs” several times a year to gather iterative feedback. In addition, team members will often spend three or four days at a time with customers in the field to understand how they approach and manage their finances, and how that affects their lives and their business.

Robin believes the customer experience is key to fulfilling the bank’s “more human” mission. Ironically, technology is vital. “Essentially we’re a technology company inside a bank,” she says.

She inserts customers into the product development process as co-creators and not just as a feedback mechanism. Robin places a lot of importance on getting customers involved early and often through things like prototyping and usability testing. “We don’t do surveys” she says. “We make something….And we put it in front of people and say, ‘What would you do with this?'”

Robin sees customers as partners in Wells Fargo’s endeavor to always be improving the banking experience. Because, ultimately, people value brands that don’t just make promises, but that actually act on them. That’s what it means to making banking more human.

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