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Critical Thinking in Action
Aggressive Sales to Complaints at Wells Fargo
MBA-FPX 5002: MBA Leadership
Dr. Katherine Hyatt
June 12, 2023
When considering prominent players in the banking and financial advisory market, Wells Fargo is often one of the first names that come to mind. Established in 1852, the company has a rich history and even operates its own museum at its original location in San Francisco (History of Wells Fargo, 2022). However, despite its extensive experience, the company is not without flaws and has room for improvement. According to an article by MoneyInc., which explores the 20 worst customer service experiences, Wells Fargo ranks 17th due to the lack of available tellers in its banks (Flynn, 2021). Another well-known company, Panera, faced a similar issue but successfully addressed it by implementing a framework of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) to improve wait times and increase business (Jargon, 2017). By adopting a similar thinking approach, this paper aims to explore and propose a solution to the problems faced by Wells Fargo.
In any customer service environment, long lines are never a pleasant sight. One particular reason for the poor customer service at Wells Fargo could be attributed to the management’s unwavering pressure on employees to meet sales targets. It became evident that customer satisfaction and service were not as important as being a high-performing salesperson in terms of receiving recognition or advancing within the company (Wells Fargo Board of Directors, 2017, as cited in Heitger et al., 2021). When the management team prioritizes sales over good quality customer service, it sets a precedent for employees to adopt a similar mindset.
In his book “Think Smarter: Critical Thinking to Improve Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills,” Michael Callet explains that the three components of a critical thinking framework are clarity, conclusions, and decisions (2014). To gain a better understanding of the underlying issue at Wells Fargo, it is necessary to delve deeper than simply long wait lines and poor communication with customers. As discussed, there is a culture of high-pressure sales, leading to employee burnout and inadequate service. For instance, there was a slogan of “Eight is Great,” pressuring employees to sell eight different products to each financial customer. This approach often involved coercing customers into opening multiple accounts, and employees sometimes resorted to lying by claiming that certain accounts had to be bundled together (Egan, 2016, as cited in Heitger, 2021). Such sales tactics require additional time spent with each customer, resulting in an unpleasant and unpredictable experience. Clarity reveals that the core issue lies in the high-pressure sales approach initiated by the management team.
While it may seem tempting to find a quick fix, it is important to acknowledge that Wells Fargo is a business that needs to generate revenue. In order to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, sales goals must be considered while shifting focus toward a more customer-centered environment. Although stopping aggressive sales behavior may appear to be the most intuitive solution, a more realistic approach would involve setting attainable sales goals. Implementing new, more realistic sales targets would address the primary concern within the management’s thinking process, but it would necessitate employee retraining. A new training program should emphasize educating employees about the available accounts and tailoring recommendations to customers’ needs without resorting to forceful bundling. This approach would not only improve relationships with customers but also promote customer retention and referrals. Enhancing the mobile banking experience could also alleviate congestion in physical branches. By enabling customers to handle routine banking tasks, ask questions, and open accounts through the app or online, Wells Fargo could see an increase in open accounts and reduce the mundane tasks performed by tellers. Instead of pressuring employees, adopting a coaching culture, especially for those with high customer satisfaction ratings, would be beneficial.
Deciding which conclusions to apply in this situation is straightforward. Since Wells Fargo already conducts customer surveys, including data on customer treatment by employees for further coaching opportunities would be valuable. Regarding management, the most significant change would involve establishing realistic sales goals and shifting the culture to focus on recommending products tailored to customer needs rather than a rigid “Eight is Great” mentality. However, such changes would require employee retraining, with an emphasis on building customer relationships instead of pushing bundled products onto customers. These changes would yield significant initial improvements in customer satisfaction and employee retention. Subsequently, revamping the mobile app and online tools could further enhance accessibility for customers.
If no changes are made in this situation, volatility could manifest as a significant decrease in the number of customers using Wells Fargo, either due to a financial crisis or a natural disaster that prompts people to withdraw their funds. Uncertainty could arise from the presence of competition offering superior customer service, leading Wells Fargo customers to switch banks. Complexity highlights the challenges posed by long wait times, poor customer satisfaction, high-pressure sales tactics, and the reliance on customers to open accounts for profitability. Ambiguity may emerge in the future as Wells Fargo, an institution driven by aggressive sales, seeks to identify new products to sell across various financial avenues.
By examining the critical thinking applied in this situation, we can also apply the VUCA framework to anticipate the adversities that may arise. Volatility, defined by Bennet and Lemoine as the unforeseen or unexpected, could still manifest as a natural disaster or financial crisis that results in a loss of customers (2014). Uncertainty implies difficulty in predicting changes; a competitor might introduce a new banking system that revolutionizes customers’ approach to accounts. The implementation of numerous changes, combined with the ongoing challenges of running a multinational bank, exemplifies complexity—the multifaceted nature of the challenges faced (Bennet & Lemoine, 2014). Ambiguity, characterized by unclear outcomes, arises from the cultural changes implemented and their uncertain impact on satisfaction and revenue.
Despite being a long-standing banking institution with over 150 years of history, Wells Fargo is not exempt from issues. Complaints regarding long wait times and poor customer service have been raised. By applying critical thinking, it becomes apparent that these issues stem from the management’s aggressive approach, pressuring employees to sell eight financial products to each customer. To address these problems, employee retraining focused on tailoring recommendations to customers’ needs, a shift toward a culture with more realistic sales goals, and coaching rather than scolding employees should be implemented. While challenges are still anticipated in the future, adopting this new thinking model would enable Wells Fargo to confront them more effectively.
Bennett, N., & Lemoine, G. J. (2014). What VUCA Really Means for You. Harvard Business Review, 92(1/2), 27.
Flynn, L. (2021, December 21). 20 large companies known for having the Worst Customer Service. Money Inc. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://moneyinc.com/large-companies-worst-customer-service/?msclkid=f3523c85b91911ecafb8a9415903ae7d
Heitger, A. A., Heitger, D. L., & Heitger, L. E. (2021). Driving Performance in the Retail and Banking Industries: The Consequences of Dysfunctional Management Control Systems at W. T. Grant and Wells Fargo. Issues in Accounting Education, 36(2), 65–92. https://doi.org/10.2308/ISSUES-18-094
History of Wells Fargo. History of Wells Fargo – Wells Fargo. (2022). Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.wellsfargo.com/about/corporate/history/
Jargo, J. (2017, June 2). How Panera Solved its ‘Mosh Pit’ Problem. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://www.proquest.com/docview/1905075667?accountid=27965&parentSessionId=9lOg6vPB%2BM4w2ox4qV7h8Jxo8zgBy3k16UAbEyCF53A%3D&forcedol=true.
Kallet, M. (2014). Think smarter: Critical thinking to improve problem-solving and decision making skills. Wiley.