Wells Fargo and fake accounts

When I heard about Wells Fargo letting 5300 employees go over setting up fake accounts, I was not surprised at all. CEO John Stumpf has already appeared in front of Senate and House committees respectively, regarding the matter, so this really is a major problem for the stagecoach brand.

Firstly, the reason I wasn’t surprised about the situation was that I’ve experienced the high pressure sales-focused environment at Wells Fargo firsthand. I went through personal banker training there about seven years ago in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis. When I found out that we needed to sell thirteen “solutions” per day, I was pretty nervous. How, in the wake of the biggest financial disaster since the Great Depression, was I going to get people to agree to a solution 13 times a day? A solution, FYI, is any type of account or service that Wells Fargo offers. This can be anything from a savings account to online bill pay to overdraft protection. We usually had about five or six personal bankers on staff per day. In suburban Des Moines, we had one of the busier branches in the area, but it still wasn’t that busy. If you weren’t with a client at your desk, you needed to be calling clients as much as possible.

The point I’m trying to make is that there was extreme pressure to hit these goals. Every day there was an easel with a list of everyone’s names written down and how many sales each person had next to them. It was a ridiculously competitive environment. They would offer incentives to go home early or they would bring in ice cream if we hit a certain number of solutions. Nothing really in terms of a monetary bonus, of course.

This is where the “fake” accounts come in. From my experience, I never saw or heard of anyone setting up accounts without clients’ permission. I did, however, ask around as to how people met their goals of thirteen solutions per day and many of them suggested asking customers to set up additional checking accounts specifically for online bill pay so in case there were any fraudulent charges, they could quickly switch their money back to their normal account. They also would recommend setting up multiple savings accounts for different purposes (kids, vacations, car repairs, etc). They would also harass people in the drive through lane if they were making transactions that way as well. It made me feel quite uncomfortable.

I think the biggest problem is that customers were constantly bothered with “cross sell” pitches and bankers would be  ambiguous or tell the customer they could close the account if they decided not to use it. We were asked to sell an identity theft protection service that had a monthly fee, but also if the customer didn’t cancel within a certain amount of time, their account would be charged. I can only imagine this service was enabled a number of times and customers probably called in or came into the bank to cancel and get their money back. As stated in the CSPAN video below, Sen. Sherrod Brown wonders if the identity theft product Wells was selling didn’t catch the fake accounts being set up, shouldn’t customers get their money back for that too?

When I was a banker at another institution while at grad school, our sales method made a lot more sense. We would walk through a number of questions about the client’s financial matters in order for us to offer the best solutions. Sure, there were goals but nothing as intense as Wells Fargo. The sales made sense, it wasn’t just pushing a customer into setting up accounts they didn’t need.
News has also come out that Stumpf will be forced to give up millions in Wells Fargo stock he as accumulated. This is a good start for the bank to repair its image. In my opinion, Stumpf must fall on the sword here in order for Wells to move on from this mess. I don’t think giving up stock and reducing his pay is enough though. He needs to be gone. Immediately. Doing so will start putting their customers’ minds at ease that the company is serious about correcting the fraud perpetrated upon them. They also need to investigate who else was involved with this and let those executives go as well. This is already ongoing (so they say).

Secondly, Wells Fargo needs to remake its image with a new strategy. Instead of being the biggest bank with the most customers, dollars, etc. Why not be the bank that will be there when you need them? Contact customers when they are likely to overdraft. Set notifications for repeat offenders and work with them to see how you can help them avoid it from happening again. They should release ads showing metrics of how they are different after this. Something that shows the massive pressure on bankers is no more. Ideally, it would be actual bankers providing testimonials as to how things have changed at Wells Fargo.

Only with massive effort and a true change in culture will Wells recover from this. They might never come out of this the same bank they were, but at least they would be a bank that is morally responsible to its customers, shareholders, and the communities they are a part of.


How Chipotle can repair their brand image

I love burritos. Specifically Chipotle burritos. When I heard Chipotle was temporarily closing some of its restaurants because of  various food borne illnesses, then closing all of them for a day to have a company-wide meeting to discuss food safety, I was pretty concerned.

The good news for Chipotle is the CDC is officially declared the E-Coli outbreak over.  So what can they do to help their brand image and get people back to their stores? Chipotle has a loyal customer base and perhaps those people will be easy to win over. Everyone else will be much more difficult.

Firstly, Founder and CEO Steve Ells appeared on the Today Show recently to answer tough questions from Matt Lauer. I’m sure he made other media appearances as well in order to get the word out that they are doing everything they can to make sure Chipotle is the safest place to eat. Constantly communicating that they are the cleanest place to eat, will somewhat help calm fears, but will it get people to come back?

According to Ad Age, Chipotle is offering a promotion this year around the Super Bowl, offering $50 discounts on catering orders of 20 burritos or more by February 7th. I don’t really think that is enough. Something big and bold like one free burrito (or at least a BOGO) to each customer that comes in on a certain day would definitely get people talking AND back to their restaurants.  How about a one-time “We’re sorry” ad in newspapers and magazines with the free burrito coupon. Maybe even an apology letter written on the sides of their cups? I love reading the messages they put on them so using that as an avenue of communicating their new food safety policies could go a long way.

Going the social media route, they could tie in a promo where if you share a picture on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc from a Chipotle restaurant, the customer would get an emailed coupon or code for a free burrito on their next visit.

There is a great opportunity for Chipotle to win back their fans. Steve’s interview partially sold me. Let’s see what else they have up their sleeve to bring us back. Should be interesting!

Virgin Connects Passengers on the “fly”

Photo courtesy of Virgin America

Virgin America has announced a new mobile app for connecting passengers while in flight or waiting for flights.  The app is called “Here on Biz” and was built to ensure entrepreneurs “never miss a chance to connect.” It allows users to view LinkedIn connections that may also be on their Virgin America flight, at the same airport, or headed to the same destination.

I think this is a great campaign for a couple of reasons.  First, it is great timing since the publicity gets Virgin America in the news on the heels of SXSW. All of the tech industry is headed to Austin, so they will get a lot of early adopters to check it out to connect with others there. It could become a great way to find out who you can connect with if they don’t post anything  to other social media sites.

I also like it due to Virgin America’s existing presence in the Bay Area/Silicon Valley where a lot of their targeted customers reside.  KLM had tried this in the past with their “Meet and Seat” app and if you check the link it appears it is still available. However, I’m not sure how effective it could be since they fly to and from so many different International locations and KLM seems to attract a wider range of customer than Virgin America does.  Since VA’s hub is SFO, they are hitting the sweet spot with early adopters in the tech industry, plus their destinations are limited to similar large markets on the coasts, so they serve similar clientele in those cities as well.

It could just be another gimmick, but in the short term, this new venture will at least give Virgin America some good publicity before SXSW and get a ton of downloads.  At best it will allow users to connect and perhaps create some awesome new partnerships all because they flew from SFO to ORD!


The New MySpace, JT, and missed opportunities

Justin Timberlake, star of boy bands, movies, pepsi commercials and recently adding the job description of angel investor ponied up some big time cash to invest in dying (lets face it, that’s what was happening to it) social network MySpace. Last year, the site was remade and polished to cosmetically (see screen shot below) look more appealing.  The remade site also features a revamped UI with a focus on music and artists.  The result of the changes seemed to be more of a Pinterest-like UI with streaming music, which was similar to the old MySpace.  It has been in a beta-mode for a while now but recently Mr. Timberlake “officially” launched the new site with a big bash in L.A.

Since the big beta re-launch  Mr. TImberlake has released his first album in seven years. There was a multi channel marketing campaign for the release including a Saturday Night Live appearance, ads on Spotify, JT’s website, etc.  What’s missing from that list?? Just his new MySpace.  With the huge opportunity to bring many loyal fans to his new project, he opted to direct all of that traffic in other directions.

As is, there was a multilateral marketing campaign here and a tremendous opportunity for his new venture. Why couldn’t he have made the new MySpace a bigger part of the promotional mix? He could have offered an exclusive free stream of the first single “Suit and Tie” on MySpace for short time.  Or perhaps to take advantage of the new UI and look of the site, host the video for the new single there.

So why was this a missed opportunity?  It seems pretty obvious to me that singling out MySpace could have been huge for the new site. The only reasoning I can come up with is perhaps Sony Entertainment put it in his record deal that all web promotion had to go through his website (which they registered) or Spotify where they have licensing deals.  Maybe the site wasn’t ready to “go live?”  I don’t think that is it either because the new “beta” site had been seemingly pretty functional when I played around with it last year.

Regardless, I view this as a crucial missed opportunity for MySpace to be as relevant as they were six or seven years ago.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this version of MySpace can be somewhat successful, but in building a social media website and brand, the number of users you can bring to the site on a regular basis is absolutely critical.  Someone blew it with not making the new site a bigger part of this marketing campaign and I think MySpace will suffer greatly for it.

The "new" MySpace

Piling on Facebook

My friend John Nemo had an interesting post about why he thought “Facebook is Screwed.”


He points to a weak mobile application and lack of a good ad platform on said app.

With all of the hullabaloo around their IPO, it seems like everyone is piling on Facebook when they are “down.” Although I don’t know if raising billions of dollars is really being “down.” Anyway, I do agree with John to an extent but I think really where Facebook could be in trouble is they are starting to create “walls.” What I mean by that is to even click on an article that someone else has read or shared, you have to agree to give a reader application access to all of your information. No thank you, Facebook. Privacy issues are already a huge obstacle for social media giant and people are going to be less likely to share their information with dozens of applications just to read articles they can find on their own elsewhere.

I’ve also seen rumblings about the company selling a Facebook phone and perhaps developing their own web browser or buying Opera.  Right now they have few costs for operations, but if they start making a phone, that could cut into their slim margins and if it fails, it could be a crippling blow to the company’s future.  A web browser makes sense if they continue to go down the path of “building a wall” around the website.  Want to share a link on Facebook?  Maybe it would only open in Facebook’s browser once you share it.  The more walls we see go up, the more plausible it seems people will look elsewhere for spending their time on the web.

Anyway, I think there are a lot of risk factors that could impede Facebook’s future success.  However Facebook does have extremely high usage rate as well as a high barrier for exit.  People have shared a lot of information and have developed networks of friends on the website and would need to have motivation to leave besides walled content.  It is still a very powerful tool for sharing information with people and maintaining relationships, so users’ friends would have to be somewhere on the web that is going to give them a similar feel to Facebook and that place doesn’t exist yet.  Or does it?


Destination-based ads on airline displays

I was recently on a Delta flight to Los Angeles on a 767 which had seat back displays.  Throughout the flight, the displays showed ads for various things- the Delta American Express card, Hertz Rental Cars, among others.  Since I had plenty of time to think on this flight, I thought it would be a great idea for the airlines to use location or destination-based ads on those displays (if they aren’t doing it already).

Companies could post ads based on the destination of each flight that has these displays.  Or perhaps while you are streaking through the sky in the metal tube with wings, you could search for restaurants or other activities by using the seat back display.  Companies could pay the airline to appear in the search results.

Either option could be another revenue source for the already struggling airline industry and would also be helpful for travelers unfamiliar with their destination.

Obviously the seat back displays are a somewhat newer feature on planes and are not available on smaller planes yet, so this is a somewhat limited opportunity.  However, I can only imagine the technology will improve and evolve so it will make it less expensive to implement.  In the meantime, they should test it out on select flights and see how it performs.

Best Buy Going out of Business?

Last week I read this article from Forbes which discussed how the mighty electronics retailer Best Buy is on track to potentially go out of business. I feel like I am pretty familiar with the store as  they got their start in my home state of Minnesota and I have made many purchases from them in the past.

The author Larry Downes raises some good points.  Best Buy’s customer service is horrendous.  Their “Geek Squad” will set up your new PC for you…. (a relatively simple task) for a price!  Try buying something there during the holidays.  I remember last year I waited in line for about a half hour to purchase one item.  Notice how there are no express lines at Best Buy.  If you get stuck behind someone buying a television or other high priced item, be prepared to wait while the typically green cashier attempts to up-sell a warranty.  Don’t fear, however, once it is your turn to check out, you’ll get to hear the same pitch for a warranty for your headphones.

He also compares the terrible service at Best Buy to what customers experience shopping with Amazon.com, which appears to be Best Buy’s polar opposite.

CEO Brian Dunn responded to the article acknowledging the huge holiday blunder of not fulfilling orders in time for Christmas and notifying their customers only three days in advance.  However, I noticed, as did other commenters on the article on Forbes.com, that Mr. Dunn made no attempt to refute the claims of horrible customer service.  Perhaps he knows this is the company’s Achilles Heel.  Yet, if he knows this, shouldn’t he have acknowledged it and let readers know what he is expecting to do about it?  If he doesn’t know, then that is inexcusable.

So, what can the retailer do about this problem?  I have a few suggestions-

1) Fix customer service.  Now.

If you mess up, just acknowledge it, apologize, and make it better.  Don’t point to some lame policy because it is your policy.  Since it is yours, that means you can change it!

2) Make it fun to shop at your stores.

Have a greeter or something similar….and no, the security guard watching customers on surveillance cameras doesn’t count.  Take a page from Apple here.  Have friendly and knowledgeable people talking to customers and welcoming them to your stores.  Don’t push things on them they don’t need.

3) Make the website the same as the store or better!

Perhaps some of Best Buy’s business model changes can be made immediately on the web. The great thing about the web is if you try something on your website and it doesn’t work, you can always change it.  Right now, it’s not working.  Perhaps copy Amazon and have daily deals on hot items.  Don’t just make it a way to advertise stuff in your stores, make it a compliment to your stores.  I know they do this a bit with in store pickup, but there are a lot of other ways they could push the envelope.  Perhaps they should get into the music download business rather than outsourcing it to iTunes.  Doing so on the web would also compliment sales of music in their stores and help in improving brand loyalty with their existing customers.


Thoughts on Google Music

Photo ripped from CNET.com

  Google Music was just released and I just downloaded the “Music Manager” and played around a bit with the site and have a few thoughts.

It was a pretty good promotional tactic for Google to use my favorite band Pearl Jam to entice me to sign up for the service.  Users who signed up yesterday could download a free bootleg from their 20th Anniversary Tour.  If I hadn’t mistakenly clicked the option to upload my entire iTunes folder to Google Music after the initial install, the download would have been a bit faster, but it still finished in a relatively short amount of time.

I encountered a problem right off the bat when I tried to pause or cancel the upload of my iTunes folder to Google Music.  The problem was there was no option to pause or cancel!  Hopefully this will be fixed in the future.  It possibly was left out on purpose to entice more people to move to this service rather than iTunes, which is a pretty good idea, but very poor in execution.  I have 7,000 songs on one PC and I can’t imagine how long it would take to upload all of those songs with my slow DSL upload speed.  The service also automatically continues with the upload upon opening if you close the software and go back in.

The other problem I ran into was as an iPhone user, there’s not an official Google iPhone application to use with the service.  This is definitely by design as on the “About” page they mention it is free to use for Android users. Darn it.  I’m also noticing another problem as far as choppiness when listening to the music online.  With Spotify, this NEVER happens to me.  However, the way to remedy that is to download the music to your PC, but that sort of negates the point of the service.  I also noticed a bit of a brand consistency issue with the color scheme.  Google Music uses a gray and orange color scheme, while everything else Google does is in their typical rainbow color scheme.  It’s a minor thing, but I thought it was a little surprising.

I definitely like that it is FREE, with the only downfall seemingly being that I have to upload all of my own music rather than it being there already like on Spotify or iTunes.  Google has taken some of iTunes, some of Spotify, some of Amazon and put it into one nice package to go along with their myriad of other web apps.  I’m leery of how many people will convert to 100% Google Music useage from iTunes, but iTunes has such a huge market share it can’t hurt to try to capitalize on some of that huge market potential. 

What will be the next step though?  Will they be able to integrate YouTube movies with the Music Manager or will they keep them separate?  Will they be able to maintain as good of a music catalog as iTunes?  It will definitely be interesting to find out how it goes in the coming months.

Dunkin Donuts expanding….again?

I happened to notice a Dunkin’ Donuts ad that ran during Monday Night Football the other night.  It appears they are looking to expand their reach after recently going public.  Dunkin Donuts are primarily an East Coast company and to spend the money to run national ads shows they really want to increase their national presence.  I also took notice of the ad since it was recently announced they are adding around 20 locations in the Des Moines market.

What I don’t understand is why they left the upper midwest in the first place.  I am from Minneapolis originally and we had a Dunkin Donuts less than a mile from our house and I recall at least a few other locations.  I don’t remember the coffee being all that special, although I was not really a coffee connoisseur at the time.

So what changed?  In my estimation, the rapid growth of Krispy Kreme around the country overwhelmed the market with donut shops and Dunkin’ Donuts most likely lost quite a bit of  local and national market share along with brand recognition due to that growth.  Krispy Kreme expanded way too fast so now they are the ones closing locations.  So, it’s possible that Dunkin’ Donuts purposely retreated to markets in which they already were dominant in order to rework their national strategy and now their IPO may be the knockout blow to Krispy Kreme (at least nationally).  The additional capital taken in from the IPO will most likely allotted to advertising and working with franchisees to expand to new markets.  It also appears on their website as though they are involved with many different social media avenues and using those to develop brand awareness on the Internet.

For their own benefit, hopefully Dunkin’ Donuts learns from Krispy Kreme’s mistakes of expanding too quickly.  I’m definitely looking forward to their expansion.  Now I won’t have to wait for work trips to the east coast for my Dunkin’ coffee fix.


LeBron James fails at brand management

Photo courtesy of AP-Wilfredo Lee

Not only did NBA superstar LeBron James lose another Finals series last night, but this time his postgame comments taking aim at his critics most likely shredded what little regard some fans still had for him and may have tarnished his image and brand forever.

After numerous bad decisions including and most prolifically “The Decision,” one would think he would have learned his lesson to be more careful in his comments, especially in the last year he is one of the most scrutinized athletes in sports.  It seems like most members of the media complain that athletes only speak in cliches and never really have anything interesting to say.  There is a reason for this.  If an athlete makes obtuse comments such as LeBron did, fans will be immediately turned off and the already financially strapped NBA could stand to lose even more money than they currently are.

Just a year ago, before his meltdown in the Eastern Conference Finals, he was loved by sports fans all over the world.  Now, people seem to be standing in line to pile on to the guy as one of the most reviled athletes in sports.  Letting down your teammates is one thing, insulting the media and fans is an entirely different situation.  If his remarks basically telling people their lives are pathetic because they don’t have his fame and fortune were genuine or not, it still is a devastating blow to his brand equity.  If you were a company looking for a celebrity athlete to promote your product, would you pick LeBron right now?  I sure wouldn’t.  Obviously he’s not in “Tiger Woods after his sex scandal” territory right now, but with the number of public fumbles this guy has made, he’s getting darn close.

If I were his manager, agent, or advising him on his brand I would tell him to step out of the spotlight and focus on basketball.  The problem with LeBron is, it seems his friends are coaching him and they simply have no clue how to manage a global brand like LeBron James.  He really needs to get a non-biased voice on his payroll to tell the guy what what he NEEDS to hear, which includes things he probably doesn’t want to hear.  That appears to be the only way the guy is going to salvage his brand short of donating the rest of his paychecks to charity.