employee experience

Wells Fargo: An Object Lesson in the Connection Between the Employee Experience and the Customer Experience

It’s been a tough few weeks for Wells Fargo, and that’s probably a colossal understatement. Once considered a pillar of the banking industry, Wells Fargo’s positive reputation is now as mythical as the phony customer accounts its employees created in order to meet sales quotas and keep their jobs. Instead of creating an employee experience aligned with Wells Fargo’s values, they created an environment where employees who missed their targets had to work overtime or on the weekends.

On a personal level, I began to realize how bad this scandal might be for Wells Fargo when my wife suggested we might want to change banks. We’ve been Wells Fargo customers for over 20 years, in three different states. I don’t think she has ever thought of changing, despite the fact that we have to go to the next town to find a branch. I’d like to think my wife represents the typical “girl next door.” If so, things aren’t looking too good for Wells Fargo. I suspect many feel the same way she does: “If you can’t trust your bank, then who can you trust?”

The Wells Fargo Culture

The problem with Wells Fargo is that it let audacious sales goals become the driving force within their culture. The company’s management became so obsessed with targets and products that they forgot to look after their most important asset: their people.

When news of the scandal broke, Wells Fargo executives seem shocked that their employees would fudge numbers. I am shocked these executives are so clueless that they can’t imagine how their people might be tempted to lie in order to spend time with their families or to keep pace with co-workers in what appears to be a corporatized version of The Hunger Games.

Wells Fargo is not alone in being misguided. Many organizations chase sales at the expense of their employee experience. At my firm, we call this phenomenon: “digging in the wrong place.” For example, consider how many companies spend millions of dollars trying to find the right formula for their customer experience (CX). They fret over dozens of metrics that purportedly help them divine whether men between the ages of 25 and 49 will promote their product.

Of course there is value in understanding how your customers feel about your company and its products. But, at the risk of being corporately irreverent, who cares? The secret sauce isn’t the countless pop-ups that ask your customers to take a survey. The magic lies in your employees.

The Lego Way

Lego Jay ZX

The best way to illustrate this notion is to revisit a gem about LEGO from a few years ago when a young boy named Luka lost his favorite LEGO minifigure. LEGO, known for its great employee experience, currently receives a 4-out-of-5-stars rating on Glassdoor from its own employees. LEGO knows how to empower its employees to take from their great employee experience (EX) and transform a great customer experience (CX). I have a nine-year old boy, so I know the seriousness of Luka’s plight. Luka wrote to LEGO to see if they could help him. Here was his plea:

“Hello. My name Luka and I am seven years old. With all my money I got for Christmas I bought the Ninjago kit of the Ultrasonic Raider. The number 9449. It is really good. My Daddy just took me to Sainsburys and told me to leave the people at home but I took them and I lost Jay ZX at the shop as it fell out of my coat. I am really upset I have lost him. Daddy said to send you an email to see if you will send me another one. I promise I won’t take him to the shop again if you can. Thank you.”

Richard, a Customer Service Representative from LEGO, responded to Luka’s email. And, with a dose of charm and wit, Richard counseled Luka on how to avoid losing his minifigure in the future. He then promised to replace the lost toy and also to send the boy some other figures that weren’t even available in stores. Richard ended his Email to Luka with this salutation:

“You will see an envelope from LEGO within the next two weeks with your new minifigures. Please take good care of them, Luka. Remember that you promised to always leave them at home. Happy building!”

Luka’s story went viral and was shared throughout social media. Richard’s kindness did more for LEGO’s brand than anything Madison Avenue could ever have done to win the hearts and minds of LEGO’s customers. Is it any wonder LEGO is considered one of the coolest companies in the world and the “Apple of Toys?”

The Employee Experience Effects the Customer Experience

Luka’s story confirms what our research has told us. If you want an amazing customer experience, you first need to build a transcendent employee experience. Richard was the true CX for LEGO. This story illustrates why we boldly proclaim that EX = CX.

Employees who are empowered to do great things for customers don’t magically appear. They are a direct result of their operating environment. In speaking about Wells Fargo, one commentator noted that there had to be something wrong with Wells Fargo’s internal system if these fraudulent practices went on for five years and involved at least 5,300 employees. Yah think?! Of course there was something wrong with Wells Fargo’s internal system. Its EX was broken.

Yet, this obvious reality is something John Shewsberry, Wells Fargo’s CFO, can’t seem to fathom. Instead of accepting the fact that he and the other executives were the ultimate arbiters of Wells Fargo’s corrupt EX, Shewsberry attempted to deflect criticism by blaming those employees “at the lower end of the performance scale.”

Wells Fargo will survive this scandal, but it will take years, if not decades, to restore its reputation.  As Wells Fargo works to rebuild its image and to regain lost trust, it should consider how to overhaul its EX. In doing so, it must constantly remember the sage advice from David Hanna: “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.”

When it comes to your employees and their performance, your employees will give you and your customers exactly what your organization’s employee experience demands. Nothing more.  Nothing less.  


Matthew Wride

Matthew Wride, J.D., P.H.R. is the Chief Operating Officer at DecisionWise and the co-author of the book, The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results. Prior to making the transition to business management, Matthew was a corporate attorney in Salt Lake City, Utah.

  • So nice to read an article written by someone who understands exactly what it takes to make a great company. It’s not about how much you can squeeze out of each customer. It’s about satisfying the customer’s expectations on every level, so that not only will the customer continue doing business with you, but also recommend your company to others. As a victim of Wells Fargo’s fraudulent account scam that happened to me in Ogden, Utah, I wish I would have found the author while he was still practicing in Utah. http://wf-bank-fraud.blogspot.com

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