I, like a lot of other people, have been consuming my fair share of digital content over the last 4 weeks. Learning. Absorbing. Adapting. Implementing. I’m in marketing so that’s the kind of content that makes its way to me. It’s been great to see all the posts and webinars about businesses of all sizes using this opportunity to find new ways to engage with their customers and emerge stronger post-COVID-19. What I haven’t seen is a step-by-step guide on how to lose customers and destroy your brand in record time. As a Wells Fargo business customer, I’ve had a front-row seat in how this is done and thought I would share it.
1. Move slowly. The PPP officially went live April 3rd and most of what was required to apply was known - recent payroll amounts, 2018 or 2019 taxes, etc. By Sunday, April 5th, the only thing WF had live was a landing page asking for your name, email and to check a box that indicated you were a current business customer. By Monday April 6th, they notified everyone they were no longer accepting ‘applications’ due to the lending limits imposed on them as a result of their Asset Cap in place since 2018. Sole Proprietors had been told not to apply until April 10, so they were shut out before even being able to apply.
2. Be unreachable. Every communication sent to WF PPP applicants reinforced the basic message 'do not call or visit your local branch as they will not be able to provide any additional information.’ That’s understandable, but in this void, more detailed information should have been offered digitally from the WF corporate communications team, and there was none.
3. Act selfishly. A recent lawsuit filed against WF, and other big banks, accuses it of prioritizing larger loan requests from bigger companies, ostensibly to earn higher processing fees on fewer loans before the funds dried up. The loans were supposed to be prioritized on a first-come, first-served basis and the whole program was set up to help small businesses, hence its rollout through the SMALL Business Administration.
4. Think short-term v long-term. See example above.
5. Communicate poorly. I have received the exact same email, word for word, for eight days straight on the status of my PPP request. Except that it's not a status update at all. It's a form email explaining that WF is working hard on my request. Let me repeat – it’s the same email, word for word. How many people work at WF that have Marketing or Communications in their title? Wells Fargo can’t claim that it doesn’t have the resources to act differently or do more. How about updating the email with the % of loan requests processed so I can see there’s actually progress being made? Or updates on the status of PPP funding from Congress, which would explain the delays I’m experiencing? Or simply don’t send me the exact same email every day that tells me nothing.
My business banker is a lovely person and these are stressful times for all banking employees so this isn’t directed towards them – their hands are tied. But, Wells Fargo has ignored a simple branding truth: Perception = Reality. My perception is that Wells Fargo is selfish, slow to embrace change and doesn’t even care enough about me as a customer to change the wording on the emails I receive that tell me nothing. So, my reality is that I’ll be looking for a strong, progressive regional bank to move my accounts to when things settle down.
Follow the simple steps above, and you too can destroy your brand and lose customers during COVID-19.
P.S. I wrote this on April 23rd, 2020. On April 24th, I finally got an email from Wells Fargo that didn't look like the previous eight regarding my PPP application. I was hopeful as there was reference to an encrypted email, just for me! The link I was directed to won't open in Safari. Or Chrome. Or Firefox. Adios Wells Fargo!