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Column: Does your credit card make you feel more attractive? Wells Fargo wants to know

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Among other questions, Wells Fargo asks customers in a survey if they agree that “Wells Fargo credit card gives me a real thrill.”
(Getty Images)

Wells Fargo is eager to move on from the scandal involving bank employees opening millions of accounts for customers without their permission. First, however, it has a few questions for credit card holders.

Among other things, it wants to know how they feel about the following statements, on a scale from 1 to 10:

  • I get a feeling of happiness when I use Wells Fargo credit card
  • Wells Fargo credit card gives me a real thrill
  • Wells Fargo credit card adds joy and pleasure into my life
  • Wells Fargo credit card is clearly best in the business

These are actual questions from an actual survey sent out recently by the bank. Wells Fargo told customers that their “honest and thoughtful” responses “will be used to shape future business decisions and help us serve you better.”
“It’s definitely strange and over the top,” said Itamar Simonson, a marketing professor at Stanford University with whom I shared some of the more colorful questions. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

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My honest and thoughtful response to the survey: Has Wells Fargo gone crazy?

“No, we have not gone crazy,” answered Jennifer Langan, a bank spokeswoman. “We are trying to rebuild trust with customers.”

Lest we forget, Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $332 million to regulators and customers to settle allegations that it engaged in widespread fraud with the bogus accounts. The fiasco cost former Chief Executive John Stumpf his job and left the bank with a major public-relations headache.

A report by the bank issued this month concluded that management was “too late and too slow” in dealing with a culture and procedures that placed too great an emphasis on employees pushing multiple financial products and hitting sales goals.

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Langan told me that Wells Fargo now wants to deepen its “emotional connection” with customers.

That’s where the survey comes in. Some of the statements presented to customers are perfectly understandable. For example, Wells wants to know if customers agree that “Wells Fargo credit card treats people fairly” or “Wells Fargo credit card is a trustworthy company” or “I feel safe using Wells Fargo credit card.”

But what are we to make of statements that have a more, shall we say, life-affirming quality? Such as:

  • I feel more attractive when I use Wells Fargo credit card
  • Wells Fargo credit card helps me be more powerful in life
  • Wells Fargo credit card adds a sense of adventure to my life
  • Wells Fargo credit card helps me become the person I want to be

It’s a credit card we’re talking about here, not a Tony Robbins seminar.
Wells Fargo seems especially keen to underline some of the more dynamic sentiments. It twice repeats the bits about being more powerful and more attractive.

The survey also appears determined to impress respondents with Wells Fargo’s banking brilliance. It asks if they agree that “Wells Fargo credit card knows its industry better than anyone” and “Wells Fargo credit card sets the pace for its industry.”

In a more domestic vein, it gauges people’s reactions to the notion that “Wells Fargo credit card helps me be a better parent” and “Wells Fargo credit card helps me be closer to the people I love.”

More green-minded customers can weigh in on the feeling that “by choosing Wells Fargo credit card, I am doing something good for the environment.”

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At this point, the bank’s survey is starting to sound less like corporate outreach and more like a cry for help. It asks if people believe that “Wells Fargo credit card is more than a product or service, it’s an experience.”

The Wells Fargo Credit Card Experience. Like Coachella, but quieter, and fits in your pocket.

Langan said the bank hired a San Francisco company called Motista to conduct the survey. It describes itself as “a predictive intelligence company” that “enables businesses to accelerate growth by activating Emotional Connection.”

Scott Magids, Motista’s CEO, told me his firm has run similar surveys for hundreds of other companies. He explained that all the seemingly bizarre ideas expressed to consumers reflect an effort to get inside their heads and see what rings their bells, emotionally speaking.

“The ultimate goal,” he said, “is to create a more relevant experience.”

I get it. What company wouldn’t want to know that their product is a “real thrill” or produces “joy and pleasure”?

That said, maybe Disney can get away with such questions. Wells Fargo seems to be pushing things by asking customers to comment on whether “people seem to admire that I have a credit card from Wells Fargo” or “I feel I belong with other people who use Wells Fargo credit card.”

Ernan Haruvy, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said Wells Fargo would benefit from rebranding. “They’ve taken a bunch of hits lately and their brand equity is very low,” he said.

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But Haruvy dismissed questions about the emotional quality of credit cards as “very cheesy.”

I imagine Wells paid big bucks for this survey to be conducted. Here’s a little advice I’ll offer for free: Treat customers fairly and don’t commit fraud.

There. I feel more powerful and attractive already.

David Lazarus’ column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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