When you find out that some of your key employees have been purposely defrauding customers by making up fake accounts in their names and, in some cases, damaging their credit reports, you might think that would be the baseline for a major PR crisis.
Somehow, Wells Fargo managed to make matters worse.
Why? Because they tried to dodge the responsibility and put it off on others.
When faced with what many called the worst public relations disaster of the year, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf pointed the finger at his employees, including 5,300 rank-and-file workers as well as consumer banking officer Carrie Tolstedt.
Ms. Tolstedt was allowed to retire with $125 million in severance.
When everyone, including Congress, expected Stumpf to accept some of the responsibility for the bad decisions leading to the fallout — he deferred.
By the time Mr. Stumpf finally apologized — consumers at large were not interested.
As a result, consumer confidence in Wells Fargo took a massive hit.
Stumpf was shown the door.
When his exit was greased with a $130 million payoff, customers and former customers went apoplectic. Wells Fargo instantly became a national punchline, countless customers closed or moved accounts, and the brand received a daily onslaught of negative commentary on social media — and in the news media.
What happens when you get caught very much in the wrong and then refuse to take a fair amount of the blame? Well, in some cases, more bad things happen. That’s exactly what occurred. Instead of a single issue being addressed with focused attention, new Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan found himself facing one more public relations crisis after another.
At one point, there were so many different Wells Fargo scandals in the news, consumers were struggling to keep up.
They may not have known what, exactly, was happening, but they definitely knew they were mad about it. In response, Sloan focused on taking responsibility and working to restore consumer confidence. While that step didn’t completely mend fences, it signaled a new direction for Wells Fargo, allowing the company to stop its slide and begin the recovery process.
In addition, the company is redoubling its public efforts to deliver consistently good customer service, while not taking any positive responses for granted. As a result, Wells Fargo, though they still face pending litigation, is effectively regaining consumer trust.
Yes, they still have a long way to go, but Wells Fargo is headed in the right direction.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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