By Mediastreet staff

People who run companies need to check out what their customers are saying about them online. In the long run this could stop a problem from becoming a total and utter crisis. Here is a perfect example: U.S. bank Wells Fargo.

Last year, the bank was fined a whopping $185 million in fines for bad business practices. However if they had started looking at what customers were saying about them long before the excrement hit the fan, they would have avoided the fines and kept their rather okay reputation.

Here’s how the New York Times reported what was happening at the bank over a number of years:

“For years, Wells Fargo employees secretly issued credit cards without a customer’s consent. They created fake email accounts to sign up customers for online banking services. They set up sham accounts that customers learned about only after they started accumulating fees.  These illegal banking practices cost Wells Fargo $185 million in fines, including a $1oo million penalty from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the largest such penalty the agency has issued. Federal banking regulators said the practices, which date back to 2011, reflected serious flaws in the internal culture and oversight at Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks. The bank has fired at least 5,300 employees who were involved.

In all, Wells Fargo employees opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and applied for 565,000 credit cards that may not have been authorized by customers, the regulators said in a news conference. The bank has 4o million retail customers.”

According to an analysis completed by customer feedback company ReviewTrackers, customers of Wells Fargo were writing negative reviews about the opening of fake accounts prior to the breaking news in September 2016.

Reviews hinting at these illegal practices were posted as far back as August of 2015 – more than a year before the news broke in the media. This analysis only extends back until August of 2015, however; with further research, it is possible that the reviews might reveal that the fraud was happening for even longer.

The research shows reviews containing negative sentiment from separate dates in August 2015 to December 2016. The following were negative phrases found in the reviews:

– 08/17/15: “wrong fees”

– 08/31/15: “unethical sales tactics”

– 04/09/16: “illogical fees”

– 08/17/16: “hidden fees”

– 09/08/16: “phony customer accounts”

– 09/30/16: “bogus fees”


Reviews from Citibank, Bank of America and Chase were included as well. However; these same negative phrases listed above were not found in any of the competitor reviews.

In addition to negative sentiment, the average star rating of Wells Fargo decreased month after month, with a 19.9 percent decrease from August to September 2016.

By looking at their online reviews they could have seen the negative feedback about the fees and used that as an opportunity to immediately correct the situation and save $185 million in fines.

We live during a time dubbed “The Age of the Customer.” Customers are more informed, connected and empowered than ever. For the first time, they are taking the power seat and utilising their voice through online reviews to talk about their experiences. It is a time when brands must acknowledge this shift and use online reviews as an opportunity to connect with their customers. And, in the case of Wells Fargo, to mitigate a large-scale business disaster.

You can hire a company to “listen” for you, like ReviewTrackers. They sell customer feedback software that collects review data from 85+ review sites to surface customer insights that enable brands to listen, comprehend and make data-driven decisions about what their customers truly need or want.

But you don’t necessarily have to hire a company to “listen” for you. But you need to do some listening yourself. Stay on top of feedback and you may stop a small problem from becoming all-out bedlam.