By nickjohnson - May 5th, 2013

In the run-up to the Incite: Summit East, we took some time to discuss the big issues for Corporation Communications executives in 2013 with Alan Elias, Senior Vice-President and Head of Wholesale Banking Communications at Wells Fargo.

Incite: Are you seeing that the rise of big data, customer-centricity and social media has led to changes in internal organisation etc.? What are they?

Alan Elias: To me, “Big data” is more of a flavor-of-the-day term. It’s still data in and data out at the end of the day. As for customer centricity and social media, it’s not really resulted in any staffing changes within the communications/public relations team, but we have seen some nice additions to our Enterprise Marketing group, which is always looking for the best ways to reach and impact customers and prospects. For our communicators, being able to tap more into the mind set of customers and general public via social media has allowed us to identify trends and issues earlier, and to see if our communications strategies gain traction.

Incite: What does ‘customer-centricity’ mean to you? Is it desirable? If so, how do you try to be customer-centric?

Alan Elias: Being customer-centric is absolutely key to the Wells Fargo business and communications models, and has been for many, many years. Our #1 business priority as outlined by our CEO is “putting customers first.” We have a corporate “Message House” that is used by all communicators and #1 on the list is “Helping people succeed financially.” We have millions of people and businesses entrusting us with their money and financial transactions. If we don’t put customers at the heart of everything we do – and that includes investing in tools to help us better understand the real drivers of customer satisfaction – then we would not be successful.

Incite: Many new channels and platforms are now available to you. How has your use of traditional and newer channels been affected?

Alan Elias: All channels have a potential place, but we’ve got to always apply PR101 strategy and work backwards. What do we want to achieve at the end of the day? Who are we trying to influence? How do we best reach those individuals? Then, we can more effectively work to develop the best approach and utilize the best channels to accomplish the goal. To plough forward with an approach that is solely predicated on using social media-based to reach the consumer, or relying upon traditional media to reach CEOs/CFOs, is very likely short sighted and even a bit naive.

Incite: One can now get a far more extensive picture of each customer through big data/social data etc. One can thus build increasingly personalised and unique customer experience. Have you begun to do this? How?

Alan Elias: While managing data isn’t new to Wells Fargo, the overarching concepts behind “big data” management are still very much in their infancy across the IT landscape. Advances in technology will now allow us to gain insights rapidly from our data that previously would have been too time consuming or costly. Knowing how to best use organized data to solve customer and business problems, while also respecting and protecting customer privacy, is the priority.

Our initial focus is leveraging the large volume of data we have from customer transactions and interactions. Customers expect us to know and understand them, so having better insight into their overall experience will help us to improve the service we give them. As an example, we are looking at customer interactions across all different channels – online, phone, inside the branch. Phone conversations were not traditionally looked as “data” but with these new technologies, we can understand tone and volume in different ways. By studying this raw data, we can assess occurrences like when and why a customer calls us – did they try to solve the problem in the store first, etc. Big data allows us to become more proactive in our business.

Alan Elias discussed right time, right place communications from the very top at this year's Incite: Summit East in September 2013 in New York. For more information visit Summit East page

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