aside Wells Fargo And Others Have Become Enamored Of The “Cookie Cutter” Call Center Business

Family PhotographyMany folks think of a bank with a drive-tru building where the customers are serviced by bank tellers, loan officers and financial advisors in little side offices. What has been  developing over the past 10 plus years, is that many of these financial institutions have established huge call centers buffered by internet customer service web sites around the country. For example, the following are a sample of Wells Fargo call center locations:




9.) CALL CENTER TAMPA, FL                     10.) CALL CENTER CHARLOTTE, NC

11.) CALL CENTER FARGO, ND                  12.) CALL CENTER ROANOKE, VA



17.) CALL CENTER OMAHA, NE                 18.) CHANDLER, AZ

19.) SCHAUMBURG, IL                                  20.) DES MOINES, IA

Citi Call Center 2010. Photo by Lucas Schifres/Pictobank
Citi Call Center 2010. Photo by Lucas Schifres/Pictobank

“The call center business is a multi billion dollar industry that has been selling the concept of cross selling for years. The following paper details the concept of cross selling within a call center, published in 2007 by Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, titled, Cross-Selling in a Call Center with a Heterogeneous Customer Population by Itay Gurvich, Mor Armony and Constantinos Maglaras:

“Many organizations consider their call centers as one of the most important channels of interaction with their customers, acting both as a service center and a point of sales – an opportunity for the firm to generate extra revenue by offering new or existing products to their customers. The significant revenue potential of this cross-selling strategy is underscored by the nature of the interaction that takes place in a call center and the wealth of information that is available through state-of-the-art Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems; Together, they enable firms to segment their customer pools effectively and to tailor their product offerings to each such segment to increase the likelihood of purchase and the associated expected revenue.”

Bank of America call center
Bank of America call center

“A familiar and successful example of cross-selling practice is in the financial services industry, where customers that call for service, such as account balance inquiries, are offered new financial products.1 Alongside its potential benefits, cross-selling may substantially increase the total workload that needs to be handled by the call center’s agents, which may degrade the system’s quality of service, and, in turn, have an adverse effect on the overall customer experience, as well as the effectiveness of cross-selling itself. It is important to carefully select which cross-selling opportunities to pursue and when to do so, and to account for the impact of these decisions in determining the staffing level of the call center. This paper considers a call center with cross-selling capabilities that serves a heterogeneous pool of customers, and studies the operational decisions of staffing, call routing, and cross-selling under various forms of customer segmentation. It derives near-optimal controls in each of the settings analyzed, and characterizes the impact of more refined customer segmentation on the structure of these policies and the center’s profitability.”

U.S.Bank Service Center 2012. KATHY PLONK
U.S.Bank Service Center 2012. KATHY PLONK

“In more detail, we consider a call center with a single pool of fully flexible agents that first handle inbound call service requests, and subsequently decide whether or not to attempt to cross-sell to some of these customers a certain product or service, whenever such an opportunity arises. Cross selling attempts are handled by the same agent that has served the customer’s original request, upon completion of that task. Each cross-selling attempt is preceded by an instantaneous step that captures the customer’s decision of whether or not to agree to listen to the cross-selling offer. The processing times for the original service request and the cross-selling phase are exponentially distributed with potentially different parameters.”

TD Bank call center
TD Bank call center

This “cookie cutter” call center model has been sold to more financial businesses to where Wells Fargo is not the only institution being known for intense cross selling practices.

On a 9/22/16 CNN Money post by Matthew Egan describes how this phenomenon of cross selling by financial institution’s and their call centers is an industry wide issue. Here are  excerpts from his article, “Wells Fargo isn’t the only one’: Other bank workers describe intense sales tactics:”

“One former banker at a regional bank told CNN Money he witnessed the practice at his company.”

HSBC Bank call center
HSBC Bank call center

“The customers wouldn’t even know,” said the banker, who insisted his name not be used. “Wells Fargo isn’t the only one. This is an industry-wide problem.”

“Another scam this banker witnessed involved employees rearranging debit charges on customer accounts to maximize the size of the overdraft fees they experienced.”

“The competition and pressure in the banking industry is unbelievable,” he said.”

“All the people CNN Money spoke to for this article had to pursue similar aggressive sales goals pushed by senior management.”

“We get badgered every single day by management. It’s sad,” said a 30-year banking veteran who is a branch manager for a big regional bank.”

“Another banker puts it this way: “There is a blurred line between what’s best for the customer and what’s best for our sales goals.”

bank-graph-customer-servc-experience-telephoneservice_table3Over 31,000 complaints

“These concerns are reflected in consumer complaints about banks as well. Customers have filed over 31,000 complaints under the category of opening, closing and management of bank and credit cards, according to stats from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

“Likewise, the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers,  published a report in June detailing how banks’ aggressive sales metrics encourage “front-line workers to push multiple banking ‘solutions'” on often “unwitting customers.”

“The report quoted tellers, bankers and other employees from various banks, including SunTrust and Bank of America. “Managers really pushed me to ignore it when consumers say no,” one bank employee said.”

bank-bankers-guide-seamless-omnichannel-customer-experience-eb-sidebar-enCross selling is at the heart of modern retail banking

“The relentless focus on cross-selling is not new. Bob Hedges, global head of financial service practice at management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, said the emphasis began in the 1970s and 1980s.” (At that time there were not the huge number of call centers.)

“It’s like at McDonald’s, if you order a cheeseburger, they ask if you want fries,” Hedges said. At a bank, if you open a checking account, they’ll ask if you want a debit card.”

“Banks have discovered that the more products customers have, the less likely they’ll be to jump to another bank. Multiple accounts can also be profitable for the fees they generate.”

bank-great-cartoon-karikatur-3-grat-3-pix-call-center-carttoon“This has taken on greater importance given how bank profits have been squeezed by the one-two punch of higher regulatory costs and extremely low interest rates.”


Cross-Selling in a Call Center with a Heterogeneous Customer 2007…/gurvichetal.pdf Kellogg School of Management by Gurvich – Cited by 29 – ‎Related articles This paper considers a callcenter with crossselling capability

COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTERS – Gronda Morin…/nutty-consumers-6th-rant-against-cookiecuttercallcenterFeb 11, 2015 –


    • Dear Jueseppi, And these folks in the banking industry would like you to believe that bank regulations are not necessary. Grazie Millie!! Thanks a million for all your support and for this reblog. Ciao, Bello, Gronda


  1. Gronda, well done. As a Wells Fargo customer and shareholder, the current story on widespread fraud is bothersome. Yet, Wells has been known for cross selling dating back to at least twenty years ago. It is not just Wells as you note, but one thing I detest is being cross-sold after I raise and get resolved a problem I have. Let me say this another way. I called the bank with a problem, which they did help resolve. But, when we finished resolving a problem, they are required to try to sell me something else. When a bank or anyone resolves a problem, they are being tested to keep my business. I am not about to give them more at that time.

    Yet, they are not alone in this as cross selling occurs everywhere. My sister works for a retailer and is uncomfortable pushing cross sales, especially with long time customers. But, she must do so. Yet, there are times when she offends the long time customer, who may take their business elsewhere. The key to any business relationship is you will make more money long term treating the customer well, than with short term sales pushes. That same customer may have spent $2,000 over five years and you are going to push her away by cross selling a $15 item?

    Again, great post, Keith


    • Keith, You are right on!! The customer service rep is required to cross sell even when the incoming call is about a complaint. I remember overhearing a supervisor tell an agent that she could have referred an elderly man 87 years old for a life insurance policy. The stuff that happens is unbelievable.

      Wells Fargo’s reps had to deliver on unrealistic sales goals of 6 to 8 accounts per client when the banking industry standard is 2 to 3 accounts per customer. There will be videos of the CEO making these demands. He was literally forcing the agents to commit fraud to bolster his numbers on the annual report.

      As a shareholder, I’d be nervous. There is a lot more coming down the pike to where the DOJ AND/ or SEC will have to act.

      Remember when I mentioned that I had written my former CEO, about cross selling issues and associated foreseeable problems that could do irreparable harm to the company’s brand. Fortunately, he listened and acted. I was a senior sales person who attempted to correct similar issues as to what Wells Fargo has been doing but middle management was not receptive to where they were making my work life miserable. So, I early retired in January 2014 and contacted my CEO. The cross selling practices ended in 2014 but I am betting that the CEO did this over the resistance of some executives. In my mailed letters and “nutty consumer blogs, I pointed out the December 2013 LA Times investigations into Wells Fargo cross selling practices and that there were other call centers which were financially successful without this “fools gold” selling tactics, like American Express, Zappos and others.

      I wrote something like this in one of my past nutty consumer blogs (which I also mailed to the CEO):

      In the year 2014, this same company is now tracking the total sales of each agent per client as well as their referrals which result in a sale. It is no longer okay to create for example, a bank account which is never used and have that count as a sale. When a client calls for customer service, the agent is no longer required to make a sales referral. (cross selling). It is important for companies to focus more on results of the actual products sold and monies produced per agent instead of their (AHT) average handling time and the number of calls handled during an 8 hour day. A gifted sales person can bring in a lot more funds in half the time of other agents who look really busy.

      I can promise you that over the years, that some Wells Fargo employees have made the same attempt, but their CEO did not listen and did not act to take corrective steps..

      I have told my son to take options betting that Wells Fargo stocks will be taking at least a short term dive.

      My former company was being tempted to follow the likes of Wells Fargo, the King of the cross selling business and yes, Wells Fargo has made a lot of monies from this practice. The market place needs competition but it is not fair to have reputable banks being required to compete with banks committing fraud. This why I believe that the DOJ and/ or the SEC have no choice but to act.

      Ciao, Gronda


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