By using ethnography, which in Wells Fargo's case means visiting messy living rooms to see how customers handle their financial lives, the bank is able to see the real-life role the Web can potentially play in its customers' lives and businesses before making site upgrades or redesigns.

The approach has worked wonders. Wells frequently lands high on lists of Web functionality and consumer satisfaction, recently outranking Google, AT&T, Federal Express and Microsoft on a Brookings Institute ranking of 68 corporate Web sites - the latest in multi-year string of top rankings on lists put out by Gomez, MSN and a host of technology magazines.

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