After a few months with the company, my 20-year-old son was promoted to lead teller at Wells Fargo. Because he’s a great talker, and because his mom is fascinated by everything he does, I now know more about how tellers operate.

At first my interest was confined to my son, but over time I realized that there are good reasons why Wells Fargo is a dominant force in banking when it comes to customer service. While many of their policies don’t make sense for small businesses, the theories behind their practices are sound, so much so that I’m going to outline here the strategic way they use customer surveys.

Surveys have multiple purposes at Wells Fargo since not only are they critical for gauging customer satisfaction, but they’re also an important management tool. After visiting a bank, a percentage of customers are randomly selected for a phone survey asking about their experience. If the teller is awarded all “5s,” it’s known as a “top box survey.”

Top box surveys are a good thing. For my son, a top box might mean a congratulatory call from the district manager, a Starbucks drink or a balloon display at his station. Not only are tellers individually bonused for top box results, but collective achievement is incentivized at the branch and district manager levels as well. This causes every employee to take a personal interest in the whole team’s customer interactions, consistently helping each other and jumping in if there’s a problem.

Next are the survey questions themselves. Wells Fargo has spent millions of dollars creating a powerful brand, but many tellers are young and may not be sophisticated enough to fully understand how that brand looks and feels. Thus, every single teller at Wells Fargo is required to use certain, highly specific phrases with exact wording supplied by the bank. Compliance is facilitated through the surveys. At first, my son said he felt like a huge dork asking people if he had exceeded their expectations, but over time he got accustomed to it, and now the words come automatically with a friendly tone and easy smile.

I’m not advocating that pool and spa stores adopt all of these tactics — a small, family-owned business isn’t comparable to a publicly traded, multinational corporation. However, the core lessons here remain true regardless of size. The only way to compete against larger firms is to have a detailed vision of how you want customers treated, and ensure that your vision is enacted faithfully every time.