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How SunTrust Bank is Creating a Purpose-Driven Customer Movement

The below is based on the second episode of the Outside In podcast, which you can listen to here.

Banks are among the organizations facing the biggest challenges when it comes to putting customer experience at the heart of their business.

After the 2008 financial crisis, public confidence in the financial services sector took a dive, and our research suggests that few banks have fully recovered that confidence. However, the banks that are genuinely disrupting the market through a customer-driven agenda are better positioned to restore public confidence.

Banks like SunTrust, the seventh-largest bank in the United States with assets around $175 billion, enjoys both the financial clout of a multinational bank with the reliable reputation of a “local” or regional bank. Now, it is putting greater emphasis on the customer experience.

At the recent Chief Customer Officer Exchange, I interviewed Jeff VanDeVelde, who runs the customer experience focus at SunTrust Bank. An experienced brand-builder, Jeff was honest about how “brand promises” often fail to deliver against customer expectations because they raise false hopes.

Finding Authentic Purpose with We, Them, and Us

When Jeff joined SunTrust, he set out to deliver a customer-centric culture that avoids these pitfalls. It helped, of course, that he had the full support of chairman and CEO William H. Rogers.

Jeff explained to leadership that SunTrust took an “outside in” approach to the challenge. This meant fundamentally reframing the way they the bank sees itself. “We needed to start with a different purpose to answer the question: Why is it that SunTrust exists?”

Following that question’s path, the bank asked three key questions: Who have we always been (the “we”)? Who, exactly, are our customers – that is, why do they come to SunTrust, and what do they need (the “them”)? And, finally, what impact could the bank deliver if it joined forces with its customers (the “us”)?

So began a customer experience journey built upon the organization’s historical customer base and values – a process so thorough that they even interviewed a 108-year-old customer! Ultimately, Jeff and his team discovered that SunTrust is a bank rooted in its communities – an organization which, in times of discord, has historically focused on building personal relationships with its customers to help restore financial confidence and wellbeing.

“That’s how we found our authentic purpose,” Jeff said. “We believe everyone can achieve the financial confidence to live a life well spent. That became our rallying cry, the stand we were taking, and the movement we were launching.”

Great Movements Aren’t Done by Themselves

But “great movements aren’t done by themselves,” Jeff acknowledges. Which is why SunTrust began to recruit advocates, including nonprofits like United Way, who joined the bank in supporting Operation HOPE, an organization that empowers low-income and underserved communities achieve financial literacy. This recruitment reflects an “audacious goal” and the movement’s core purpose: improve the financial confidence of five million people over five years.

This CEO-endorsed, purpose-driven mission clearly defines what the bank stands for – and against – within the market. It’s a brave move within the financial sector. But Jeff says applying the principles of the movement to the customer experience journey meant making some big changes, like rooting the entire sales process in authenticity and the ability to empathize with the customer. “In banking, most of the transactions are electronic. So when we have the opportunity to get somebody on the phone or to walk in that branch and they have a human experience, it has become one of the moments of truth that we have.”

Outside in, Delivered Inside Out

Today, SunTrust Bank is committed to capitalizing on those moments of truth, on making change happen from the “outside in, delivered inside out.” It’s a fascinating and challenging agenda that, as Jeff notes, “understands the emotional journey that people go through as they achieve financial confidence.”

While traditional measures like Net Promoter Score (NPS) have only delivered “incremental betterness,” SunTrust’s new approach is woven into the company’s DNA. In fact, Jeff admits they don’t even measure customer satisfaction anymore. “We stopped asking: Are you satisfied? We started asking: What are the real drivers of what customers may be satisfied with?” This gets to the core of the customer need, and it’s a strategy that appears to be paying off.

In a recent news release, CEO William H. Rogers said SunTrust “revenue is up 7% and our efficiency ratio and tangible efficiency ratios have improved by 90 and 100 basis points, respectively.” The outlook for the bank’s long-term success, in terms of creating new value and delivering on its goal to help customers achieve financial confidence, looks bright.

What are you standing up for? What are the wrongs you can right together? These are the central questions SunTrust continues to ask itself – a rallying cry that keeps the bank true to its mission and close to its customers. “If you believe what we believe in,” Jeff says, “then join us.”

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