How SunTrust Bank is Creating a Purpose-Driven Customer Movement

Banks are among the organizations facing the biggest challenges when it comes to putting customer experience at the heart of their business. Banks like SunTrust, the seventh-largest bank in the United States, 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.

Charles Trevail

CEO at C Space

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.”

You may be interested in:

Beth Comstock: An Outsider Inside

Beth Comstock: An Outsider Inside Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: As Beth Comstock sees it, most companies simply aren’t ready for the massive change happening in the world. After nearly three decades in senior leadership roles at GE and NBC...

Is Optimism Dead?

Is Optimism Dead? As we approach 2020, the future feels less certain than ever for customers. So that’s why we’ve launched Life as a Customer, a window into the worlds of 700 customers, powered by C Space. We share our first findings in this article......

Customer Experience Lessons Retailers Can Learn From the World’s Best Companies

Customer Experience Lessons Retailers Can Learn From the World’s Best Companies

by Rieva Lesonsky
Small Business Trends

How can your retail store deliver a best-in-class customer experience? Learn from the best, that’s how. Global customer agency C Space recently released its report on the best customer experiences of 2018, and retailers dominated the top companies on the list. Nine of the top 25 companies were retailers: Trader Joe’s, L.L. Bean, Nordstrom, Amazon, Costco, REI, Bath & Body Works, Sephora and Aldi.

Best Agency Above £20m and Best Place to Work: C Space

Best Agency Above £20m and Best Place to Work: C Space

by Katie McQuater
Research Live

At the 2018 MRS Research Live Awards, C Space was awarded Best Agency with a turnover above £20m and was also named Best Place to Work.

Rita Gunther McGrath: What’s Next for Strategy?

Rita Gunther McGrath: What’s Next for Strategy? Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Author and Columbia Business School Professor Rita Gunther McGrath is a world-renowned expert on strategy, innovation, and growth. Her work has been a beacon for companies...

The physical brand

The physical brand Our physical experience with a brand is the brand. In our digital world, physical is disruptive. Daniel Sills is the producer of Outside In, a podcast that explores changes in business and consumer behavior and...

What being the number one supermarket really means

What being the number one supermarket really means

by Richie Jones (C Space)
Research Live

After a week of retail results, C Space’s Richie Jones looks at the changing landscape for the supermarkets and how it’ll take more than mergers to keep Sainsbury’s on top.

How millennials are disrupting healthcare — and how to change benefits because of it

How millennials are disrupting healthcare — and how to change benefits because of it

by Hannah Walker
Employee Benefit News

More than half (56%) of millennials visited a doctor’s office in the past year, compared to three-quarters (73%) of non-millennials, according to a survey from C Space Health.

Mike Sepso: ‘Esports are a New Layer of Sports’

Mike Sepso: ‘Esports are a New Layer of Sports’ Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: From Asia to the Americas, there are 320+ million esports fans around the world -- and the audience is expected to double by 2020. But the professional sport of...

Kohl’s is improving store performance by equipping managers with real-time customer data

Kohl’s is improving store performance by equipping managers with real-time customer data

by Hilary Milnes
Digiday

Customer data is going right down to the store level at Kohl’s, where the company is using it to serve managers action items around how to better drive sales in their stores. “These functional developments are becoming table stakes — that’s what everyone in retail is competing on,” said Bill Alberti, chief client officer at customer agency C Space.