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:

Inflection Spotting

Inflection Spotting There’s a good chance that you’re lost right now. Perhaps something changed on your path, and you’re unaware that you’re headed in the wrong direction. The thing about being lost is that you’re usually lost for some time before you know...

What the Grocery Stores Holding Their Own Against Amazon Are Doing Right

What the Grocery Stores Holding Their Own Against Amazon Are Doing Right

by Amit Sharma
Harvard Business Review

A 2018 consumer survey by C Space found that shoppers were more likely to recommend and purchase repeatedly from brands that made them feel respected and understood.

The future of service stations

The future of service stations

by Ben Moncrieffe (C Space)
Quirk’s

As electric cars become more common, and consumers continue to seek outstanding CX, service stations and interstate rest stops need to rethink their purpose and design. 

Guy Kawasaki: Evangelist in Chief

Guy Kawasaki: Evangelist in Chief Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Guy Kawasaki pioneered evangelism marketing. Starting in the mid-1980s as Chief Evangelist at Apple, Kawasaki spread the good gospel of the Macintosh computer. The product itself,...
Critical: Listening

Critical: Listening

Critical: Listening I was in New York City attending a conference on “social media listening” when a shelter-in-place alert flashed across my phone. In that moment, social media was what I wanted to listen to. Julie Wittes Schlack is...

Tom Colicchio: Lessons from the Chef

Tom Colicchio: Lessons from the Chef Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Tom Colicchio is a James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Crafted Hospitality, a restaurant group with restaurants across the U.S. He’s also a judge on “Top Chef,” Bravo’s...

The death and rebirth of the gas station

The death and rebirth of the gas station Gas stations are unique places. They sit at the intersection of retail, hospitality, energy, and mobility. But the truth is, without serious innovation, gas stations will end up like deserted Wild West Main Streets....

The Lifestyle Experience

The Lifestyle Experience Thirty years ago, the brand was advertising. TV and radio commercials, billboards, print ads – these, along with word-of-mouth, were just about the only interactions customers had with a brand before they bought its products,...

Tina Sharkey, Brandless CEO: It’s Gotta Have Soul

Tina Sharkey, Brandless CEO: It’s Gotta Have Soul Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Tina Sharkey is an entrepreneurial force. Since the days of the dial-up modem, she has been building communities, companies, and brands “with soul.” Today, she’s...

What Retailers Need to Know to Own Customer Experience in the Apparel Industry

What Retailers Need to Know to Own Customer Experience in the Apparel Industry

by Robert Howie (C Space)
Apparel Magazine

Although the market has proven uncertain for several brands, retailers can survive these difficult times. For the apparel market to succeed in delivering better experiences for customers, it needs to go back to basics.