Truist SVP: ‘Current economy demands CX is kept front and center’

Diana Lee Caplinger, SVP and head of marketing technology at Truist Financial, says her company is taking a new approach to marketing and customer experience management.

“We are incorporating new practices and operating models that we created for COVID-19 into our ‘new normal’ operational processes,” Caplinger says.

Truist, which is the result of a merger between SunTrust and BB&T in December 2019, is also shifting its messaging from “product presentment” to “comfort and support,” she says.

In this exclusive interview, Caplinger talks about the marketing landscape today, how Truist is using customer intelligence to effectively manage customer experiences, and her team’s biggest bet for the second half of 2020.

What’s most exciting to you about the marketing landscape today?

I’m very excited about the way we can continue to use data to really deepen customer intimacy and stretch engagement with our clients. That waythey know that we are thinking of them, we are providing financial confidence, we’re listening to them, and we’re trying to really help them on their journey, whether it’s buying their first home, paying for a wedding, or helping their kid pay for college. Particularly in times where things are so fluid, it’s extremely motivating to consider how leveraging data to strengthen marketing will impact Truist’s purpose, which is to inspire and build better lives and communities.

You’re using the words “customer intimacy.” I find that fascinating.

Customer intimacy takes personalization a step further. It’s really delivering the right message to the right client at the right time. It’s letting them know that they’re not alone on whatever journey they’re on, and that we’re partnering with them to help, whether we’re delivering financial education, the right products or services, or just listening and providing a community for them.

Marketing is constantly evolving. You can talk to a 100 different people, and you’ll get a 100 different answers. I think what’s important is honing in on what is going to resonate with clients and drive that expected business outcome, whether it is a conversion, helping someone get from point A to point B, or helping someone apply for that loan they need so they can add a pool in the backyard.

I don’t look at the trends, per se. I really pay attention to who a person is, where they are, and how we can help them. Additionally, at Truist we’re using what we call “T3” as our guide – which is really an equation that means technology + touch = trust. This applies to nearly every area of the company, including marketing. Delivering service through innovative technology and a human touch is how we’ll earn our clients’ trust.

Messaging has shifted from product presentment to comfort and support. There are so many constant streams of information. We are in an always-on, always-engaged, and always-listening environment. We are incorporating new practices and operating models that we created for Covid-19 into our “new normal” operational processes.

So you are in the IT department, and you are head of marketing technology. What’s one of the biggest challenges that you face?

As a head of marketing technology, one of the challenges I face is piecing together data that’s in hundreds of different places across the organization. The consumer [facing side of the business] and marketing teams must be aligned and understand the extent of the data we collectively have. For me, I see an ongoing opportunity to better engage, collaborate, and be a conduit across the different business units to strengthen partnerships to help us all achieve our shared goals.

So it’s not a collection problem, right? It’s correlating and making sense out of the data?


Tell me about some of the ways you are collecting data.

You don’t know what you don’t know. When thinking about collecting data from various sources, it’s really about what attributes make up these different models. We have propensity models and circumstance models, but being able to correlate and bring the data together where it’s actionable in a very fast-paced environment is a difficult task. You have people who know what they know and yet people who don’t know what’s available to them. So you really have to create synergy to build upon what’s available in the various areas of the organization to then create the desired product.

What does customer experience mean to you?

To me it means taking a step back and really being agnostic to what my company represents and instead thinking about that individual client and how I can help them live their best life. How do I help make their life easier, and how do I help support them in ways that they didn’t realize were available to them? It goes back to our T3 promise: How are we earning their trust and their confidence in Truist as a financial partner?

How has the current economy and consumer confidence influenced the importance of the customer experience at Truist?

Customer experience is always of the utmost importance at Truist. We have researchers, designers, and several other teams dedicated to constantly ensuring we provide a great experience. The current economy demands that customer experience is kept front and center of everything we do.

Let’s talk about the relationship between IT and marketing.

In this day and age, it has to be a very close partnership between both functions because a lot of marketing today — data, analytics, engagement — is all driven by technology. So it has to be a close partnership, and my role is all about creating that cross-functional alignment to drive success.

Let’s talk a little bit about digital transformation. It’s a journey, right? Not a destination?

Digital transformation is an ongoing evolution because the world is evolving, the technology available is evolving. The speed at which we can compute and perform different functions is going to evolve. AI and machine learning are forcing us and pushing us to that constant evolution and change. So when you think about that, digital transformation will never be one and done.

Talk to me about how your industry is changing with this new breed of consumers who are coming of age**.**

You have young people who as a whole do not typically go [into a bank branch] and just open an account. They use different payment methods to meet the need at that moment in time. When it comes to these interactions, it’s very short. It’s very quick. It’s very easy. They’re not thinking about the long game. While convenience is key, with these different payment methods they might not be thinking that they may be paying too much in fees or how this cash can be harnessed for their long-term goals.

We know we really have to approach the opportunity differently and build out their journey differently primarily because of all of these new and evolving payment methods that have sprung up over the last five to 10 years.

What is your team’s big bet for the second half of 2020?

Our big bet is an acceleration of making experiences simplistic, convenient, and targeted. We are continuing to press forward with data aggregation and integration, creating client journeys and cross-functional teams, comprised of XD [experience design], tech, lines of business, and marketing, that are hyper-focused on value creation.

Can you share with our readers any learnings you’ve had over the past year, or maybe even pitfalls you see coming ahead?

Listen. Sometimes we get a wealth of data. We have a wealth of tools, technology, and services, and we forget sometimes to stand still and listen. Pay attention and listen. There’s a lot of value in just sitting still and listening to what’s happening and why it’s happening. And then pivoting to address that feedback.

How did your organization become more agile in 2020 to more quickly respond to customer needs?

We really looked forward instead of looking backward. And we truly put forth a lot of effort to circumvent the inhibitors and instead ask, “How do we make this happen?” Looking forward and not just at how something was working current-state really helped us to be successful. Instead of focusing and spending too much time on the here and now, and this is how it’s done and why it’s done, we really leaned into, “What do we need to do? How do we make that happen?” and were able to collaborate and deliver very quickly

So it was really a matter of our train of thought and keeping our clients and teammates as our highest priority. This really helped us to clear the path so that we didn’t let past mistakes or even our current tech stack hinder us from what we needed to deliver.

How is your organization serving customers differently due to COVID?

First and foremost, at the onset of the crisis we quickly got organized and established a number of different work streams. We have crisis response rooms, we have control rooms, and we have task forces to assess the different layers of what the government is doing, whether it’s the paycheck protection program, the Economic Impact Program, or the other programs. We have been leveraging our social media team, and they are front and center with their ears to the ground, listening, seeing what’s happening, and responding to clients – often having 1:1 conversations to address their needs and concerns. That’s another example of technology and personal touch coming together to maintain client trust during such a trying time.

So where we’ve seen success is the ability to get the right parties together, empower and enable them to make decisions quickly, and then taking in data in real time so that we could deliver new tech solutions and services based on our clients’ needs and concerns. A big part of this was making sure that they knew what programs we were launching to help them navigate the pandemic, as well as communicate how we were supporting communities impacted in line with our purpose. That’s definitely where we are focused, on our clients. It is really us coming together and operating as one organization as we continue to integrate and merge together.

How have you been transitioning teams to work primarily from home?

We were able to move very quickly to set up and enable the majority of teammates to work from home. We also worked with our partners to ensure our global resources and other contractors and contingency workers could work from home. For our teammates who interact with clients daily, there were a number of changes, especially as we closed branches to enable social distancing. We launched a new tool to allow clients to schedule virtual appointments and have been giving clients real-time information via .com, social, and email. And for our teammates, we’ve done a lot to enable a remote workforce but have also launched a program to provide funding to teammates needing child care while they’re working from home. We’ve done a lot from both a tech and an HR standpoint to make the transition home easier and to help them with the crisis we’re all facing. And as this situation continues, we’ll continue to deploy programs and solutions to our communities, teammates, and clients.