Creating a culture of continuous change is a challenge for organisations of any size, but it is especially challenging for large organisations as it requires buy-in from myriad stakeholders.
It’s a challenge Bob Southall understands. As Telstra’s senior customer experience specialist, global and enterprise services, it’s his job to figure out ways to listen to a company’s largest customers and turn their feedback into measurable, positive business outcomes.
“This whole process started in 2008, when it became clear that our sales executives were often the main point of call when it came to customer issues,” says Southall. “We knew this was happening, and we needed a way to take the issues off the table.”
The end game was to take Telstra from a reactive approach to customer issues into a new era of continuous improvement focusing on customer service.
Making change ongoing
Popularised in the 1980s, continuous improvement is built on an ongoing program of change and evaluation that seeks to identify, reduce and ultimately eliminate suboptimal processes through incremental steps rather than giant leaps.
“Our approach to customer service is now built around the customer experience research we carry out, and the comments we receive regarding our products and our people,” Southall says.
Since 2009, the principal mechanism to create this feedback loop has been an annual customer experience survey that is delivered to Telstra’s enterprise customers in two tranches each year. Using this research as a base, Telstra’s customer service team develop a plan to improve processes and systems to change our customers’ experience with Telstra.“
“Customers don’t just want an account executive who listens to them, they want one who understands their business and enhances their organisation.Bob Southall, Senior Customer Experience Specialist, Global and Enterprise Services
The initial outcome was the creation of a service commitment that involved independent assessment, simplicity, responsiveness and dependability.
With this commitment as a framework, Telstra began addressing customer concerns that the research revealed.
“One of the first areas which was highlighted was billing,” says Southall. “Customers told us our billing was too complicated and that our bills had too many pages and terms that were too difficult to understand.”
In response, Telstra’s Enterprise billing system underwent a series of gradual changes that resulted in a radical overhaul. Bills were simplified and charges were structured and grouped in a more intuitive manner. Dedicated billing consultants were also appointed so that all customers had a “go-to” contact who knew their business and could clarify any concerns. Electronic billing was implemented to create a more streamlined process.
Accounting for change
Similarly, the research highlighted the need for account directors to have a deeper understanding of a customer’s business, as well as the particular challenges faced by different industries.
In response, Telstra overhauled the structure of its account executive team, creating industry specialists rather than organising account executives according to geography.
“One of the big take-outs from the customer experience surveys each year is that they want us not only to focus on engagement, but to become engaged with their businesses in a way that makes us more responsive to their immediate and ongoing needs,” Southall says.
As time progressed, Telstra also made substantial changes to project management and communications to make it clearer when and how certain technologies would become available. Most recently, the team focused on how to drive and promote innovation through the account manager relationship.
“In the last 12 months, the focus has shifted onto creating an opportunity for the account executives to enable innovation within the customer’s enterprise,” says Southall. “Customers don’t just want an account executive who listens to them, they want one who understands their business and enhances their organisation.”
“The customer research allows us to discover what our customers need, and continuous improvement ensures that we’ll give it to them.”
Know your customer
- Telstra began conducting in-depth customer surveys in 2008
- Customer surveys underpin a culture of continuous change
- In 2009 the responses to these surveys led to the creation of an enterprise-grade service commitment
- The results of the surveys led to profound changes in customer relationships, resulting in an overhaul in everything from billing to industry specialists.