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The New Era of Business Innovation: Service as a Connected Experience

If you missed Telstra’s session at Dreamforce 2021, don't worry. Brian Solis sat down with Telstra’s Karen Hughes, Executive of Digitisation for Consumer & Small Business, to hear her thoughts on how the architects of the new future of work will design the next era of business innovation.

Over the past 18 months, digital transformation went from being part of most companies’ five-year plans to being every CIO’s most urgent priority. As a result, service team leaders have new access to technologies that help their teams collaborate better, gain data insights, and improve service center processes overall. With service being an essential part of the overall customer experience, the challenge is uniting the rest of the organisation to design the next generation of business innovation — a connected, effortless, and digital customer experience.

To find out how service leaders can achieve this, I caught up with Karen Hughes, executive of digitisation for consumer & small business at Telstra. Together, we explored what it takes to deliver meaningful service transformation for customers and also the business, how Telstra overcame obstacles along the way, and how they measure success.

Here, Hughes shares Telstra’s digital transformation story which is rich with lessons of navigating and managing change, keeping people and operational process management at the heart of their digital transformation.

Telstra goes all-in on large scale, aspirational change

Telstra, Australia’s leading telecommunications company, has been a household name for over 100 years. “But our brand awareness was trending in the wrong direction,” says Hughes.

This inspired the company to embark on an aspirational digital transformation strategy to simplify business processes and product offerings that had become increasingly complex over more than 40 years. While other organisations take a slow and steady phased approach for such efforts, the board committed to a more immediate and disruptive approach to achieve its goal of radical simplification.

Simplification was key. Without that, we wouldn’t be improving the customer experience.

Karen Hughes | Telstra

“We are changing everything about how we take products and services to our customers from soup to nuts,” says Hughes. “Simplification was key. Without that, we wouldn’t be improving the customer experience. The big, bold statement and aspiration — and as it turned out, achievement — was to reduce the number of plans that we had in the market from 1,800 down to 20. That was a massive enabler of our success, in getting that down so we could start to build that simplified customer experience.”

Telstra’s product simplification didn’t just positively impact the customer and agent experience — it had immediate, visible business benefits:

  • Reduced customer order processing from 45 minutes to five minutes
  • Reduced contact center volume by 75% with self-service and digital service
  • Reduced end-of-day store reporting from one hour to two minutes

This radical simplification, combined with a focus on communication, was critical to proactively manage change to transform the entire organisation, not just its technology. “We went big and bold externally to help hold us accountable for our goals,” Hughes says.

Unified cross-organisational communications were critical to Telstra’s change management

Telstra’s unconventional approach to driving change included going public with its plan in a press release that outlined its digital transformation strategy goals. The resulting change across the entire organisation has included:

  • Moving to an agile development and communications model from a traditional waterfall model
  • Bringing IP in-house to help build a high-performance engineering team
  • Streamlining internal customer service and communications systems from 15 to one
  • Reducing agent training and onboarding from three months to one week

Telstra combined this external commitment with consistent, unified internal communications sent jointly from Hughes, who works in the IT organisation, and her line of business counterpart, Kieran O’Meara. “Kiran and I role modeled, set the tone, even created an email ID that was K&K,” Hughes says. “This sent a tone right through the organisation that we were in this together. We recognised very early on the importance of a communications stream. So, we were able to harness a lot of the triumph, the disappointments, the success, the excitement, the teamwork, the collaboration, and build that together into probably one of the best teams that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”

Make the business case for the connected service experience in your organisation

Traditionally, customer service has been viewed as a cost center. This has meant service organisation change has often been focused primarily on transactional elements — faster call resolution, shorter call times, and so on. However, the impact of the service team is significantly larger than the sum of the individual cases your agents resolve.

An important element of great service is consistency.

The latest State of the Connected Customer report, for example, found 91% of customers say they’re more likely to make another purchase after a great service experience. An important element of great service is consistency. Seventy-six percent of customers expect consistent interactions across departments. Yet, 52% of customers describe most service interactions as fragmented.

As Telstra have shown, companies can bridge the gap with technology by focusing on inspiring people and transforming legacy operations to build a connected customer experience throughout the customer journey. 

Watch Telstra’s session and explore additional service experience topics with the Dreamforce 21 on-demand recordings on Salesforce+.

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Brian Solis

Brian Solis is a world-renowned digital anthropologist and futurist. His research explores digital transformation, CX, experience design, the cognitive enterprise, and the future of industries and of human behaviour.  Brian’s insights on the future of technology and business trends have featured in more than 60 research papers and he actively contributes to industry-leading publications including Forbes, ZDNet, CIO, eWeek, Fast Company, Adweek and Singularity University.

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