10 lessons Telstra has learnt through its T22 transformation

CMO, group executive of consumer and SMB and consumer and digital products leaders share their learnings on managing transformation and change and what it means for CX


There isn’t a business in Australia that hasn’t experienced some form of transformation as digital connectivity pervades every aspect of our products, services and experiences as consumers and businesses. Australia’s largest telecoms provider, Telstra, however, is arguably on one of the most ambitious programs of work right now.

The ASX-list company is three years into its T22 strategy, a program of work based around four main priorities. These are drastically reducing product offerings from 1800 to 20; creating a standalone infrastructure business unit, InfraCo, for its traditional fixed-line assets; simplifying its structure and ways of working using digital and data capability in a bid to empower people and better serve customers; and a reduction program and portfolio management overhaul.

Speaking at this week’s Salesforce Live A/NZ virtual event kick-off, Telstra group owner of consumer and digitisation, Amanda Hutton; CMO, Jeremy Nicholas; and group executive for consumer and SMB, Michael Ackland, shared the lessons each has learnt around digital transformation and customer experience excellence in the face of the telco’s T22 work to date.

1.Stick to simplicity

If there was one message all three executives reiterated, it was the commitment to simplicity. Under Telstra’s T22 strategy, the telco has reduced its product and services set from 1800 permeations to 20, a move deliberately made to remove complexity from both processes in the back end, and to improve customer experiences.

“You can’t design a product that requires a PHD to explain. If it’s highly complex and requires many people to explain it, you’ll get a lot of inconsistency,” Hutton said. “Having the same tools and digital thread underpinning everything is critical to having consistency across all our channel experiences.

“And having the same tools that frontline teams and customers use is important, as is the knowledge environment. I get the same answer in a retail store as when I look it up online myself. Those are all important to ensuring consistency of customer experience.”

2. Stick to your principles, too

For Ackland, simplicity as a core principle behind the T22 strategy also proved the guiding light in conducting and keeping the actual transformation program of work on track.

“Transformation is never a short journey for any organisation, but particularly for our size and complexity of historic customer relationships and products, it’s been about returning back to the principles of simplicity and want we wanted to deliver the experience,” he said.  

“The argument to reintroduce complexity is incredibly compelling on a point-by-point basis. Every deviation from those principles and from simplicity feels like it makes complete sense. Resisting them is tough, but very important.

“We’re now at pointy end of shifting all our customers into the new tech stack. If we had allowed those points of complexity to be reintroduced, we would never have been able to build the new environment fast enough to keep up with the changes that make complete sense on a point basis we’d make in the existing environment.

“Simplify first, and through the process of migration and transformation, which will take time, keep coming back to the principles of simplicity. Remember, even though each one of those decisions could make complete sense at a point, you have to continue to step back and look at what complexity will do in terms of getting you to the place we want to be.”

3. Listen to customers

Hutton, who oversees the consumer products and services, said all of us only need to think about our experiences dealing with the telco 3-4 years ago to understand why transformation was needed. This acknowledgement of the customer’s pain points has been crucial to informing the T22 strategy.  

“The number one complaint centred around our products and services being confusing, that our plans are confusing, that consumers were being stung with extra charges for voice and data,” she said.  Other common issues included understanding what charges came with a $0 phone, a feeling of being locked-in because of 24-month plans, and a frustrating lack of seamless interaction across digital and physical channels.

“We looked at those customer complaints and feedbacks and realised we had to fundamentally change,” Hutton said. “Our systems are very old and cobbled together in many ways, and front-line teams and customers really felt that. We realised we had to rebuild from the bottom up – not rebuild old stuff into new IT stack but radically rethink that.”

4. Get frontline staff involved in test-and-learn

But just as important as the technology was the management of the people and culture change process. Hutton said getting frontline teams involved in the design and circular feedback loop as Telstra developed its new products, services and systems has been critical to securing their buy-in and support.

“Our frontline teams, more than anyone, really understand complexities of products we had in market plus systems we operate with,” Hutton said. “These staff were involved in design, build and test, which was critical to making sure what we deliver actually meets the brief in terms of simplicity and ease of use.

“Many of these employees have been at Telstra for a while and seen us have a few gos at transformation programs where we promised the world but delivered something that didn’t cut the mustard. Delivering that ownership has been critical.”

Off the back of this, Telstra changed several elements along the way, including specific processes through to how the system interfaces. “Incubating that, iterating and making change on the fly, and pilot phases have also been important to getting that buy-in,” Hutton said.  

“We now have 90 percent of teams in and using console. It’s been brilliant to see their reaction and listen to their feedback around how easy it is to use. And feedback in-store signing up customers in minutes, not 20 minutes.

“Those changes at customer and agent level that makes the transformation worthwhile.”

5. Know what good and bad look like

One of the great things about not rebuilding on old technology is being able to “design for the sunny day scenarios”, Hutton continued.

She described “good” as having simple products a customer can explore, an ability to talk to any frontline team member across contact centres, in shops or online, understanding what it is Telstra has to sell, being able to provision products in minutes as opposed to days, and tackling potential problems in any channel so customers get help when they need it.

“But we also have to design for rainy days,” Hutton said. “With new systems, we looked at common scenarios where it does go wrong – either because of us or circumstances around us. We wanted to identify where those happen before a customer feels them.

“Managing the rainy days is just as critical as the sunny days.”

Up next: The final 5 lessons from Telstra on managing transformation

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