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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6. Recognise the need for resilience

By their very nature, major transformation programs are not easy. Therefore, having a strong sense of resilience is critical, according to Telstra’s executives.

Firstly, that means driven transformation from top-down and as a core business priority, Hutton said. “A side project will never get done, or you won’t have the courage to be as transformative as you need to be. So an all-in mindset is important,” she said.  

Equally, there are days when you don’t know if you can do it, Hutton said. “My advice is hold the course, keep the faith. Having that unwavering commitment to those experience outcomes you will deliver are important for your customers. Make sure you finish the job,” she said.  

“What we are doing will fundamentally change the experience we deliver to customer and will deliver the experience for our frontline teams. Don’t lose sight of the goals and hold firm to those transformational outcomes.”

7. Don’t be afraid to rethink along the way

While it’s clear having a North Star and overarching promise is key to transformation, having the ability to changing things up along the way is nevertheless vital.

“Some things you have in place at the start aren’t things you need at the end,” Hutton said. “You might not get enough momentum, build quickly enough or find yourself responsive enough for changing market conditions.

“We are in a very competitive environment and we have had to flex some requirements along the way. That requires a very adaptive mindset and making sure you pivot when you need to, all while never losing sight of the end outcomes.”

8. See the full brand picture

As part of the T22 change, Telstra has invested in Salesforce Marketing Cloud and CRM platforms to drive a more personalised approach to engagement. This is vital to getting the full picture of that customer’s experience across the organisation, Nicholas said.

“Having that centralised decisioning engine, data source has been really key. We’re well down the path – we’re not perfect – but it has been big part of this transformation,” he said.  

“If customer walks in store or logs in online, this allows us to see all of their history, anything they have done, issues they may have had, the agents involved. If you have had an NBN outage in your area, it’s not the right time to be selling you something. So being able to supress marketing and service messaging or engage in such messaging depending on customer behaviour or what they might eb experiencing, is hugely important.”

By way of example, Telstra recently used first-party data to drive a personalisation communications activity targeting customers in 5G areas benefitting from the upgraded network technology with value-based upgrade offers. Equally, it’s using its swathes of data to understand more vulnerable sections of the community and ensuring offers and messaging is appropriate to their needs and circumstances.

9. Think about the customer’s wider experience ecosystem

For Nicholas, managing increasing customer expectations has also meant looking beyond category and to every experience a customer may be provided with.

“Our real competition isn’t so much what competitors are doing, but about what is happening more broadly in society – food, travel experiences. We have to benchmark ourselves against these best experiences,” he said. “Those experiences are driving brand perceptions more than ever before and it’s an important point to understand.”

10. Know the role of the CMO is vital in connecting the experience dots

As a modern CMO, Nicholas said he’s worked with many parts of the Telstra business, from the networks team on rollout of 5G to partnering with Infraco on how to manage the structural separation of the business, consumer and SMB trading challenges.

This is a key part of how the marketing leadership role has evolved and plays a key role in transforming customer experiences, he said.

“You have to be in partnership with lots of different people and have great relationships across the organisation, and be open to collaborating, taking feedback and trying to make things better,” Nicholas said.  

“The thing I rile against slightly is comments around why more CMOs aren’t CEO, or controlling the customer, or fighting in the boardroom –owning, fighting and battling are aggressive words and I don’t see the workplace like that, or the job like that. I don’t own the customer at Telstra – I’m one of 10,000 trying to make it better for customers.

“As well as striving for the growth of the business, our role is to deliver for the community, customers and shareholders.”

Hear more: Jeremy Nicholas on Conversations over a Cuppa with CMO

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