Why customer experience is the most important differentiator for companies today

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Amid every crisis are stories of resiliency, grit, and success against the odds. I’ve heard stories about countless businesses who have stepped up to do what’s right for their customers and society at large during a time of extreme need and uncertainty. In many instances, companies have gone above and beyond to ensure services continue as expected to provide a hint of normalcy during the pandemic.

Telstra is one of those companies, and here’s why.

Last March, most of us hunkered down as COVID-19 spread across the globe. Millions of students were sent home thinking they’d be back in class within a week or two, but we all quickly learned that wasn’t going to be the case. That’s what happened to students at schools across Australia.

Over the course of the weekend, the state went into lockdown, which meant every school would be required to implement virtual learning.

That’s when one of the biggest global providers of video collaboration software and services called Telstra’s team in the United States. They were experiencing unprecedented demand as the world began to live, work, and learn online. In the first two weeks of March alone, the company logged 5.5 billion minutes in their video service – the equivalent of 10,500 years of meetings.

Meeting that demand – and enabling students to learn – meant the company and its partners needed to upgrade their networks, implementing new services that would normally take weeks or months to deliver in mere hours. Bringing together ordering and pricing, solution architects and engineers, and service and delivery teams, Telstra was able to partner to deliver services in record time.

Students’ lessons started promptly at 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning and Telstra did right by the customer.

Critical customer experience lessons learned during uncertain times

The story above highlights a critical lesson: the focus on customer experience, even amid uncertainty, is likely to be the difference between success and failure for many businesses. That’s especially true for companies in industries where product or cost differences are fading. In fact, according to Gartner, as many as 81 percent of executives say they expect to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of customer experience in the next two years. Ten years ago that number was just 36 percent. That’s mind-blowing!

Consider the telecommunications industry. Traditional models and mindsets focused on product and process had enshrined a slower, less flexible approach. But they are increasingly being seen as relics of times past. We’re now working in a notoriously fast, agile technology and connectivity industry, acting as a technology enabler as opposed to just a technology provider.

At Telstra, we’ve committed to investing in improving the service, delivery, and incident response experiences we provide to customers around the world. And we’ve learned a few key lessons along the way:

Lesson 1: Create customer experiences tailored to each region (or country)

Differentiating based on experience demands every staff member contributes to a culture that puts the customer first. And that starts with creating customer experiences that are not “one size fits all” – which is especially critical during a pandemic that has exposed the differences among every end-user and every business.

This means investing to ensure customers are managed by experts in the same places as they are. Not only does it create a relationship beyond the transactional, it empowers teams to understand the customer, and help them make the right decisions for the business outcomes.

It also means creating resources for customers that are tailored to their specific needs. For example, at Telstra we’re adding more value for our customers with dedicated service desks staffed by expert teams to serve unique transmission requirements.

We’re also emphasizing self-service tools and services to empower customers with the control to customize their own experiences. Solutions like T-Connect, which offers simple on-demand management for enterprise service, or the Telstra Programmable Network, which enables you to design and deploy your network connectivity, are key means for businesses to tailor their services to their needs without jumping through hoops on phone or email.

Lesson 2: Always focus on the business outcome, no matter what

It can be easy to get swept up in the day-to-day of our work – of provisioning new connectivity routes or spinning up new clouds, for example. But it’s critical to remember why we do that and what impact those services have on our customers and the real people who use their service

That extends throughout the business – even to customer contracts. At Telstra, we’re focused entirely on achieving customer outcomes, so when we’re considering service level agreements (SLAs) we’re not limiting ourselves to measuring mean time to restore (the net length of time between an issue and it is resolved, minus exclusions for contractually defined reasons) but instead total time to restore (the time from the minute of an issue to the minute it’s solved, with no exclusions).

Take the story of the video-conferencing students we told earlier. Delivering to the letter of the SLA would not have achieved the outcome – ensuring lessons could start on time – the customer needed. Only by doing right by the customer and going above and beyond could we get the right result for everyone.

Lesson 3: Listen and adapt to make your customers happy

Finally, it’s essential that experience is measured, so it can be iterated and improved. At Telstra we take a two-pronged approach to this.

As I mentioned above with T-Connect, we empower our customers with data and analytics-driven dashboards to monitor and manage their own experiences.

And we get our customers to tell us how we’re doing. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an industry experience benchmark based on real customer feedback. We’re extremely proud of the fact Telstra America finished 2020 with a significantly improved NPS score, even while we endured the complexities of the pandemic.  

But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. Tomorrow, that number means nothing to a new customer who is looking to us for a network solution and tired of fielding complaints from their customers.

A focus on experience future-proofs your business

While businesses are trying to return their operations to somewhere near pre-pandemic levels, many of the practices we’ve all adopted over the past months out of necessity are likely to remain with us and continue to improve. This includes the faster response times people have come to expect from brands, especially service providers.

That’s fine with us, as it’s all part of continually perfecting the art of the experience.

Whatever the state of the world looks like in the coming months or even years, Telstra will remain committed to ownership and accountability in all our customer relationships.