Telstra’s year-and-a-half old customer research and insights function has grown to 10 staff and is behind a series of changes designed to identify trends and test new products and ideas quickly.
The function, led by customer insights general manager Dr. Violet Lazarevic, started in February 2019 and first emerged to the public a few months later.
Lazarevic’s initial research focused on root causes of unhappiness in the Telstra base; in particular, it explored the extent to which bad experiences in the past tainted all future interactions with a customer.
For Lazarevic, review is a core part of how she approaches every new role.
“My normal passion is very much talking about why the customer is important, and typically how I approach every new role [is that] I start to ferret out who really believes that and who doesn't in an organisation, then build a case for why customers are important and go from there,” Lazarevic told the recent Corinium customer champions A/NZ conference.
“Without customers, our jobs wouldn't exist. They're the ones that buy our products, which ultimately leads to company revenue, which ultimately supports all of our jobs, and that's why customer insight functions exist.
“So I came into my role at Telstra thinking 'this will be just like every other role I've had on the client side'.”
Lazarevic said she quickly found Telstra to be different from previous employers.
“Telstra already knew the customer was really important, and they already have a lot of things in place … so I had to rethink my approach in how I was going to really make my mark on the business, but also think about how I could elevate the entire team to the next stage at Telstra,” she said.
A further challenge emerged in the form of Telstra moving to an ‘Agile at scale’ workplace model from July last year.
Under Agile, customer research and insights was designated an internal ‘centre of expertise’ that would support the missions of other parts of the Telstra business.
One thing Agile did was it made it much clearer and easy to understand who in Telstra to talk to or align with.
It also, by its nature, reinforced the importance of regular, ongoing reviews of what did and didn’t work - again, something that Lazarevic already considered core to her approach.
“The really key thing for uncovering opportunities for innovation is the first thing you need to do is review everything,” she said.
“Being new into a role, as you can imagine, you want to get across everything, but that review process shouldn't stop.
“One of the Agile practices that we have is a retrospective, so every quarter we get together as a team and reflect on what's gone well and what hasn't, and what are the learnings.
“I love that part of Agile practice. I think a retrospective is so important to think about and review what you've done, and also to think about what to do next and what are the opportunities that are coming up.”
Agile, however, also brought more immediate challenges for customer research and insights.
“We had to think about how we work in this new Agile way, and that brought with it a number of challenges that we uncovered along the way,” Lazarevic said.
“Telstra is in a period of significant transformation of the business, which is actually fantastic because we're moving and changing with the times, but what we found is that in this period of transition, as we were moving to different platforms and systems, the old research, insights and projects actually sat in many different places.
“The other part is that research suddenly needed to be a lot quicker, but to the same or better quality.
“We really needed to think about how that was going to happen and how we should fit it into this new sprint methodology.”
To bring together past customer insights and knowledge, Telstra used Market Logic to create a knowledge repository.
“We managed to bring together all of our existing research - including some that sat with our agencies that we had no copies of, digital or hardcopy, actually anywhere in the business - in one place and we built a central repository,” Lazarevic said.
“The reason that we went with Market Logic is not only is it a central place to keep everything, it was also incredibly easily searchable, so it meant for us that we could access the information very quickly, but also extract insights from that information quickly as well. That means we can move faster.
“From an Agile perspective, this had a few flow-on effects. One, as soon as a mission was stood up, we could actually go into the system, search for anything relevant that we've done in the past, and then give that to the team.
“It also means that we're building on our knowledge as we go in the central repository, which is really important.”
Customer and employee test panels
Lazarevic’s team also identified an opportunity to make better use of customer and employee communities it already had that ran on the Potentiate (formerly Vision Critical Australia) platform.
“They had a customer community called My Telstra Experience, and an employee community called Catalyst,” Lazarevic said.
“Why an employee community is especially important for Telstra is that a lot of the innovation that we make is actually very technical. It might be an innovation to our network or it might be a change in our modem.
“It's very difficult to test that with a customer initially. What we typically do is test that with employees first, so we actually see if our experience change has worked and if the technical application delivered to the promise that we wanted it to deliver to.”
Previously, both communities were managed separately internally.
“They sat in different teams, and there was no sharing of knowledge across the two,” Lazarevic said.
“Both had quite different purposes but what we did is we put them together in the one team … and we actually increased the size of both panels as well.”
Lazarevic said that there were opportunities to use both panels “in a more synergistic way”, involving both panels in the development of new products and services.
“[For example], when we have a brief come in that's extremely technical, we'll say to them, 'Brilliant. This is perfect for our employee community, and we'll launch it there, but then once we've done that, to really understand whether we should launch this product into market, we have to test this with customers',” she said.
“It's a really quick, versatile way to do research at a low cost, because they're communities that we already have access to.
“That’s meant Agile has also become so much more manageable, because for smaller questions, we can turn things around in a couple of days.
“If a mission team has a burning question they need to solve before a sprint is over, we’re able to accommodate that, as well as run bigger pieces [of research] in parallel.”
Telstra has also become a user of Stylus, one of a number of tools used by large organisations to spot trends they may not have otherwise identified themselves.
“That enabled us to do two things,” Lazarevic said.
“When we first signed up to the platform we were able to do a review, so we reviewed everything that's out there right now at that point in time - what are the relevant trends for Telstra - and then we shared that back with the business.
“That actually led to a lot of idea generation. We were able to find opportunities we hadn’t thought about.”
The tool will also be used to help Telstra “keep up to date as things progress”.
“As we move forward and implement more of these ideas, and as we choose not to implement others, we're able to keep track of what's changing,” Lazarevic said.
Stylus had also been valuable more recently during COVID-19 lockdowns in helping Telstra keep tabs on how other businesses were coping.
“During this unprecedented time of COVID-19 that platform has actually suited us really well to look at what's happening globally, how other brands are responding, and keep our finger on the pulse of everything,” Lazarevic said.
Lazarevic flagged further experimentation with “new tools and techniques” in addition to those the telco has already put into production.
“We really wanted to adopt an open growth mindset in the business to allow us to experiment,” she said.
“With that, we fully acknowledged that some things were going to work and some things weren’t, but we wanted to encourage our partners to bring us innovation, and bring us new tools and techniques to the table.
“That meant 1) if we can't be across everything then using our network is actually a great way to help us be across more, and 2) we can try and see if these new tools and techniques can actually help us do things better, in more depth, understand our customers better.”
One emerging area of focus is “chatbot research” with Lazarevic’s team applying “quasi” quantitative and qualitative methodologies to study the efficacy of an undisclosed chatbot. This includes using software to track customers’ emotional response to interactions with the chatbot.