Driving Transformational Change Finalist - Vodafone
Vodafone is a total communications company, delivering mobile and broadband solutions to New Zealanders across the country, at home, work and at play. They have a customer base of over two million and employ 1950 people in a variety of roles across the business.
In 2010, Vodafone’s annual people survey highlighted a number of concerns around the customer call centre operating out of Egypt. It was clear that key metrics: customer satisfaction, net promoter score, first contact resolution, and staff engagement needed to improve.
The customer service call centre function was partially outsourced to a third party in 2007, managed by a Vodafone partner in Egypt with the aim of reducing overall operating costs, gain access to skilled workers (in short supply in New Zealand), and maintain customer satisfaction levels. Around 25% of Vodafone New Zealand’s total helpline calls were managed from Egypt, with the remaining calls handled by three call centres located in Auckland.
“Over time, we found that driving improvement and increased customer satisfaction through a third party was difficult and slow. We encountered a number of issues including high staff attrition, and a heavy management structure focused on managing the outsourcing relationship, rather than improving customer outcomes.
“However, the key driver for us was the primary issue raised in our customer feedback; the desire to speak to a customer service representative agent in New Zealand,” says Kelly Moore - Director of Service, Vodafone.
Focusing on their vision to provide exceptional customer service, Vodafone made some key strategic decisions, leading to the development of a two year change plan. The first phase of the plan included ending their contract with the third party providing the fixed line contact centre service, and re-employing the staff as permanent Vodafone employees.
In phase two they planned to end the relationship with Vodafone Egypt who oversaw the third party contract, transferring the overall control and the jobs managing the customer service call centre, back to New Zealand.
The planned changes would allow Vodafone to drive a consistent culture around ‘Customer Obsession’ and therefore provide a consistent experience for all customers. The changes would be measured through Vodafone's Net Promoter Score (customer satisfaction) metrics and engagement scores in the annual people survey.
Vodafone started implementing phase one of the plan; re-employing the 120 employees from the third party provider who had been operating the call centre. The new employees responded positively to the move to Vodafone, embracing their new environment with its clear focus on leadership, people and culture.
“Our people on the ground in Egypt worked hard to ensure the new employees were set up to be successful. Leaders stood up and sold the change through small group engagements, highlighting the benefits of being part of the Vodafone story.
“Once on board the new team was heavily supported with the right systems and processes. From day one they had their new Vodafone ID cards, instilling a sense of pride. Employees were provided with guidelines, KPIs, position descriptions, support, development and a promise that there would be no filtering of information.
“The ability for people to take ownership, whilst still being able to ask for help within a learning focused environment was fostered. We immediately noticed a difference in the way the new employees were answering the phones, they were proud of working for Vodafone and it showed in the way they spoke and responded to customers. As a result the Net Promoter Score (customer satisfaction and loyalty measure) went up dramatically,” said Kelly.
Seven weeks into the implementation of phase one of the two-year change plan, revolution broke out in Egypt, destabilising the country and forcing Vodafone to rethink their plans.
“The exceptional circumstances we were facing due to the Egyptian revolution, meant our two year plan, quickly had to be accelerated and delivered in six months - no mean feat!
“We were extremely mindful that our first priority was to ensure that all our exisiting staff were safe and accounted for. New Zealand staff and their families living in Egypt needed help to urgently relocate back home,” said Kelly.
A few days into the revolution, the Egyptian Government cut internet and mobile phone access across the country, directly affecting Vodafone’s ability to provide call centre services to New Zealand customers from Egypt.
“As the political situation in Egypt worsened, it unfortunately became clear that it was impossible for us to continue to provide services to our customers from a call centre in Egypt, we needed to bring all our call centre operations back to New Zealand, and fast.
“It was an extremely challenging time for us. We immediately needed to get additional resource on the ground in New Zealand to cover the calls that would have been answered by Egypt. The cut off occurred on a Friday night which provided additional challenges. We needed to make sure we could continue to provide call centre services for our customers and at the same time, we were of course concerned for our Egyptian employees,” said Kelly.
Kelly points to communication as key to Vodafone’s successful management of the situation. Using phones and social media, Vodafone New Zealand team members pulled out all the stops to contact ex-colleagues and friends to assist in running the replacement call centre in Auckland.
“We hired 150 new staff members over 2-3 weeks. The usual three-week training module was repackaged and delivered in three days! Volunteers from across the business put up their hand to help, picking up shifts on the phones after hours and at the weekends. Vodafone’s family attitude meant people wanted to help as there was a strong sense of pride individually and with the brand,” said Kelly.
To cope with an additional 190 people taking calls in New Zealand, the business needed to quickly build the infrastructure to support the new call centre. The technology and property team worked around the clock to set up the contact centre over a long weekend, installing 90 computers and a telephony system in double quick time.
In addition to coping with the operational challenges on the ground in New Zealand, Vodafone also focused on managing the very real situation of job losses for their employees in Egypt. Relocating jobs from Egypt back to New Zealand during a revolution presented a reputational risk for Vodafone globally, and managing the local media was also challenging.
“We worked alongside our partner in Egypt, Horizon to redeploy affected Vodafone New Zealand employees within the wider Vodafone group.
“Whilst events outside our control meant we needed to fast-track and change our plans, overall the outcome has been positive for the business. Recruiting a whole new team here in New Zealand all at once, has enabled us to design and build the right environment for them from the start.
“Talented people we hadn't been aware of, came out of their shell. As an organisation we now have the inner belief that nothing is too hard. Everyone from the top down came together quickly to support each other.
“Feedback from our customers on calls being handled in New Zealand has been extremely positive. We’ve learnt an incredible amount from the events in Egypt, particularly around the need in a crisis to have absolute clarity around what needs to be done with a focus on speed and simplicity. It’s also important to consider how you will maintain operations once the crisis is over.
“The business had robust crisis management processes and a governance methodology to guide success. Everyone had a role to play and this built a sense of community. Managing the Egypt crisis has changed our day to day cross business operations for the positive, and people haven’t reverted back. Having been through this experience, we were also in a better position to provide the support needed for our own local crisis - the Christchurch earthquake,” says Kelly Moore - Director of Service, Vodafone.