There can be few chief executives who call their company's internal technology platforms "a bowl of spaghetti".
Vodafone's Jason Paris does: "We want our customers to have an awesome experience with us every time, but this spaghetti is tangling things up. Fixing that is our number one priority in 2021."
He's referring (among other things) to the company's rapid evolution over recent years, involving (among other things) acquiring ihug, Telstra, Clear, Saturn and World Exchange. With each acquisition came different ways of doing things and different products.
"As we were acquiring the businesses, we should have been migrating customers onto a single customer management platform," Paris says, "but we didn't, for whatever reason."
"Instead, behind the scenes, we're dealing with a bowl of spaghetti, which it makes it difficult for our frontline staff to help serve customers – though they do a remarkable job considering the tools they've been given."
Paris has been setting Vodafone's course in a new direction – with customer service at its heart. Telco customer and after-sales service have long been the butt of jokes and recrimination. Vodafone calls it failing the "barbecue test" – if a Vodafone staffer tells someone at a barbecue they work for Vodafone and spend much of the time being told what is wrong with the company and/or of the problem that hasn't been fixed.
"It can be anything…telco services are pretty complex," Paris says. "It can be a business with an outage it wants fixed fast; it can be someone who's been billed too much; someone has lost their partner and wants to change the account name; it could be a kid's first phone or a lost phone – they just want someone to help them get it sorted the first time."
Those last two words "first time" are the key. Paris wants Vodafone to embrace what the company is calling First Time Fixed or FTF.
"I don't know anyone in the telco industry or any industry which does that well," he says. "I don't know of many companies, full stop, whose customer service I would rave about. As for Vodafone, I don't want our people to be embarrassed about the organisation they work for – I want them to be proud, and I think we are on track to being proud."
To achieve that level of pride and customer service, Paris says Vodafone had two options to address their "bowl of spaghetti" internal tech: "One was to painstakingly take out each piece of spaghetti and straighten it. The other was to order a whole new dish."
Vodafone has opted for the latter, taking advantage of technology advances in very recent years and working with technology partners to set up a whole new customer relationship system, which they call the Digital Futures Programme.
"It's exciting," says Paris," and, even better for customers, we are simplifying the number of products and plans – and looking to digitise and simplify all the customer journeys and interactions, whether that be on the website, the MyVodafone app, retail store, payment or service."
The technology approach is not the only path being taken – people are a huge part of the plan, even as the company invests hugely in digitalisation, automation and simplification.
"We have flipped the focus," he says. "Most companies in this space try to insist that, for example, staff answer the phone within 30 seconds or something like that. While that's important, what is most important is actually fixing the issue – and doing so first time, so a customer doesn't have to bounce around a company trying to find the right person to fix the problem.
"That's the power of First Time Fixed."
To achieve that, Vodafone is streamlining its (Tier 1) frontline agents who answer basic queries and its X Squad team (Tier 2) that deal with more complicated tech issues and case manage that issue, responsible for solving it.
Now a new team known internally as Arohia has been formed, composed of about 200 highly trained and knowledgeable tech experts, based in Christchurch and Auckland, devoted to fixing complex problems. Most of the Arohia team is being comprised mostly of New Zealanders; it also contains a wide range of different expertise so that any problem can be addressed.
"About 75 per cent of the time, we are achieving First Time Fixed," says Paris. "It's that other 25 per cent we need to be better at. It could be something like the Chorus technician turned up on the wrong day, or someone has a complex issue with their broadband connection.
"That 25 per cent, by definition, call us back – often several times. But if we can reduce that 25 per cent right down, then our customer service teams will be able to fix the problem faster, it means we can proactively focus on making our customer experience even better."
Allied to that concept is Vodafone's use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to drive predictive and pro-active customer interactions.
"It could be something like an intermittent internet connection. Instead of the customer wrestling with their modem, we would fix the problem remotely and then text the customer to let them know they had a problem – but we've fixed it."
The key, says Paris, is for Vodafone to be kings of customer service - with a new contact centre platform powered by Amazon Connect coming on line soon.
At that stage, the bowl of spaghetti should be nowhere to be seen.
To find out more about Vodafone see www.vodafone.co.nz