Telstra realised looking at what customers were saying was the right thing to do

The Australian telco comes to the realisation that customers were doing more than answering a simple question about their experience.

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After interacting through Telstra's various customer service channels, individuals are asked to provide a score followed by a simple question: Why did you give that score?

According to Telstra GM of customer insights Violet Lazarevic, the answer is meant to reflect that specific interaction, but as she told Qualtrics X4 Experience MGMT Summit in Sydney on Friday, customers weren't following instructions to comment purely on that interaction.

Lazarevic said a metric like its Episodic Net Promoter Score (ENPS) really didn't allow Telstra to fully understand its customers. It also saw the telco potentially "assuming something false in the numbers that affect every Telstra employee".

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Telstra began to look at the data it had, starting with the responses to the "Why did you give that score?" question, verbatim.

"We looked through verbatim and literally hundreds and thousands of verbatims from our customers over the years -- we had groups of analysts read every one," she explained. "What these verbatims told us, was just on the ones we looked at over the last three years, we could see 17% of all verbatims were not related to the episode at all."

Lazarevic said the business realised its one dataset was limiting, even though it had been "religiously measuring" it for such a long time.

"We created a plan to triangulate this with more information ... we started with all our ENPS information and we used that as a validation of which to build off. We then realised that numbers tell only one thing," Lazarevic said.

"The final step that we did was take the learnings from that, took the learnings from our ENPS analysis, and we built these really massive regression models so that we could clearly identify what each variable was doing and how it was affecting what our final eNPS score was."

Telstra then held a handful of focus groups which revealed a new understanding, Lazarevic said, of the types of customer the telco was bringing in.

"Some people in our customer base have only ever been with Telstra ... bit of a sobering and sad fact," she said. "Another thing we found out is that yes people did want to talk about the episodes they were experiencing, but there were other things happening that overshadowed those experiences and what they actually wanted to talk about will spool when we gave them a survey."

Lazarevic said the telco didn't realise just how much of an effect relationship tenure had on a customer -- there were two ways this was happening and it was almost having an opposing effect.

"We had people that had been with Telstra a long time, who had some really positive experiences over that time and almost had this halo effect happening where we could do no wrong ... they were probably actually giving us a score better than we deserved based on the episode." she said.

Pointing to a customer who was without internet for three months despite repeatedly calling Telstra and visiting shopfronts, Lazarevic said there were also people who had been with Telstra for a really long time and stayed despite having had a "really abysmal failure" at some point.

"Obviously not something you're going to find out just looking at the ENPS," she said.

People in regional or rural areas who had no choice but to be with Telstra were also divided, Lazarevic said, with some being grateful to Telstra for operating in their area, again creating a halo effect, while others were frustrated they could only be with Telstra.

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Customers were also found to be taking on the experience of a family member, despite personally not experiencing an issue.

"So our naive approach of thinking we instruct you to talk about an episode so you do, is that they best way? There are all these other emotional, really complex things going on for customers that we needed to take into account," Lazarevic said.

She said after actually listening to customers and taking in all of its data, Telstra created a predictive model for its ENPS that is much better than the one it started with.

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