Secrets of Customer-Centric Success — Interview with Jeff Puritt, CEO of TELUS International

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Everyone says they want to be customer-centric and deliver a great customer experience. But most companies struggle, despite collecting customer feedback and investing in the latest technologies.

The key to turning CX dreams into a real competitive advantage is leadership! Sign up for my new livestream interview show — Hooked On Customers — where you’ll learn “how they did it” directly from senior executives.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Bob Thompson: Hello and welcome to the Hooked on Customers show. Thanks for joining our very first episode today.

I’m Bob Thompson, founder of CustomerThink.com, and I’m very excited about launching this new interview program to get the secrets to customer-centric success directly from the senior executives who help make it happen. Before I bring in my first guest, I’d like to spend a minute or two to explain what we’re trying to accomplish.

Over the past 20 years or so, increasing customer loyalty has been the animating force behind all of the terms that I’ve seen used, whether it be CRM (customer relationship management), customer experience or CX for short — which has been the hot term in the last 10 years or so, or customer-centricity, we as business people would like our customers to be more loyal. We want them to buy more, buy more frequently, refer others through word of mouth, and do so because they’re happy with the value that they’re getting.

In a way, what we’re saying is that we would like our customers to become almost addicted, or I use the term “hooked”, on our businesses so they just can’t imagine doing business with anyone else. Well, that’s what we’d like to make happen. The question is, how?

That’s what I’ve been studying for 20 years now. The short answer is that if we want our customers to be hooked on us or addicted to us, if you like, we have to be hooked on them. And what I mean by this “hooked on customers” concept is mastering a set of organizational behaviors or habits.

This is based on research that I did over a 15 year period published in my book, also called Hooked on Customers. This is a model based on five core habits: listen to customers and act on what they’re which are learning from them; think — make good analytical, fact-based decisions; empower employees to deliver great experiences; create new value through innovation; and at least some of the time, to attempt to delight customers to exceed their expectations, which creates a memorable moment, which is extremely important in building real customer loyalty.

Now, I’m not going to do a tutorial on these habits. That’s not the point of this program. For those who would like to dig deeper, you can read my articles on CustomerThink.com, or pick up my book on Amazon.

So, again, this interview program is really about exploring the role of senior leaders in creating a more customer-centric enterprise. And what you’re going to see throughout this interview and the ones that follow is we’ll focus on one or two of these habits or behaviors and really drill down to get the senior executive perspective.

OK, enough of the intro. I’d like to bring in my featured guest. I am absolutely delighted to introduce my first guest Jeff Puritt, who is president and CEO of TELUS International. Since 2008, he’s led the company’s evolution from a regional outsourcing services provider to a digital experience innovator. And during that period, he’s grown from 12 team members to over 50,000 globally. So he’s running a big operation.

Jeff, welcome. It’s great to have you on the show.

Jeff Puritt: Well, it’s truly my honor to be your inaugural guest on your new webcast. I have been so grateful for your ongoing support and interest of TELUS International over the past many, many years. I’m certainly a fan of yours and got a lot of respect for your research and work in this space.

Bob Thompson: Thank you so much. Well, for our viewers, I got to know Jeff because I visited the TELUS International site in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. And before that I interviewed him. The thing that’s great about the TELUS culture is they’re very open, very customer-oriented, and they are absolutely committed to the employee experience. And so it’s one of the better case studies I found anywhere in the world. For those who are interested, you can read a featured article I wrote on CustomerThink.com.

About TELUS International

But let’s get started here. Jeff, if you could just give our viewers a sense of what TELUS International offers — it’s a big operation now — so they understand the scope of your responsibility. I’ll put up a slide here for you to talk to.

Jeff Puritt: Well, as you can see there, February 3rd of 2021 was a pretty exciting day for our team, an incredible milestone for us and in so many ways and really marked the start of a new phase in our journey. I’ve joked that we’re sort of an overnight success, 15 years in the making. Very, very proud to have been the largest tech IPO in Canadian history and very grateful to have a really strong interest from institutional shareholders on both sides of the US-Canada border.

And the possibilities for what comes next for us as a consequence of we now being a public issue are endless as we start this new chapter is what I call a true pioneer in the client experience space defining a new category at the intersection of digital IT and digital CX. And armed now with this public issuer status, I am so excited about our plans to further fuel, accelerate and amplify our growth strategy through additional acquisitions, using this transaction currency to attract and retain key talent to enhance our go-to-market strategy to elevate the international brand on a global scale and candidly, to provide a premium valuation for our business.

And really what we do, we’re a leading digital customer experience innovator. We design, build and deliver next-gen solutions for global and disruptive brands. And we have a capability at scale around the world where we can help businesses to leverage digital transformation technology and automation capabilities to drive better client outcomes for them and their customers.

We have the ability to not just consult and advise on which technologies are most well suited to the task and the opportunity, but then to actually work collaboratively with our customers to build those very same capabilities, platforms, and tools. And then, equally importantly, we have a highly-skilled, talented team across the world that demonstrate the requisite skills, empathy, and understanding to then support and run those platforms within for our customers as well.

What is “Digital CX”?

Bob Thompson: Ok, so if you could, I’d like you to drill down just a little bit more on this term you used: Digital CX. When I visited your site in Vegas, it was a call center — you had people answering the phone. So explain what’s going on in terms of a shift to more digital interactions and what you’re offering at TELUS International.

Jeff Puritt: Digital CX, really, in my view, is pretty simple. It’s this combination of technology in conjunction with highly-skilled, highly-trained, empathetic, articulate humans to deliver outcomes for customers that help them to achieve their own ambitions in terms of increased wallet share, increased intimacy, lifetime revenue, and so on and so forth.

And so in the simplest way I can offer an example would be if you have a simple, predictable, repeatable interaction that historically was supported by a human being. Think by way of example, a password reset on your computer or a top-up on your smartphone data plan. Historically, one would have to contact the contact center via either a voice channel or even email or chat. You have to wait for someone to respond to your inquiry. You have to work with them to validate your credentials so they could ensure that you are who you say you are and then wait for them to implement the change. And in some cases, that literally could take hours.

Because of the repeatable, simple, predictable nature of those interactions, automation and technology now enable us to do that effortlessly, instantly. And so implementing those solutions like chatbot-driven solutions anywhere and everywhere possible that these interactions can be predicted with that requisite degree of simplicity is now what we’re doing with and for our customers and frankly, drinking our own champagne, eating our own gourmet cooking.

We’ve done that everywhere inside TELUS International as well. The benefits to the organization, pretty remarkable when you think about it, because it doesn’t just remove significant costs from your organization. It drives a super high level of engagement and customer experience improvement because again, put yourself in those shoes. If you’re the employee working in a business and you’ve hit a few incorrect keystrokes and lock yourself out of your workstation, you really want to wait around an hour or two before you finally get reset and get back to work? Or if it’s all automated for you, it happens in a moment. It’s a better experience for you.

If you’re a customer and you know you’re bumping up against your data plan limits and you’re worried your cell phone bill charges are going to go through the roof again. Do you want to wait hours for a customer service agent to help you or do you want to just automatically hit three keystrokes and it’s done for you instantly? So the neat thing about this evolution in digital CX is these technologies are now enabling not just cost savings, but more importantly, better customer outcomes. It’s a better user experience as a result.

Bob Thompson: That’s the tricky part that I’ve seen over the years… if automation is used as a kind of blunt weapon, so to speak, to just to cut costs and get rid of people because they’re expensive, it kind of loses the point that there are jobs, there are experiences that really need to be human-based.

The thing I really admire about the way TELUS International is approaching it is that you’re very aggressive about the use of technology and you’re equally aggressive about having highly trained, empathetic and, just fantastic people serving customers when that’s the right way to serve them.

Listening to Customers

We’re going to talk a little bit more about the role of your employees. But this show is about customers. Our first big topic is how do you stay in touch? You’ve got a big operation. You’ve got lots of customers, lots of interactions going on. Can you just provide some general words about how you stay in touch and listen to them?

Jeff Puritt: So as you can imagine, we try to leverage all of the channels that we are capable of supporting to stay in touch with obtaining the pulse, the voice of the customer on a real-time, regular basis. And, it starts with how we engage with these prospective customers at first instance and how we work together with them in a collaborative, collegial fashion in order to create and innovate, and then thereafter to ensure whether it is advisory engagement, whether we built a platform for them, we’ve helped take their legacy billing systems to the cloud, or we’ve deployed a whole team of digital workers, chat boards, if you will, and provide ongoing monitoring of those digital workers to ensure they’re continuing to do what is expected of them, because we’re enabling them with artificial intelligence and natural language processing. So as they are working on the job, each interaction, they get smarter so they can extend and expand the reach of capabilities so they can take on more work.

But you can’t just deploy them in the ecosystem and leave them to run on their own, because perhaps at some point they may not still be helping customers the way you had intended it, for instance. So again, we are monitoring daily and communicating with our customers across all these channels to ensure we have that voice of the customer.

And then internally we ensure that we are evaluating ourselves, both our front line team members, our engineers, our contact center workers, our digital workforce, the human digital workers on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual basis, through what we call our “service excellence promise” to ensure that we are meeting and hopefully wherever possible, exceeding our customers’ expectations.

But we’re not trying to make it up. We’re not trying to figure it out on the fly. We want to capture the voice of the customer every step of the way and then linking performance and payments, bonuses or not, to achieving those expectations.

Here you’re looking at just one example for one service set, if you will, but across three lenses, focusing first, 50 percent of the weighting is on customer-centricity.

Are we helping achieve customer expectations around their own ambitions for customer loyalty and customer satisfaction? Obviously, few people want to go through this kind of experience if there isn’t some anticipated productivity or efficiency gains. And so we also evaluate on a real-time basis across every program the effectiveness of these programs, as well as the efficiency. And what you see here just again, emblematic of one program around average handle time and scheduling accuracy.

But on the effectiveness front, we need to know that we’re actually achieving the intended outcome. And that doesn’t happen all by itself. And it’s not, again, you just stand it up and leave it and go. This requires ongoing supervision and support with coaching and focus on quality assurance, etc. So what you see here is an index example that we have in place for every single program we run, for every single customer we support.

Bob Thompson: Well, that’s really remarkable. How long did it take to develop this set of metrics? I think of it as a kind of scorecard, right?

Jeff Puritt: Indeed. So it is actually 40 percent of our overall scorecard. This has been years in the making. Up until very recently, what we referred to was quality of service. And that, too, was a bit of an index that factored in a number of attributes around service performance to the customer.

But what we found was historically QoS — quality of service — was over-indexed on efficiency and effectiveness, and I think tended to miss the mark in terms of customer-centricity. And so we wanted to find a way to better incorporate the voice of the customer in the service that we were providing to our customers and so evolved to the service excellence promise methodology.

And as I said, it indeed represents 40 percent of the bonus payments to every single member of my leadership team right up to and including me. So 50 percent of our bonus is tied to lagging metrics, financial results. But the other 50 percent are inputs, 40 percent of those are this specific scorecard that you see here. The other 10 percent is split between engagement and tenure.

Bob Thompson: So is there any particular number or is it this index that you look at regularly?

Bob Thompson: Every single one of these numbers, every single day. Obviously serving over 600 clients and thousands of programs, it’s a bit unwieldy to be looking at every number for every customer, for every program. But my leadership team and I, we are in the weeds on this because, at the end of the day, this is what we sell. And word of mouth, successful service delivery is the only way to ensure the continued sustainability of our company’s success.

Bob Thompson: And if there was a hot spot at one of your big clients or even a small client, would you get some kind of an alert personally or somebody on your staff say, hey, we’ve got a problem with XYZ? They really need some executive love.

Jeff Puritt: Yes, indeed. I mean, again, I personally try to be as involved and engaged in every account as I can be, but I’m very fortunate that I have a terrific team and right up to and including my entire senior leadership team that we get regular automated alerts across every one of these scorecards. We have a fairly sophisticated automated dashboard tool that we’re using to ensure that we have our finger on the pulse of these programs so we don’t let things fester if when they go wrong.

Bob Thompson: So I think there’s a message here for our viewers. In the research I’ve done, it’s really the companies that seem to combine the humanity that they’ve got a culture that really comes alive, with systems. In fact, this notion of habits is really a systemic way of organizing behaviors of the organization. And that is very predictive of being ultimately successful. So it’s not enough just to have the senior executives talk a good game. You can’t just use technology and systems. It’s putting it all together.

Employee Engagement

All right. I want to move on here. We’ve got another absolutely critical topic. And I know this is central to the TELUS International strategy. Employees, your team members. How do you encourage them and motivate them and help them deliver the kind of great experiences that customers want?

Jeff Puritt: I think we’re a little bit differentiated at TELUS International than many of our peers. We don’t really see technology as a substitution for talent. We see it as a co-pilot, as an intrinsic complement to delivering great experiences for our customers and helping our customers to deliver great outcomes for their customers.

And if you think about it, this whole digital revolution that we’re dealing with, if you just keep on telling your human employee base that technology is here to replace them, you ought not to be surprised if they sort of resist or perhaps even actively sabotage your efforts to make the jump. In our case, it’s not just a photo op or a sound bite. We really do believe that it is the combination of highly-skilled, talented people working in concert with these terrific technologies, that deliver the best combination of outcomes for our customers.

So it starts with that mindset and a corporate culture that demonstrates a commitment to our humans, our employees that really are the most critical part to, embrace technology, to bring technology to life every single day for themselves. We’re leveraging technology to make it easier to do their job more effectively and then to understand those technologies and deliver better outcomes on behalf of our customers.

Recruiting profiles include elements at first instance where we’re looking for people that have a desire to help, that are patient, that are understanding, that are empathetic, that are articulate. We then ensure that we are evaluating their success, their performance on a regular basis, not just on sort of financial-driven outcomes, but more inputs around demonstrating these levels of empathy, patience, and understanding.

And then we’re taking the pulse, if you will, of those team members on a comprehensive annual survey. And literally, every single member of our team around the world, irrespective of their role, are invited to participate in what we call our annual Pulse Check survey that evaluates a multitude of dimensions of their experience being a member of the TELUS International family. But six of those questions in particular that you see here on the screen are really intended to focus down on what we call engagement.

And there’s a lot of literature — and you’ve spoken about this yourself as well — that correlates higher levels of engagement to higher levels of service quality excellence. You can see around “Say, Stay and Strive” that we have been so, so grateful for achieving what Kincentric who administered this survey for us (formerly Aon Hewitt) over the last 15 years, we had an 86 percent engagement score across our entire company for 2020, which, by the way, went up one hundred basis points from 2019 in the middle of an unprecedented year of pandemic.

These things don’t happen by accident. One has to be intentional and mindful. And in the pandemic in particular, people are stuck at home. I mean 90 plus percent of our team members around the world successfully virtualize, working from all home. One ought not to be surprised, there’s a potential loss of connectivity and engagement. And yet we went out of our way to again leverage our own tools and technology, launched a whole bunch of programs like our own portal called Cosmos, to create touchpoints to ensure people stayed connected. Throughout this difficult year, we saw no diminution in service quality to our customers. We actually saw improvement in engagement scores. We saw improvement in productivity actually grew the business pretty remarkably, 2020 over 2019, and I think it’s directly correlated to this focus.

Bob Thompson: Can you talk a little bit about the kind of development programs? I remember when I visited Vegas, one of the managers there revealed that it was a pretty extensive set of offerings that you give for free to your employees. Can you mention a couple that would help them improve their skills and develop their careers?

Jeff Puritt: We support literally over ten thousand different programs, all enabled virtually over our intranet that enabled team members to focus on skills that are specific to the programs or projects or work that they do right now, programs that are more traditional academic, institutional-led courses. So we partner with universities around the world and they’re using their curriculum, their faculty, and our facilities.

We allow our team members, if they want to complete their undergraduate or graduate studies in engineering programs and liberal arts programs and science programs, that we offer master classes for learning and development so they can actually evolve as members of our management team. So move up in the organization if that’s where their passion takes them.

And then sort of on the softer side, if you will, we again, leveraging our own platform, which is globally cloud-enabled and virtualized, we had folks hosting yoga training sessions, guitar sessions, baking classes, hobbies, and interests, again trying to maintain, sustain and amplify the esprit de corps, the sort of the close connection across the TI family.

Bob Thompson: Well, that’s great. The way you approach both customers and employees is just really, really comprehensive and well thought out. So it’s great to share that with our viewers today.

All right. We’ve got about five minutes left. We’ve got three questions. Hopefully, get through these.

Leading By Example

And the first one, this is really for you. I found some analytics in my research that suggests that setting a positive example is important for senior leaders, CEOs, really the top management. And if they say one thing, but they don’t give the right signals with their behavior that people realize it’s just not that important. So can you share an example or too quickly about what you do to try to set a good example?

Jeff Puritt: Specific to customer-centricity, I’d like to think that I try as diligently as I might to lead by example, both my own behavior, my leadership team, and all the way across the organization. But over-indexing on time with customers. 

When we’re looking to pursue and acquire a customer at first instance, once the customer is successfully on board, it’s not just wait until if there’s a mistake or a problem before insinuating myself personally into the situation, but following up again on a personal basis, on a recurring basis, to demonstrate that each and every one of them matter. And obviously, our success and the proliferation and extension of the business makes it more challenging in terms of the time consumed required. But for me, it’s time very, very well spent.

And again, leading by example, I’m not shying away from difficult or uncomfortable conversations if they arise. I invite my teams, both my sales team and operations team, to bring me in any time you think it’s appropriate. I want our customers to know that this matters to me personally. And leading by example, I think that sets the tone for others in the organization as well.

And I analogize it’s not customer-centric specific, but again, leading by example our day of giving our CSR efforts pre-pandemic. Although we did a lot through the pandemic on a virtualized basis. But pre-pandemic, when we’re building schools and houses and planting trees, it would be easy for me to sit back and say: “You guys, you all get out there and do that very important work, but I have more important stuff to do here at the office.” And not surprising, you might think that would be a ridiculous example, I wouldn’t be surprised if folks stopped showing up for our days of giving, if that’s how I conducted myself.

But frankly, selfishly, I love doing that stuff and I think it’s important. And so when I’m out there helping to build schools and homes and planting trees again, you lead by example. And not surprisingly, folks get on board. And that has been, again, a source of our success over the 16 years of our company’s experience with the entire leadership community, starting with frontline team members all the way up, bringing those principles to life every day.

Making the Business Case for CX Improvements

Bob Thompson: Now, this question came in from one of our viewers here. This is a complicated one. I just did a big research study last year on making the business case. But your thoughts briefly, Jeff, on when you see a business case and somebody says, hey, I think we can make the customer experience better, what is it that you would be looking for to say “Yeah, that makes business sense.” Of course, we all can say we want better experiences, but ultimately you do have to connect it to business success. What do you look for?

Jeff Puritt: Well, I guess one has to start with some basic foundational principles. If the audience that you’re taking the business case to is your finance team, then you ought not to be confused. You better show up with data. You better show up with financial data. You better be able to correlate that the investments of CapEx and OpEx to extend your capability set to invest in higher skills and capabilities to leverage technology to bring about a better outcome, has a payback, has a return on investment.

So you could point to improved levels of flow-through, lower levels of churn, or cost to serve over the study period. I think there’s so much data out there now, you just need to do your homework. You need to get out there and point to the fact that, there are so many examples of customers who now have so much control over their own purchase journeys that it shouldn’t be that difficult to be able to put together a compelling business case that demonstrates that if you make these investments and this is what the implication on the client experience will be, these are the outputs, the financial benefits that you should anticipate.

I think it’s an easier thing to do now than ever, but there’s no substitute for homework. I think there’s also one other element here is there are witnesses, experts. Again, there are mountains of evidence and thought leaders, you, yourself, and what you produce at CustomerThink, that can bring a whole bunch of support to how to statistically, quantitatively validate this correlation between incremental investment for better returns,

Bob Thompson: Well, those are good thoughts. And I would say to our viewers, I wrote a couple of very lengthy articles based on the research that I did, that you can find a CustomerThink.com. This making the business case has been one of the more difficult problems of the industry, because there are a lot of what I would call true believers, the CX professionals. And unfortunately, many of them are in organizations that are talking a good game but aren’t executing terribly well. Making this business case is essential. So there are ways to approach it. And I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

All right. That’s the end of our program today, Jeff. It’s been great having you on. It’s really been a delight to interact with you over the years and to see the success of TELUS International. And in my mind, to show that customer-centricity as well as employee-centricity, because you put them together, is really a winning formula.

So I appreciate you helping me kick off my Hooked on Customers livestream show. All the best. And maybe we’ll bring you back another time and you can give us an update.

Jeff Puritt: My pleasure, Bob. All the best for continued success. And it would be my pleasure to return anytime you’ll have me.

All right. Well, to our viewers, thank you all for listening in. This is our first episode. I’m sure we could do things to make it a little bit better. So in the interest of listening to you, our customers online, please email me directly at [email protected] and let me know your thoughts about this program, things that you would like us to do. Or if you have an executive that you think would make a great candidate for this program, I’d love to hear that, too. We’re looking for people willing to share as Jeff has done today.

So with that, I’ll sign off. And for those who would like to stay on this interview program, you can go to customerthink.com/hooked and that’ll bring up our sign-up page and you’ll get notices about upcoming episodes on this program. Have a great day, we’ll see you next time.

About Jeff Puritt

Jeff has served as the President and CEO of TELUS International and an Executive Vice President of TELUS Corporation since 2016. Since joining TELUS International as President in 2008, he has led the company’s evolution from a regional customer experience (CX) services provider to a next-generation digital solutions innovator for global and disruptive brands, and its exponential growth from 2,000 to 50,000 team members located around the world. Today, TELUS International designs, builds and delivers digital solutions for its clients that leverage next-generation technologies to enhance customer experience and deliver better business outcomes. Jeff’s vision and leadership has resulted in distinguished third-party recognition by leading industry analyst firms and respected global business awards programs. Jeff is especially proud of how the TELUS International family brings its caring culture to life through its global philanthropy and volunteer efforts, making a meaningful difference in the communities where they operate.

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