Whether Employees or Customers, Staying Connected Helps Your People Be Their Best Selves
Imagine a call centre without the infrastructure to be a call centre. A customer calls in. Why hasn’t anyone picked up? The operator can’t see the line of calls waiting. The manager looks across the floor and sees everyone talking on the phone all day. Are they talking to customers? Are they making sales? Are they finding solutions? It’s anyone’s guess.
Now, I want you to imagine you work in this call centre and you are the best salesperson in the world. You know your product and how to find the right solution for your customers, but some of your colleagues don’t have the same understanding. Instead of a team pulling in tandem, you feel like one individual in a sea of individuals. It’s dispiriting. And your manager has no way of differentiating you from the rest: no way of measuring your performance or rewarding you for a job well done, and no way of providing you feedback on how to do even better.
I have a stark but important thesis for you: You can be the best in the world, but if you’re not learning, you’re failing.
What does this experience provide the customer, and what does it provide the employee?
You’ve Got to Be Continually Learning
Coming from a sales and retail background, and I’ve always felt that to properly make a sale, you have to understand what it is you’re selling. The constant of my career has been telecommunications—often in partnering roles with Australia’s largest telco, Telstra. At times, this has meant going into the field with technicians to understand how technicians and engineers deploy the solutions I was selling.
You must not only be open to learning, but actively look for opportunities to learn and be willing to fail. I’ll give you an example: During my time with a previous employer, Telstra began to transform themselves from a carrier into a technology provider. My employer realized they had to do more by way of ICT solutions (outside of the telco space they had occupied traditionally). As such, they hired someone with an IT service provider background who brought a lot to the business with him, including a deep affinity for Cisco solutions.
At the time, I was one of the sales team, and I thought, “I want to learn about this.” I ran with the Cisco product in a way that no one else in the team did, and that led to my promotion into a solutions architecture role, in which I was responsible for designing solutions for the entire sales team. To assist with this role, I completed some Cisco certs—including CCENT, CCNA, CCDA—and built out a team of architects and project managers to the point where we gave the business a strong foundation. Eventually, we started working in the enterprise space and won a large local government contract beating out some much more established players (I won't name names).
Throughout my career, I have hit market inflection points which required me to evolve; this often meant I’d hit the ceiling of what I could achieve with an employer. I would discover that I had taken a business as far as I could and to go further would require an executive decision on the part of the owner to pivot their business. Twice in my career, I’ve seen the industry poised to take a turn in a different direction and had the owner stay firm on the company’s pre-existing path.
What excited me five years ago about joining JB Hi-Fi Solutions was that although they wanted me to take on a similar role to that of my previous employer—there was no ceiling. The ambition in everything JB does is to be at the top of the category. That’s how they go to market.
Technology Is Supposed to Connect Us. Why Did We Have the Opposite?
JB Hi-Fi is one of the largest suppliers of technology products in Australia and is Telstra’s number one retail partner, with over 200 stores across the country.
I joined JB Hi-Fi Solutions to help them solve a series of challenges the company faced as they tried to move into what Telstra termed complex data: private network infrastructure. JBS took a distribution-based approach. In other words: they outsourced it and it caused them all sorts of problems.
What are we selling to the customer? Does it work? Is it meeting their requirements? How do we deliver this thing? How do we scale it?
I came on board with a proposal to resolve these issues, but when I looked under the hood, I realized there was a lot more going on. While the sales team was tracking quite well, it wouldn’t take much to cause a significant customer impact.
The support side of a retail operation has to be IT lean, and we were using a hodgepodge of services: Avaya for voice, HP for switching, Aruba for wireless, Lifesize for video (which never got used). I think the fact that we didn’t use our video conferencing capabilities tells you something. Our technology was all over the place and it meant we were disconnected from one another.
Inside the wider JB Hi-Fi organization sits six specific business units, which effectively operate as contact centres, with high volumes of calls and email allocated to agents. Ideally, you record those conversations for your quality governance.
The problem was we were running these contact centres without the infrastructure of a contact centre. It wasn’t quite as bad as the picture I painted at the outset, but that gives you a sense of the problems we faced. It was an inefficient system that made it very difficult to route a customer to the right person and it provided very limited reporting.
We had no way of knowing who was answering calls, the context of those calls, or their outcomes. When we don’t know that, we can’t provide feedback. For me, it’s about more than accountability. It’s also about asking what the agent learned from that call. How can it help that agent better serve the customer? We effectively had six business units flying blind.
In this environment, you have salespeople selling solutions without any technical oversight. That leads to the third problem I saw resulting from our IT solutions: change management within the sales team. When I noticed these issues, I wanted to improve the customer experience, so I put some projects on hold. I redesigned some things and started attending customer meetings, and some people didn’t take that well. This was a close-knit team that had found success doing things a certain way, and at least some people initially saw the changes I made as undermining that success. It’s a big challenge to change that mentality.
Cisco Was the Right Fit—and They Showed It in Their Support
Fortunately, in addressing these issues I could rely on the knowledge and confidence I’d built working with Cisco for years. One of the first moves I made at JBS was to onboard Cisco as a partner. It was significant to me that JBS loves selling Cisco products to our customers. For all those reasons we sell their products, I thought we should become Cisco customers as well.
Cisco’s Business Edition 7000 for enterprise was also well suited to our needs. We needed an integrated system that could also provide carrier diversity and geographic redundancy to our call centres in the event of equipment or site failure.
Having a platform that could scale with our business and be easily managed from the cloud—while providing all the functionality we could possibly need—was paramount. Cisco’s Unified Communications, Cisco Webex Teams, and Cisco Meraki solutions checked all the boxes.
When it came to installation, the challenges were primarily internal. With our first business unit, we made a mistake. Instead of asking how we could improve their processes, we just asked what functionality they wanted. We didn’t make that same mistake with deployment in the next business units—we built the technology into the workflows.
Even with those internal challenges with the first business unit, there was no adverse impact to the teams or customers. I credit our Internal Solutions and the wider Cisco teams for that. Cisco was supportive in making sure we utilized the right product offerings and had the right technical resources supporting us in our design and delivery work. They’ve also been very good at providing resources to help with our adoption, including placing people in our business to assist with learning and development.
Integrated Technology Helped Us Connect as a Company
We are still working through the deployment and have yet to do an engagement survey, so let me describe the impact of these changes in three interactions.
For me, the most visible outcome was in our service desk. The first week we went live on the system, I walked through the service desk space and I saw the manager—a super dedicated guy—talking to his team and calling out the wallboard. He’s saying, “Why have I got no agents logged in? Why are these calls waiting?” Having a metric and visibility of what’s going on has enabled him to drive outcomes out of his team. He and other managers can now coach their staff like they couldn’t before, because they now have reporting and recordings and can provide feedback.
We’re ensuring our customers get the best experience possible, and I know, because I’ve had emails from customers saying their experience is better. I have emails where customers who I would have categorized as “at risk” eight months ago, who have now provided us references to other clients. That’s a tangible outcome.
Eight months ago, we did an employee engagement survey and one of the big things our organization got hammered on was communication. It’s not that we didn’t communicate, it’s that we didn’t have a vehicle to communicate effectively.
Remember how I said we didn’t use our video conferencing? We’ve had two town halls in the past six months. Our new video capabilities with Cisco Webex have allowed us to do that. Team meetings can now happen nationally, and that gives our staff a sense of engagement. They feel they’re part of a wider business and we’re all pulling in one direction.
The integration of our systems allows us to speak with a cohesive voice. A potential partner recently visited us and met with various members of our team and told me afterwards: “I’ve never spoken to people in such different roles in an organization and had them all say the same thing. What you do, why you do it, how you do it, where you’re going—your team’s all on the same page.”
These changes in technology are changing our culture, creating an environment that is transparent and encourages team building and achievement—not competition.
When you take on a leadership role in an organization, it’s no longer about just looking for the best opportunities for yourself. I want my people to be the best versions of themselves. When I hear one of them say, “These changes make me want to stay for the long term,” I think I’m at least giving them that opportunity to be their best self.
To be clear: I don’t think technology solves all problems—or it doesn’t solve them by itself. What the right technology does is it gives your people what they need to succeed. Would we have had the same outcome on the service desk with Cisco but without capable, passionate, and dedicated staff? Definitely not, and that’s a testament to our team. Would we get the same outcome from our people without technology like Cisco’s Contact Centre Express? Definitely not, which I know for a fact because I have seen the struggle firsthand. It’s about people and technology coming together to achieve the desired outcome.
Business is about people. However, even if we hire the best people, we can’t get their best without giving them the opportunity. Cisco helped us create an environment where we get the best for our people, whether they’re our customers or our employees.