Remove friction but don’t remove choice: interview with Vaughan Paul (Optus)

Optus, like other telcos, is in the business of anticipating customer needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, essential services have come to the forefront and it has taken agility and focus to keep up with digital acceleration and changing lifestyles. 

Marketing catches up with Vaughan Paul, who is responsible for Optus’ customer experience (CX) and driving digital transformation across the business. We speak about the future of CX at Optus and how to innovate while still nurturing customer choice.

Since joining Optus in 2005 Paul and the team have spent a lot of time re-engineering CX, from initial brand interactions online through to fulfilment and customer end journeys. “Obviously CX at Optus is not new, but over the last couple of years, it’s sort of been much more integrated into the mainstream of the business,” says Paul.

A big focus is on eliminating friction. To lift NPS, he says that it’s important to be disciplined and focus on pain points or aspects of the journey that may be able to be improved without having to do massive amounts of work. This means not just homing in on the positive, but understanding the extremities and negative customer experiences too.

Over the years for Optus the CX journey has culminated in innovation on the digital side of things with chatbots, messaging and AI, but also looking closely at the NBN (National Broadband Network) and not neglecting traditional areas like retail or service.

In the realm of service, there’s no doubt that companies like Optus are having to pivot their strategy due to the pandemic. “One thing COVID has done is pushed people into digital and it’s up to companies like us to make that a really seamless experience.” With consumers “more willing to give digital technology a try” during the pandemic, Paul has found that using technologies to blend digital and human experiences has been transformative for customers. 

One case study he references is the introduction of chatbots that greet the customer and handle the initial inquiry. If the chatbot is unable to solve the problem it hands the customer to an agent who can then see the full customer history and is aware of the issue upfront. Paul says that the combination of the digital and human experience in this case reduces time and that the combined experience is getting a better NPS than the agent would alone.

Similarly, Paul references AI, which Optus has implemented to assist agents. “AI will ensure fewer repeat calls and getting it right the first time for customers – it also enhances the agent experience. It improves the productivity for the agent because it normally can take two months for an agent to get up to speed. That now happens in less time because you’re using AI to help them get that competence. So I think that, yes, ultimately the two together are more powerful and there are many more applications of AI and humans working together.”

While many people are now more comfortable with digital technology, offering different channels is still important. After years of experimenting and monitoring experience, one thing that Paul has discovered is that it is important to eliminate friction but not choice for the customer. 

“I think the first thing that we’ve learned is don’t force customers to a particular channel. So you want to make sure that when you’re looking at your websites, or you’re looking at your advertising, as much as you’re trying to push people digitally, I think the benefit is to let the customers choose the channel of their choice. It’s a bit harder at the moment to make people aware the digital channels are there because there’s a natural bias to call. But we’ve experimented. And I don’t think the company should make the channel solution – it should be the customer.”

This idea of prioritising customer choice makes sense – Optus has always positioned itself as the optimistic brand and recently unveiled its new branding, which centres on the idea that “It starts with yes”. 

Paul says, “Letting the customer choose creates a stickier environment for them naturally that comes sometimes at a cost, but there’s definitely a propensity there.” In a similar vein, the company has introduced messaging because it is synchronous and it also lets the customer refer back to the whole history and feel in control of their journey. That empowerment seems to be a running theme at Optus.

When it comes to navigating the customer journey during COVID-19, Paul says that businesses need to not just refine digital interactions, but crucially line up fulfilment processes and consider the whole journey. At Optus, he says everyone can be involved in CX “whether you’re in procurement or whether you’re in billing” because there is a company-wide alignment to CX. He says this has been achieved by having a core dedicated team that helps to educate people about it, by creating principles that help guide strategy and by also implementing CX training available to all. 

For the future of CX there is a lot on the horizon for Optus, but Paul believes that technology is not a sole differentiator. “Technology does give you a leap, but it’s pretty quick, the competition can follow you and other industries can follow you too. I think it’s about how you execute it and how you drive the CX benefit from it, as opposed to just deploying the technology.”

For Paul, the future of CX is more about working less reactively, leveraging data insights and truly pre-empting needs.

“I think there’s an opportunity to really embed a proactive service, leveraging all the data insights that you’ve got and knowing that a customer is having a problem with the fixed network or mobile and being able to troubleshoot that ahead of the customer calling – that is where I’d like to get to.”

Vaughan Paul is the VP of digital consumer at Optus.

Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash.

Jasmine Giuliani
BY Jasmine Giuliani ON 17 November 2020
Jasmine Giuliani is the Editor of MarketingMag