2009 1to1 Customer Champion: Sonja Buhrmann, Customer Centricity Officer, Telkom SA Limited

Customer Experience
Customer Experience

The impact of embracing customer centricity at Telkom SA is visible and measurable, but what went on behind the scenes to create that atmosphere almost goes unnoticed. The job of creating that customer-centric foundation fell to Sonja Buhrmann, the South African telecommunications provider's first customer centricity officer.

When she assumed that role in 2006, Buhrmann understood the importance of turning data into intelligence to provide customer insight. "Analytics capabilities are the building blocks that make up the foundation of any customer initiative," she says. "Right now we're completely restructuring the organization to focus on our customer groups instead of products, which will allow us to deploy better analytics."

That restructuring began in the call center, where four product groups now fall under one leadership and are aligned by customer segments instead of products. Product managers have been replaced by segmentation managers, and customer service expectations are set based on customer value.

"We had some market segmentation, but nothing down to the customer level," Buhrmann says. "We're starting to have a common understanding of why we need to treat different customers differently, and why we do certain things for some customers that we don't do for others."

Telkom SA has implemented more than 60 other initiatives outlined in its three-year plan, but Buhrmann emphasizes that these all contribute to a bigger cultural shift. "Customer centricity isn't a project; if it's run as a flavor-of-the-year project it won't be successful," she says. "You can't just say, 'Let's give better customer service'; it has to be a cultural change."

The company excels at measuring whether it's making progress. Telkom SA conducts more than 20,000 phone interviews a month to gauge customer satisfaction across all touchpoints, including in the call centers, retail locations, and in the field with technicians. The company also surveys 10,000 business and government customers to measure loyalty and service quality.

Most important to creating a customer-centric culture is motivating employees to stay focused on customer needs. Telkom SA holds an annual team awards ceremony based on customer satisfaction measures, and recently the company introduced awards for loyalty based on its Net Promoter Scores.

"It's a big challenge to get employees customer-focused," Buhrmann says. "In our company the power always resided with the engineers, so it's a constant challenge to get them focused on customers. Having a common understanding across the organization is the reason we've achieved that goal."