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“I will stand for the customer”: Former Telstra CEO David Thodey’s Net Promoter journey

Net Promoter System podcastThink of a company so universally hated that merely saying its name invokes groans and sympathy. That was Telstra just eight years ago.

In 2007, Australian daily The Age published a column titled “Why We All Hate Telstra.” It chronicled all the ways that Australia’s former monopoly telephone company had made life painful for customers. In fact, complaining about the company’s poor service, slow Internet speeds and institutional arrogance became a national pastime.

Working for Telstra was certainly no fun, either. Field technicians’ vans were often targets for vandalism. On weekends, employees found themselves suffering through their friends’ embarrassing customer service horror stories when they attended cocktail parties or barbecues. Telephone service representatives struggled to justify the company’s fees, charges and poor service performance to angry customers. Who would want to represent a company so universally hated?

These days, things have changed dramatically for Telstra, its customers and its employees. I recently sat down with former Telstra CEO David Thodey to talk about how the company transformed itself from national irritant to respected service provider. He’d been a longtime Telstra leader when he took the helm in 2009, and he declared on the first day of his tenure that his time as CEO would be about the customer.

“There was this deep conviction in me that this was something we had to do, but we were struggling with how to do it,” David says.

When David took over, Telstra was losing market share. It was one of the country’s least respected companies. It was on its way to several earnings surprises. Its Net Promoter Score was deeply negative. By the time he retired earlier this year, Telstra had restored revenue and profit growth. It was gaining share in its mobile business. Its stock price had roughly doubled from the early days of his tenure. And Telstra was recently named Australia’s most respected company. Moreover, the company’s Net Promoter scores have improved significantly in all its businesses.

The Net Promoter System has been critical for bringing the voice of the customer back into the organization, David says. Turning naysayers into advocates required a disciplined system of feedback and improvement that would help employees see themselves as change agents rather than victims. Of course, Telstra’s journey was not without struggle and setbacks.

David reflected on his tenure at Telstra with great candor and characteristic depth in a two-part interview for the Net Promoter System Podcast. You can listen to part one of the interview on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System Podcast episodes.

You can learn more about David’s work in the short video below and in the new Bain Brief “Transforming a company by learning to love customers.”


Finally, my colleague Chris Harrop and I plan to take a closer look at Telstra’s customer service transformation in an upcoming webinar. You can sign up for the webinar here.

Subscribe to the Net Promoter System Podcast on iTunes

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