In 2014, TeliaSonera International Carrier (TSIC) engaged Forrester Consulting to help assess its activities around customer experience and build a road map for its burgeoning customer experience program. TSIC is an international provider of telecommunication services with headquarters in Stockholm and offices in 14 other countries. It has grown from being the largest IP network in Europe to one of the top two global carriers powered by the Internet backbone, as ranked by Internet performance analysts DYN.

I had a chance to sit down with Simon Dodsworth (SD), VP of voice and mobile; Rickard Bäcklin (RB), VP of brand and marketing; and Linda Bennet-Jansson (LBJ), CX manager, to discuss their relatively young customer experience (CX) program.  

What is the mandate for the CX program at TSIC?

RB: It’s an important part of a longer journey. Back in 2011, we initiated a bold transformation project within TSIC. To redefine customer demands in the wholesale space, we looked beyond the internal club of network people, focusing on the future end users and the demands they would put on us in the carrier industry.

We realized that the Internet had gone from being best effort to being business- and even life-critical and that we didn’t only provide IP connectivity but actually carry the big ideas of tomorrow, enabling innovation throughout society at the speed of fiber. To support this, a new standard was needed in the carrier industry. We therefore identified and defined 10 principles we believe every carrier has to live by in the age of the customer. We call them the carrier declarations. Our CX program is about putting these principles into practice. And that is why we got in touch with Forrester — to carry out an assessment of our capabilities in this area.

Given that history at TSIC, do most people within the organization understand CX, or is there still a need for education?

SD: That (education) is very much our current focus. We are trying to embed the notion that everything we do is somehow connected to the customer.  

Have you seen anyone or any department making that jump thus far?

LBJ: We have seen a lot of changes in mindset, culture, and way of working — especially the organization we set up around CX. [The team’s objective is to] improve everyday work activities from a customer-centric point of view. We have five people who are giving real commitment to the group. At the next level, we have a CX council with line managers involved. Setting up this virtual organization was very important to get everyone to understand that this (CX) is not just a project or initiative that we were doing during 2014. Rather, this is something we are in for the long term. 

If someone else were asking you about starting on a CX journey, what kind of time frame would you say sounds realistic?

SD: Suddenly we are asking people to think about things they have not really considered before, and at the start, that’s extra work. This is why we have selected people from across the organization to be represented on the council. You can’t expect to wave a magic wand and for things to simply happen, but we are gaining traction all the time. Speed of change is rarely as fast as you would like, though. Linda has had to do a lot of chasing and that isn’t ideal, as we want to arrive at a state where people want to do this. 

RB: It will take 12 to 18 months to see some real change — as the system evolves and is adopted. Even with top management buy-in, which is essential and which we have, and with structured partners from the start, you can expect about three months of struggle to get everything started up. But around six months, you will start to see the real effects of the program.  

The time frame will differ for different organizations. This is more or less how it is for ours. We are not the small entrepreneurial organization but we are also more nimble than some incumbent organizations. If you are a global behemoth of an organization, you probably have to add some time to this.

Knowing what you know now in your CX program, what, if anything, would you change?

LBJ: If we had the knowledge we have now about the maturity level of our organization, we would have been able to push the right messages out quicker than we did. These three months of struggle (described earlier) might have been one month or so. All of this is new for the organization, and in some way, we may have used it to ready ourselves on the CX team as much as to develop the correct messaging. Perhaps our preparation could have happened quicker and we could have started earlier on more practical activities that the assessment pointed out.

Any last words of advice you would give to others in a similar position as you in building out their CX program?

RB: You need to ground the CX in your strategy and secure that you have top management buy-in. After that, you need to somehow find a way to assess your current situation. You could do that with Forrester, or with others, but you need to do it.

LBJ: Make sure that everyone understands that this is not a project. There may be improvement activities initiated along the way, but the bottom line is that a long-term commitment is required by everyone so that we remain competitive in the age of the customer.