TELUS International: The Future is Friendly – Jeffrey Puritt

The rapid advancement of telecommunications technology has raised the bar for the provision of customer service. Jeffrey Puritt, of TELUS International, explains to Rod James how investing in talent, building long-term customer relationships and instilling strong company values can ensure these heightened demands are met.

Amid the economic turmoil of the past few years, the telecoms industry has proven to be a global success story. The increasing sophistication of mobile technology and high-speed internet, and the central role they have come to play in our lives, have set the industry on a path of steady upward growth. The huge success of products such as the Apple iPhone has given mass exposure to technologies that were once the preserve of gadget enthusiasts and computer scientists.

This success has, in turn, raised the expectations of consumers, not only in terms of products and services but also in the customer support they receive. End-users want service when it's required, through the channel with which they are most comfortable.

According to Jeffrey Puritt, president of TELUS International, the global arm of Canada's second largest telecommunications company TELUS, providers cannot shy away from these market demands.

"The telecoms industry begets a higher degree of expectation as we are using our creativity to deliver ever more capable devices and faster download speeds, and really whetting the appetite for bigger, better and more," he says. "It may be unwise to always push people to the web for assistance, particularly if that's not what they want. You need to make yourself available at a time that's suitable for them and through the medium that they choose."

Customer engagement

TELUS International has more than 13,600 employees, who provide business process, information technology and contact centre outsourcing solutions from facilities located around the world. It has spent the past few years studying this broad range of customer engagement models and has responded accordingly.

In 2008, for example, the company identified a growing need for Spanish-language services among many of its American corporate clients. After considering 104 different partners throughout Central and South America, as well as 47 locations in 14 US states, it decided to establish a new site in Nevada, and concurrently acquired multiple customer delivery sites in partnership with Transactel, which operates out of Guatemala and El Salvador.

"We built fairly comprehensive evaluation criteria that included language proficiency and skills among the labour force, education, infrastructure, as well as values and culture," Puritt explains. "We also wanted to set up base somewhere that was in a North American time zone, with geographic proximity that would make things easier for our customers and our team members in the call centre. I believe we've found what we were looking for!"

As well as allowing it to cater for the Spanish-speaking demographic during the most convenient time of day, the expansion had the dual purpose of improving TELUS International's redundancy and back-up capabilities, further boosting the reliability of its service.

"Our Spanish-speaking customer base was growing, but we also identified a way in which we could achieve multiple objectives concurrently," Puritt explains. "A year and a half ago, a severe typhoon [Typhoon Ketsana] hit our offices in Manila, Philippines. Our infrastructure remained intact, but the flood waters prevented many of our agents from making it in to work. With our Canadian, US and Central American facilities online, all connected by our carrier-grade communications network, we were able to seamlessly reroute calls back from the Philippines to our onshore and nearshore facilities, never missing a beat!"

Continuous improvement

In Puritt's view, this close attention to customer requirements is part of a shift to a more sophisticated outsourcing approach, which vendors must adopt if they are to stay on top. Rather than looking for short-term transactional relationships, companies must look to develop long-term strategic partnerships that strive towards continuous service improvement.

"If an outsourcing customer comes to us for the sole purpose of achieving financial savings, but with no vision for future customer experience improvements, I worry that it's more likely to be a short-term relationship," he explains. "You have to provide sustainable solutions and work with your customer constituency towards a partnership that is truly collaborative. There is an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with the objective of delivering an enhanced client experience - you both invest, both take risks and both share in the reward."

Forming these relationships is primarily, in Puritt's opinion, about having the right people on board and making sure they understand the core values of both your business and the client's. TELUS operates by the brand promise 'the future is friendly' and has an extensive corporate responsibility programme through which this idea is put into practice and brought to life every day. The company also invests greatly in its TELUS International University, which helps to improve the skills and capabilities of its agent workforce.

"Excellence has to exist in your tools and your processes, but most importantly in your people," he explains. "These programmes obviously benefit us but, even if a team member chooses to move on, we like to think we've helped them to ensure a better future for themselves and their families. I think this pays dividends to us and our customers see the difference too."

Individual development is part of a two-pronged approach to creating solid, long-term customer relationships, with analytics playing the other part. TELUS International feeds back real-time data based on its call patterns, which allows customers to monitor the most pressing concerns and act on them. The company does not aim not to drive transactional call volumes but to figure out a way in which its customers can take fewer phone calls, an apparent contradiction acknowledged by Puritt.

"This sounds counter-intuitive when you are being paid by the call but, since our goals are longer term and process driven, it has resonated with our customers," he says. "We've seen a doubling of our business twice over in the past four years and are very optimistic that this trend will continue."

Play to your strengths

To ensure that these relationships bear as much fruit as possible, Puritt believes in identifying and maximising TELUS International's areas of expertise. Overstretching or throwing yourself into projects without the requisite experience will inevitably lead to failure.

"None of us can be masters of everything and, if we try, we are at some point likely to fall down," Puritt says. "You need to pick your spots, whether that's industry vertical or horizontal solution expertise, and then build niche capabilities in connection with them. This could mean chat, leveraging social media or a number of other areas. And of course, you need the investment and financial wherewithal to stand behind your guarantee of excellence in that field."

Looking ahead, Puritt envisages a few significant trends emerging in the outsourcing space that could affect the way that customer support staff carry out their jobs. Although there will still be a main office to act as a beachhead, he sees the workforce becoming far more flexible, enabled by technological advancement.

"I think we will see a trend away from more bricks and mortar-oriented solutions," he explains. "As long as you have the requisite technology you can now operate anywhere in the world. At-home agents with the right language and technology skills can really change the nature of the industry."

Future opportunities

As far as TELUS International is concerned, it will carry on investing in serving its core customer segments such as telecommunications, gaming and consumer electronics, and energy and utilities. The company will keep an eye out for new offshore destinations, options which will expand as political stability and infrastructure in the emerging world continue to improve and develop.

"We have the advantage of being part of a $10bn company in Canada that has afforded us the opportunity to invest in world-class technology, and attractive pay and benefits programmes for our team members," he explains. "We have a true onshore, offshore and nearshore blended solution, which can absolutely assure 100% business continuity for our customers.

"Most importantly, I really believe we have brought to life our future friendly brand promise by, among other things, leveraging our philosophy of corporate social responsibility to give where we live and empowering our team members to give back to the communities where we work, live and serve through activities like our annual TELUS Day of Giving. This has directly correlated to our having world-class team engagement scores, as measured by Hewitt and Associates. Happy team members plus world-class technology and processes leads to satisfied customers - sometimes I think we make it more complicated than it needs to be!"

As business picks up across the outsourcing sector and with Central America becoming an increasingly popular destination, the future does indeed look friendly for TELUS International.