Krystal Barghelame

You might think there’s no bigger oxymoron in the business world than the phrase, “Telecom company with great customer experience.” But we can do that one better:

Post-Soviet telecom company with great customer experience.”

Given the reputation of most telecoms, this phrase likely evokes disbelief in the mind of anyone who has been a customer of a telecom company. It’s just utterly unfathomable.
Yet one such company has done just that. They’ve turned an oxymoron into a tautology. They’re called Beeline, and they’re leading a culture change around customer experience — not just in the telecom industry — but in the entirety of Russia.

Two years ago, Beeline faced a common crisis in telecom: the company was losing market share rapidly, and customers were churning without much explanation. The company knew generally that customers were unhappy with their service, but it didn’t have any specific knowledge around root causes — and thus no way to prioritize actions to improve.

Whereas some telcos in a similar position might address churn with short-term price fixes or by inserting terms into its contracts to “retain” (or more accurately, detain) customers, Beeline decided to meet its flagging customer experience head on. It first made the case to leadership by conducting a study on the financial impact of customer happiness. What they found quickly created buy-in for customer experience improvements: detractors were 2.5 more likely to churn than promoters.

They realized they needed an infrastructure to help monitor and improve their customer experience — but beyond that, what was paramount was transforming their culture to be more customer-centric. So how was Beeline able to create significant culture change — in an industry and country not known for exemplary customer service — at massive scale?

1. The ultimate executive engagement

Especially at big companies, culture often starts at the top. Without executive sponsorship, cultural improvements will, at best, be siloed and isolated. Much like Mercedes-Benz USA’s CEO, Steve Cannon, who declared that “Customer experience will be my legacy,” Beeline’s CEO, Mikhail Slobodin, wants to make his mark by proving that customer experience can be the strategic differentiator that ultimately leads to winning the market:

“Our task is to minimize customer problems as much as we can. […] We want to demonstrate to the market and prove to ourselves that the client-oriented strategy builds value. […] We want to be remembered as a company that proved to the market, to ourselves, and to our customers, that it is possible to achieve a high level of service quality in Russia and be profitable at the same time.”

2. Kaizen methodology: continuous improvement 

One central element of a customer-centric culture is the belief that the need to improve isn’t a one-time thing. In that spirit, Beeline has embraced the “Kaizen Model” — a methodology for continually identifying operational inefficiencies and customer issues, implementing solutions, and measuring results on an ongoing basis. Customer feedback is foundational to this process. It’s through feedback that Beeline gains the insights around which issues have are the most pressing for resolution.

“This Kaizen method is what customer experience is all about,” says Liuba Sabinina, Head of CE analytics and NPS Program Manager at Beeline. “Only when we looked through the customers’ eyes could we find hidden issues, break down organizational silos, and truly change processes to heal the pain of our customers.”

3. Communication with Customers: Experience as marketing

Sometimes, initiatives need positive reinforcement — and when it came to changing culture, Beeline saw an opportunity to do so by communicating changes to customers and realigning their low expectations. Thus, Beeline’s CEO voices the importance of customer experience both externally and internally. He has communicated broadly to the world that he intends to prove that customer experience is a viable model for generating future revenue through loyalty and retention.

To raise NPS adoption, Beeline’s CEO quizzed all 25,000 employees on their NPS metric knowledge, and those who passed received a heart-shaped pin branded in Beeline’s colors. The CEO also writes weekly emails celebrating NPS heroes across the company. Employees now consider the Net Promoter Score, or Наш Показатель Сервиса, a critical metric throughout the company.

4. Culture transformation is real.

Once a company takes a step in the direction of developing a customer-centric culture, it can create a virtuous cycle. Such has been the case at Beeline. As employees have begun to engage with customer feedback, a greater sense of ownership and collaboration has emerged — which leads to more happy customers and more of the same virtuous cycle. And encouraging results have extended beyond customer feedback all the way to the company’s bottom-line: Beeline has reduced churn for the first time in 3 years and has seen an average 10 point increase in NPS across each channel.

The deeper result of all of this? Beeline is driving less of a cultural shift — and more of a revolution.

Want to find out more about Beeline’s transformation into a customer-centric telecom? Download the case study to the right!

Photo credit: Katie Brady