Case study: Why having an exchange with our customers is critical

Credit: Telstra

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Customers expect more all the time from the companies with which they choose to do business. Better services, better value, a better experience and increasingly, better explanations.

Companies should be transparent in all of their dealings and the best companies understand your needs before you do. Above all else, those who deliver a truly brilliant experience will have magnetic qualities.

When transparency and service fall down, the reaction is swift and “punishment” increasingly visible.

With transparency comes opportunity. People expect plain answers. Edelman’s respected Trust Barometer shows customers want to hear more from everyday employees, or “people like me.”

These factors have driven a significant change in how Telstra, as one example, offers context to practical issues of the day, uses technology and manages related community interests.

Almost 400,000 unique visitors came to Telstra Exchange, our news and ideas hub, during February and March. On our first anniversary of a major relaunch, we received compelling endorsement of the platform.

No place for corporate speak

The catalyst was a disappointing trio of network interruptions, following five years without major fault. Customers were surprised, confused and sometimes angry given what they expect with our reliability.

While the causes were very technical, we sought to explain, in very human terms, what had happened. We posted four times to Exchange on top of near-continuous updating of social media, responses to journalists, industry and investor speeches by our head of operations and specialist media briefing.

In this age of second-critical communication, there is no place for corporate speak or non-availability. Customers want it now and they want it clear.

Don’t try to be something you’re not

In the year since we relaunched Telstra Exchange, user traffic has risen to almost 120,000 unique visitors a month—more than 1.4 million for the period.

Our relaunch vision was simple—provide news, insights and opinions around the way customers use technology to connect. Deliver the best elements of an online magazine, corporate newsroom and brand content hub without trying to be something that we are not.

On some days, Exchange is a direct news source explaining how customers can access emergency relief packages or call loved ones for free in disaster zones overseas. Other times, it’s a reliable how-to manual or a deep dive into small business or large enterprise areas of interest. Some days, it’s harmless fun or something unexpected such as a trivia quiz for Real Housewives of Melbourne.

Our top three stories over the past year included the announcement of our Telstra TV device, an article on How To Block Your Number and a recent network post responding to a service outage. We also promoted community grants through the Telstra Foundation on Exchange.

From an incendiary blog to today

What we’ve learned is that it must never be a selling exercise. Our external contributors are recognized as experts in their field, have interesting technology or experiences to share or simply know how to tell a good yarn. Often, Telstra is not even mentioned.

At a different level, Exchange gives you an unfiltered view of the mind and soul of this organization, assisted by our global employee base. More than 600 staff and partners have written contributions; these are people from all levels and all parts of the business.

Remember that Exchange has already had several lives. It was born as a very different, often far more incendiary blog called Now We Are Talking in 2005. In 2016, it warrants description both as one of Australia’s oldest corporate blogs and most widely read.

From a design perspective, we wanted to deliver an experience matching what you expect from the world’s most respected digital publishers and brand newsrooms. Mobile friendly, clean, uncluttered, easy to use and enticing to revisit.

Create to share

Exchange sits alongside other customer-facing activities such as our CrowdSupport customer community, Facebook and Twitter activities, Google+ community, significant LinkedIn presence and newer ventures such as customer updates on Periscope.

In the age of “create to share,” increased traffic through Exchange is driving presence on other platforms and giving our employees a way to represent Telstra if they choose.

Telstra Exchange will keep evolving to meet customers’ reading and sharing habits. Readers have an array of choices for information and we must reliably be one of them.

Like any traditional media organization, the return on investment relies on readership and ensuring the operation is meeting its brief. We analyze responses to every story to learn what best works and interests our audience.

Recent events have shown we are on the right path. While good and bad things will continue to happen in our world, we will share news, insights and expertise with our customers and the broader public.

It’s what they expect.

Jason Laird

Jason Laird is executive director of communication and chief social officer for Telstra in Australia. His career spans corporate affairs and strategic leadership counsel in Australia, Asia and the United States in companies and politics. Follow him on Twitter: @jasonlaird.

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