Turning BT into a customer-centric company

Oct 01, 2021

BT Ireland was recently shortlisted for the 2021 CX (Customer Experience) in Telecoms and CX Team of The Year Awards, having spent the last thirteen years on a journey to put customers at the centre of its business.

Back in 2008, BT Ireland was a very different organisation, not just in terms of the technologies it delivered to customers but also in the way it engaged with them. As a global-leading provider of network, security, cloud and data centre solutions, the company was tasked with taking its customers to the leading edge, although struggling to do it as effectively as it would have liked.

Around this time the concept of CX was starting to gain traction in boardrooms, the appreciation of a need to better understand customer journeys from the sales cycle through to customer service and ongoing support. The telecommunications industry has historically underperformed in CX, with most service providers finding it difficult to satisfy customers and use it as point of differentiation.  

When BT Ireland looked at its own business though this lens, there was too much customer dissatisfaction to be acceptable. To intensify the normal engagement challenges was the pressure of working in a fast-changing technology sector, where customers wanted their suppliers to be every bit as agile as the new wave of technologies they were delivering. “We knew we had a problem and that change needed to happen,” recalled Shay Walsh, Managing Director of BT Ireland. “We needed to improve the areas our customers were concerned about and create a better experience for them.” 

Changing customer conversations

BT took the decision to work with Deep-Insight, a specialist in helping companies improve their service to customers. The first step was to establish a customer experience assessment programme based around six-monthly surveys of the 180 customers BT had at that time. It looked for satisfaction ratings across a range of areas, from uniqueness in product offerings to customer service and operational capabilities.

Customers were asked to score ‘Customer Relationship Quality’ (CRQ) from 0-7. With an average score of 4.1, BT was shocked to discover it was in the ‘danger zone’ and there was a real risk of losing customers. When the second survey showed little improvement, BT Ireland began to delve deeper into its flaws. Service delivery was an issue, as it often is for telecommunication companies, and became a focus for BT as it looked to turn things around and make strengths out of weaknesses.

John O’Connor, Chief Executive of Deep-Insight, described how his organisation helped BT begin to do things differently. At an individual client level, it was about fixing issues more quickly; at a management level. “We're not experts in the ICT world, but we’re experts in distilling what customers say and playing that back to a senior executive team,” said O’Connor.

It is important to get the leadership on side for any kind of organisational change and improving CX is no exception, according to O’Connor.  Shay Walsh, MD of BT Ireland, made himself an advocate for the programme, speaking regularly on the subject to employees and sharing progress reports.

Consistent messages from leadership, and a recently formed team of CX champions, constantly reinforce the importance of listening to customers and acting on feedback. The team is headed up by Mary McDonagh with Deirdre Tyrrell as the Customer Experience Manager. By creating a new function and new roles, BT sent out a strong message about its commitment to CX and its plans to take the programme to the next level.

The next move was to develop new approaches to the CX by focusing on key areas of the business, including core products and service quality, customisation and flexibility, innovation and digitalisation (cloud migration), and security.

Measuring the improvement

To give customers a better experience, BT set about creating a culture where customer-centricity would be embedded in every corner of the company. Business managers, account directors, and services managers were encouraged to prioritise helping customers and making sure contracts were managed correctly. Each department had a specific focus on their own scorecards and goals around customer experience.

Dashboard metrics and governance structures were created, with relevant training put in place to improve employee understanding of the role that CX plays in well-executed projects. The main goal was to keep providing a good service to BT customers and make year-on-year improvements.

Account Development Plans followed on from individual account reports were implemented across the whole customer base. “We provide a report for every single one of the accounts, and everyone in the organisation is tasked with delivering an initiative that will help that figure rise against their own CRQ metrics,” explained John O’Connor.

Happy customers

Dramatic progress was made and by 2013 BT was scoring 5.5 CRQ for the first time, a Deep-Insight metric that signifies a watershed moment, where just under 70% of customers have become ambassadors for the company. At the same time, contract renewals were growing, a sure sign of that BT was doing something right. Typical length of engagement increased to 11 years on the wholesale side of the business, eight in the rest, and nine as the overall average.

In 2020, BT provided Deep Insight with more detail on customers, including what they spend and the services they buy, allowing further segmentation and filtering of the results. A Customer Watchlist was formed with analysis conducted across the entire customer base, categorising customers in terms of level of performance on a five-year trend. This information allowed  BT to dive deeper into customer insights and further evolve the customer experience.

BT Ireland has gone on to surpass its ambition of a 5.7 CRQ by achieving 5.9 in 2020 and doing it again in 2021.  This now places BT Ireland in the ‘unique zone’, the top 10% of companies for CRQ as ranked by Deep-Insight. “BT is one of the most customer centric organisations I've ever seen,” said O’Connor, emphasising that CX success is directly related to financial success.

All the good work proved timely during the last year, when businesses were forced into lockdown by the pandemic. BT worked with customers on a variety of projects to keep their doors open, including the delivery of circuit upgrades in record timelines and transitioning contact centres from on-premise office locations to home working solutions almost overnight.

Shay Walsh summed up the journey and the progress to date. “Everyone now understands the importance of putting the customer at the heart of what we do, and that has allowed us to build deeper and stronger relationships with our customers,” he said. “They now value our service as much as our commercial offerings and regularly recommend us to other companies. That is a huge change from over a decade ago and it’s testament to the hard work of everyone in BT Ireland.”

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