Leading in the Age of Disruption: A CEO’s Perspective on Unicorns, Butterflies and Really Fast Caterpillars

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us and next-gen technologies are disrupting products, services and entire industries at an astonishing pace. Transformation is the name of the game and companies that aren’t ready or willing to adapt will be left behind.

Leading TELUS International since 2008, President and CEO, Jeff Puritt, has never been one to shy away from change or a challenge. As the driving force behind a company that has grown exponentially since its inception, Jeff continues to lead the ongoing transformation of TELUS International’s core business and operations to meet and exceed heightened client demands.

With the one-year anniversary of the company’s latest acquisition just celebrated, we spoke with Jeff about his company and team’s growth, why digital transformation and customer experience (CX) should be top business priorities in 2019, and his own experience as a transformational CEO in the digital age.


TELUS International has experienced substantial growth and evolved significantly under your watch. To what do you attribute your success?

Success has many parents and a lot of factors have contributed to ours. Certainly, making strategic acquisitions over the years accelerated the expansion of our global service capabilities to provide a more comprehensive suite of services to existing and prospective clients. Our two most recent acquisitions included Voxpro in August of 2017 – a US and Irish-based CX provider specializing in serving fast-growing tech companies; and Xavient Digital — a US and India-based next-gen IT solutions company a short six months later, in February 2018.

Most importantly, however, I’d say it’s our corporate culture and our team members who embody it that are the foundation of our sustained success. Culture is key at TELUS International, and our commitment to it has been consistently reflected over many years in our industry-leading employee engagement scores as measured by third-party surveyor, Aon.

In 2018, we achieved a score of 86% globally, which is up a significant three hundred basis points year-over-year. This correlates to our equally impressive attrition rates that continue to be more than 50% lower than those of our competitors in most of the regions where we operate.

Given that staff attrition costs companies dearly in terms of hiring, training and retraining, not to mention the obvious impact it has on proficiency, businesses should be doing everything in their power to recruit and retain great employees. And, when you’re a customer service provider like us, there is another, perhaps less obvious cost at play; less engaged or disengaged workers might damage the reputation of the brand they were hired to serve — and that cost could be exponential and irreparable.

Essentially, I believe it comes down to this: If you hire people who share your values and you treat them well, providing them with opportunities for personal and professional growth, and you invest in the communities where we all live, work and raise our families, your employees will reciprocate by rewarding you with loyalty and engagement, staying with your company over the long-term to grow their careers and give you their very best, every single day.


TELUS International Regional Leadership Forums, such as this one in Manila, are held annually in every region globally to provide company updates, discuss business priorities and recognize employees’ achievements.


How did you discover TELUS International’s niche in the customer experience industry?

Providing customer experience and digital solutions to some of the world’s largest and most disruptive brands, we don’t subscribe to the “your mess for less” mentality by offering the lowest price through the exploitation of wage arbitrage. We’re not interested in fulfilling that value proposition.

Instead, we focus on partnering with like-minded organizations where we can be trusted advisors and truly add value, from strategy to training to operational implementation. This was a real gap in the industry when we first began, and we’ve been able to leverage that opportunity to become a participant of consequence in global customer service delivery.


In your opinion, what is one of the most definitive and long-lasting trends that will continue to shape the customer experience?

I think personalization is here to stay, and it will underpin the evolution and development of so many technologies. Customized ads, customized service, customized experiences: everything will be tailored to the individual.

This drive for personalization is already supported by AI, machine learning, advanced data analytics, conversational bots and so on. We see this kind of high-tech, high-touch approach in action across all consumer touchpoints, such as on social media, with online and in-person shopping, in chats and on calls.

We’re connected in ways we never were before and TELUS International is committed to leveraging and developing these technologies to better support our team members so they can deliver against these heightened expectations.


Any words of caution?

With the advent of next-gen technology and its capabilities, everybody’s trying to collect as much customer data as possible in the quest for better, more profitable businesses. I think that will change as public opinion shifts about what people are and aren’t comfortable giving up in terms of their personal information and as more governments make and revise privacy regulations. We can’t undo the disruption, so businesses will need to have a strategy in place to utilize the technology in different ways to create responsible solutions that will help them remain connected to consumers.

Also worthy of note here, when it comes to the challenge of a data ‘gold rush’, I fear many companies are unknowingly suffering from ‘InfoObesity’ — gorging themselves on an inconsumable amount of data. Companies need to focus more on the quality of data vs. the quantity of data.


Can you expand on how AI and automation will impact the customer service delivery industry from a staffing perspective?

There’s a lot of concern that robots are going to steal our jobs.

It’s not an unjustified fear; there are definitely roles — especially unskilled or low-skill — that have already been automated, and many more at risk of disappearing as the AI revolution marches onward.

In customer service, my view is that the solution isn’t to acquiesce to the robots. Rather, it’s to leverage the technology to work side-by-side with human agents, to perform the more basic tasks such as simple password resets, data plan top-ups, package tracking, account checks and so on. By reducing the number of these simple, predictable, repetitive tasks, you free up your customer service representatives to dedicate more time and energy to address more complex customer queries.

AI can also enable a better human-delivered customer experience. For example, using AI to ensure that agents can see every interaction the customer has had with the brand, whether via voice, social media or email before they even engage with a customer will ensure they don’t need to repeat any previous information and the issue can be more quickly and fully resolved. Or if real-time data identifies a learning opportunity for an agent, AI can deliver training between calls for live, on the spot coaching that drives a better customer experience.

What separates the best companies when it comes to customer service is the keen ability to determine which customer service functions AI can handle on its own and which cases need to be handled by a human with AI assistance.


When you’re a customer service provider like us, there is another, perhaps less obvious cost at play; less engaged or disengaged workers might damage the reputation of the brand they were hired to serve — and that cost could be exponential and irreparable!


Many leaders nowadays are contemplating developing a digital strategy and integrating new technologies. What’s your advice to them?

To paraphrase a quote I recently heard, having a digital strategy will soon seem as silly as the need for an electricity strategy; I think it really has become that critical in the age of disruption. Leaders need to spend less time talking about it and start acting on it, recognizing that their future competitiveness is inextricably tethered to their ability to make digital evolution part of their DNA.

Overcoming aversion to risk and having the courage to think bigger and ‘play-to-win’ rather than ‘not-to-lose’ are essential mindsets. Leaders must be fearless in the face of evolving to new business models, energizing the organization in new ways and creating a culture that empowers teams to act boldly, question relentlessly and strive for results. Digital transformation goes well beyond the technology and is more about how to sync talent, culture and organizational structures with digital environments.

Ultimately, leaders must recognize that embarking on a digital transformation journey does not have to mean changing their company’s entire ecosystem in one fell swoop. It can mean taking one small step, such as partnering with a company like TELUS International to develop a bot or a simple AI platform that provides better call routing and can grow from there. What’s most important is to get in the game, start pilot projects and learn as you go in order to drive bigger changes down the road.


We Give Where We Live. More than 1,300 volunteers made up of TELUS International employees, their family members and friends, and the company’s clients, built a community youth center at a 2018 TELUS Days of Giving event in El Salvador.


In what ways are you taking your own advice?

For us, digital transformation represents the opportunity to leverage technology to support and enable our engaged team members to deliver the best customer experiences. In today’s fast-growing digital economy, disruptive forces, driven by technology, are creating sought after differentiated customer service that is at the heart of business growth and market share gains.

One of the major areas we’re focused on right now is advancing our next-generation IT consulting and delivery capabilities. This includes AI-powered digital transformation services, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design, open-source platform services, cloud services, over-the-top solutions, Internet of Things (IoT) — the list goes on.

It’s ambitious, but we have developed the talent, made ongoing investments in the necessary resources, built the global network and have the successful track record necessary to get the job done. Admittedly, this is a journey, not a destination, and we have much work and opportunity ahead of us to continue to do more and to be better.


What do you think established companies should learn from the startups trying to disrupt them?

IDG’s 2018 State of Digital Business Transformation report has some pretty eye-opening facts. It says 55% of startups have a digital business strategy, versus 38% of traditional enterprises. Incredibly, these startups can boost revenue by 34% by relying on digital-first strategies. The tech unicorns of the world will be the first to tell you that one secret to their success is their willingness to experiment — and willingness to fail. More mature companies need to embrace this mentality if they want to compete against and outperform these new kids on the block. Doing nothing is making a choice, and nowadays, the risk of status quo is far greater than the risk of transformation.


Failure is a big part of implementing new tech. What have you learned from trying out new technologies?

You can’t avoid failure, but you can definitely limit your exposure by being laser-focused on achieving your long-term goals. At TELUS International, we have a deeply ingrained customer-first culture. We want to make sure customers have the best possible experience so that they come back again and again. The better we do, the better our clients perform.

We start with something we already know: Smartphones and mobile technology have revolutionized business and continue to shape customers’ expectations. Then we break it down: The growth of this sector has spurred a huge demand for a multitude of support options — FAQs, live agents, email, SMS, etc. The catch is, all these channels have to work together. If someone wants to start online shopping on a smartphone, finish it up on a desktop computer and then Facebook message the company with a question, we need to identify the right tech and processes to make sure it’s a consistent and seamless experience.


What separates the best companies when it comes to customer service is the keen ability to determine which customer service functions AI can handle on its own and which cases need to be handled by a human with AI assistance.


In what ways have you been a transformational CEO in this era of rapid change?

History is littered with examples of companies that focused solely on technology without investing in organizational capabilities to ensure their positive impact. I realized early on in my career that you need to think of your team as the keys to ‘start the car’ – without them, you go nowhere. This is even truer today, in an age when technology is ‘threatening’ to displace humans.

Think about it – how likely is it that your employees will adopt and embrace a technology that may immediately or eventually negatively impact them and their role? The answer is ‘not likely’, unless you create an environment in which you communicate, and they recognize and truly believe on a visceral level that your plan is to concurrently invest in and upskill them so they are better able to work in concert with the technology.

For this reason, leading by example, I work diligently to ensure that we foster the right mindset and culture among our team members. What good is a strategy written down on a piece of paper when success hinges on its execution? My role as a transformational CEO is to make sure everyone ‘gets’ it when it comes to organizational change — that they understand the plan, how it will affect them and how they can personally contribute to its implementation. Each individual should know what they are working on today, this week and this month that will directly impact our objectives and goals.

But, more important than the ‘what’ we are all doing, is ‘how’ and ‘why’ we are doing it. At TELUS International, our value proposition sums it up well: We empower the human experience through digital enablement, agile and lean thinking, spirited teamwork, and a caring culture that puts customers and the value of human connection first. These aren’t just words on a boardroom wall, we strive to instill it in every decision we make and every action we take, reverberating throughout the company.


How do you ensure your team members are happy and feel valued? What makes them want to give you their best?

Companies can no longer subscribe to a ‘one size fits all’ mindset when it comes to what matters most to their people. In the digital age, companies must leverage data and insights to help direct where investments are made throughout the company in order to achieve the greatest positive impact.

Employees thrive and grow with one-on-one coaching, heartfelt encouragement and personalized recognition. Companies that meaningfully prioritize the employee experience by marrying digital transformation with a human connection will most often have engaged, inspired and motivated teams that are more adaptable to the workplace changes brought about by the new digital era.

Ongoing training and development are also key in my opinion. Technology investments have significant potential to drive growth and operational success, but only if companies make simultaneous investments in strategic learning and developmental roadmaps to upskill employees, along with forward-looking recruitment plans that target requisite new skill sets for today and for the future.

Last – but certainly not least – is making employees part of something bigger than themselves by providing opportunities to volunteer and make a positive impact in our local communities. At TELUS International, giving back is part of our cultural DNA, and I have no doubt that our passionate commitment in this regard has helped us attract and retain the best people who are consistently delivering on our company’s ambitious goals, which has ultimately led to our exponential growth over the years.


Do you have any last words of advice when it comes to digital transformation?

First, you ought not to delegate digital transformation. When some businesses set up innovation hubs or appoint a Chief Innovation Officer, there is a temptation for the rest of the organization to assume that innovation is being taken care of elsewhere. You must ensure your entire organization is on board and involved to avoid widespread apathy.

Second, although digital transformation may be top of mind for many, too often the security component is an afterthought. Like making a cake, security considerations need to be baked in, not just layered on top like icing. Companies must simultaneously increase awareness of, and adherence to, new security and privacy considerations brought about by the digital era, going as far as to include a security component in each employee’s role description.

Last, many executives continue to be focused on digital transformation as a way to more efficiently, quickly and cost effectively continue to do what they have always done when I think their time would probably spent asking themselves and getting clear on what business they are really in.

Once leaders ask themselves this one difficult question and get to a clear answer, they must then be constantly looking for ways to apply that definition to new technologies and new markets, thereby perpetually unlocking huge new growth opportunities. MIT researcher, George Westerman, said it best, “When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but when done wrong, all you have is a really fast caterpillar.”

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