'Our service hasn’t been good enough' — Vodafone boss touts big changes, call centres coming back to NZ

CEO of Vodafone New Zealand Jason Paris says changes planned for the company over the next 12 months, including bringing call centres back to New Zealand from offshore, will revolutionise customers’ experience.

Jason Paris. Source: Supplied

It was announced yesterday that Vodafone will be cutting 200 jobs amid a company ‘re-shape’ while investment in more frontline staff is being planned, along with an acceleration of a long-term strategy plan which Paris expects to be in place by February 2022.

He says no customer service team roles were cut in the re-structure.

“They were mainly in the back office, so roles like manual behind-the-scenes, middle management – where we had two or three people doing the same job.”

Paris, who has worked in the telecommunications sector for 10 years, says when he came into Vodafone two years ago, he found “many more challenges than he expected” but also “many more opportunities”.

The company is now investing $115 million into products to improve the sales and customer service side of the business and over $100 million in its mobile network across regions in the country.

“Customers want better,” Paris says “and I am always up front that our service hasn’t been good enough, and in too many instances isn’t good enough today – but we are getting better, and are investing a lot to go faster."

Paris says he tries to respond to emails from “every single customer”, because it’s “the only way I can find out what’s going on in the industry”.

He says when he came into the business, the tech side of it “wasn’t good enough”, calling it “historical chaos, which is why we haven’t been turning up as we should be".

Hence, Vodafone is set to fast-track its long-term strategy because, as Paris puts it, “we want our service to be a reason why customers join us and stay with us, not a reason they leave”.

Under his watch, the company has implemented an ‘escalation team’ — the X-Squad team, who become involved if the tech or retail team are unable to solve an issue. It means a customer will then be allocated a case manager, Paris explains. 

Amongst the further rollout of changes across the business will be on the call centre front, which Paris is aware has been a frustration for Vodafone customers.

The company has call centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch as well as consumer call centres that operate out of Pune in India and Manila in the Philippines.

He says the Vodafone Business call centre has “100 per cent been brought back to New Zealand”, acknowledging that while the company has “great people overseas” the accent barrier has proved “really difficult”, often leading to miscommunication.

Vodafone to cut 200 jobs amid 'business re-shape'

The same is true for the consumer call centre, which he says by the end of 2021 will also largely be based in New Zealand.

He offered an example of if someone was moving house and needed to call Vodafone about getting a service connected to a granny flat associated with the house “the line would just go quiet” at the other end.

“People in those countries don’t know what a granny flat is,” he says, saying it just made sense to bring many of the call centre services back home.

Paris says with the rollout of a new Amazon Connect call centre platform, customers will be redirected faster.

Mobile and broadband call centre services will return to New Zealand shores but some services such as billing will stay offshore.

He says it “makes no sense” to train up a whole lot of call centre staff in New Zealand and then make them redundant when the new system should reduce the need for people to call, due to improved services.

“We will finally have customers in one place, on one platform and it will transform the way our customers are served,” he says.

Even the company’s hold music is set for an upgrade. Paris says “legacy tech” has meant it’s been difficult to change even that small aspect of the customer experience.

He says since he was appointed at Vodafone there’s been “one song – Lorde, playing the whole time we’ve been here”.

“The tech is so complex and old now the cost of changing that one song would cost around $100,000 because the risk may be that it breaks the entire answering system."

Despite the bumps along with way, Paris says he’s immensely proud of Vodafone staff and what the business has achieved.

Company culture is a big deal to Paris and after yesterday’s announcement, he said staff were faring well.

“Change creates instability, without a doubt, but the culture here is amazing. Everyone has gone ‘bang on we cannot disagree with it,’” he says.

"This is a selfless organisation and this [change] is the right thing for Vodafone,” Paris says, adding, “the DNA of the culture was already phenomenal.”