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Igniting the Spark - Bringing The Digital Enabler To Life

Igniting the Spark — Bringing The Digital Enabler To Life

by Peter Kerr for Scoop Amplifier

Changing a name is, relatively speaking, the easy part of a re-invention. Changing a culture, getting all the ducks in a row, turning yourself inside-out to become customer-inspired is a much bigger challenge.

Naturally, in any business, not all staff are welcoming of change — and some employees have seen it happen so often, their skepticism is perhaps warranted.

But, based on a core understanding of New Zealanders' own internal operating systems and beliefs, Spark New Zealand went about creating a new internal philosophy which will ultimately be reflected in how its customers view it.

As well as an improved bottom line, Spark New Zealand wants its customers to love it.

In Part II of this Scoop Amplifier series Peter Kerr examines how Spark went about a customer-inspired evolution.

Contents - Igniting The Spark - Part 2:

First, understand New Zealanders' own unique operating systems
Never stop starting — then anything's possible
Employee concerns on name change shows they're passionate
Skeptical engineer sees the value in name change
Changing from the inside-out from a customer point of view
Using data to driver better customer experiences
Thanks at the heart of a Spark philosophy
Changes at the shop front to wow the customer
Simple measures to ensure a bright Spark future

Declaration: This content series was commissioned by Spark New Zealand Ltd. A strict protocol for the purposes of editorial freedom was agreed. The series was edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson. Scoop Amplifier is a business unit of Scoop Media. Please send feedback to


Jason Paris - Spark GM Home, Mobile & Business

First, understand New Zealanders' own unique operating systems

The smartphone may be an amazing device, but it is nothing until a person picks it up and starts using it. New Zealanders have our own traits compared to other countries

As the old Telecom was exploring issues of brand positioning, some of the talk was around how, with the smart phone, peoples' experiences have changed way beyond even five years ago.

“In the space of 60 seconds, partly because of such a phone, a person can be a dad, husband, mate, peer and mentor,” says Spark GM Home, Mobile & Business, Jason Paris.

“It is truly an amazing device.”

“The categorical feedback we got though was that yes, that's true, but this device is nothing till I pick it up. I'm the amazing one and I'm using it in amazing ways.”

Paris says this insight modified Spark New Zealand’s thinking.

“We thought that it isn't about the operating system on the phone, but about the human operating system and that it is really interesting how humanity is evolving as a result.”

As a result, Spark New Zealand realised it had to understand and perhaps own the unique operating system of New Zealanders.

This resulted in a body of work around the traits or codes of New Zealanders — factors that make us unique compared to other nations.

One of the major findings was that Kiwis regard success as something that is earned, not bought.

Equally, the notion of perseverance and a type of joy of failing was evident — the idea that you get back up on a bike if you've fallen off when learning to ride it.

“That can be summarised as give it a crack,” says Paris.

“It isn't necessarily about the number eight wire mentality, but more contemporary — along with determination and inner belief.”

It was these findings that provided a brief for Saatchi & Saatchi in their role of coming up with a tagline to Spark that could encompass these values to both customers and to its own people.


Image from Spark’s Never Stop Starting brand campaign

Never stop starting – then anything's possible

Spark New Zealand’s on a journey, and for it and the rest of New Zealand it is about starting, trialling, learning and always moving

“It's reflecting back at New Zealanders,” says Paris, a trait. And it equally applies to Spark itself.

Never stop starting is our version of Nike's Just do it he says.

“For New Zealanders and ourselves it is about starting, trialling,” says Paris.

“It is around the idea it is better to do something than not do it. To learn.

“When you start something, anything's possible.”

With 18 months momentum behind the new strategy, plus the addition of the five key insights Paris says Spark's been meticulously working through bringing these to life.

He recognises there will be naysayers and some criticism at Spark New Zealand’s official launch.

“But give us a crack,” he says. “What we're saying is, this is a journey. We're not going to get it all nailed from day one.”

“Today we're confident that we're best in the market and there's no way we're resting on our laurels.”


Wendy Hammonds - Head of Human Resources for Spark Home, Mobile & Business

Employee concerns on name change shows they're passionate

There's been social media comment from Spark New Zealand’s own employees about the rebranding. That's good according to Wendy Hammonds, and you'd be worried if they didn't raise concerns or issues

The idea of Spark, a brand name change, and more importantly a culture change within the organisation is easy enough when discussed at top levels.

But it is Spark New Zealand's people, its staff, who are responsible for the doing of all that is embodied in the change.

It shouldn't be surprising that the change should bring questioning and comment from employees — with social media outlets which have proliferated in recent years being one means of expressing likes and dislikes.

Head of Human Resources for Spark Home, Mobile & Business, Wendy Hammonds says that with some large changes to deliver in the turnaround beginning a couple of years ago: “some people aren't going to be comfortable.”

“In this sort of environment, it does require some resilient personalities,” she says.

“What we're doing is undoubtedly a challenge, and with such big hairy goals, not everyone is going to buy into it. Given the dynamics from retail to call centres it couldn't be anything else.”

She also notes that personality differences between different types of employee can be important.

The engineering and IT personnel are experts at finding and solving a problem.

“By nature they're more cynical and pessimistic — it is part of the reason we hire them,” says Hammonds.

“Others are early adopters, while some will want some form of confirmation that the company's doing the right thing.

“If everyone was uniformly pro change it would show that we're hiring to type, and that would be a mistake.”

Hammonds says that employees raising concerns and issues shows they're passionate about the business, but quite loyal at the same time.


Neal Richardson - Spark Fixed Voice & Mobile Network Resource Manager

Skeptical engineer sees the value in name change

When his own mates expressed the meaning of Telecom was a telephone, they understood why Neal Richardson said that Spark New Zealand is much more than that

Some of Neal Richardson's friends who're in other industry and meet for an early morning have given him a hard time about Spark New Zealand.

“These are good mates. But when I asked them what Telecom meant, they said, a telephone,” says the Fixed Voice & Mobile Network Resource Manager.

“I said, that's why we have to change, because we're not in the business of telephones and copper wire anymore.

“Telephones are still part of the foundation, but more we're in TV, music, mobile, broadband, even something like Qrious.

“They got it, and could see why it is a good idea to change a name.”

But Richardson says he did struggle with the name change himself for a while. The skeptical side of him suggested this, having already been through seven or eight name changes in 30 years.

Part of this were lines around being customer-inspired, and being adaptable — something he felt that was already part of the conversation.

“Then I figured that we already had the right mentality, but it was being reinforced around good behaviours that we are already doing,” he says.

“For example, it’s knowing and doing, if something's wrong, bringing it to the attention of the appropriate people.

“Be upfront, keep things on the right track and do the right things.”


The website provided the place for ideas and questions, and Spark’s actions like this example

Changing from the inside-out to a customer point of view

Making sure its own leaders have a continually refreshed view and exposure to customers is part of the reform that's taken place within Spark New Zealand. Why does it matter?

Spark New Zealand doesn't have the usual mantra of being customer-focused.

“Being customer-focused doesn't necessarily mean you've listened to them,” says Wendy Hammonds, Head of Human Resources for Spark Home, Mobile & Business.

This is one of the reasons Spark New Zealand introduced its customer-inspired programme as one of the central pillars of bringing about a change of culture in the company's 5000 people.

A major part of this has been developing skills around 'active listening' she says — starting with the wider leadership teams.

Under this, leaders have been given two new requirements.

“It is something we've never done before, and isn't a common practice,” says Hammonds.

“All these managers are now expected to have at least three hours exposure to direct customer experiences each month.

“We want these non-frontline people to go out and live and find out what staff are experiencing, and what the customer feedback is.”

This could involve going on a sales call with the big enterprise people, going to a call centre and listening as calls are received or spending a day in the retail shop.

“It is all about obtaining customer insights,” she says.

“We then want them to bring back what they've learned, and apply it to creating a better customer experience.”

Hammonds says the new email initiative is another example of the reformed company actively seeking others' ideas — whether they come from an external or internal source.

“It really is a new way of doing things,” she says.

“By actively listening, we've found that people are passionate about New Zealand and technology, and more importantly we give an opportunity to get their ideas really sparking.”


Summer Collins - Head of Retention Spark Home, Mobile & Business

Using data to drive better customer experiences

Crunching the information from its own networks allows Spark to fine tune offers and experiences that a customer might appreciate

Spark Home, Mobile & Business Head of Retention, Summer Collins, is arguably the perfect person to comment on the company's commitment to looking after existing customers.

Collins has recently completed 12 months maternity leave, and came back to an organisation with a whole new pulse she says.

“Of course, all companies say they're customer-centric, it’s the holy grail, where you've got to be,” she says.

“But the changes that have taken place here in the past couple of years ensure that Spark's customer is upfront and in the centre.”

This is all around the philosophy of understanding what makes customers tick, how to keep them happy and retain them to Spark.

Much of the way Collins' team has been shaped is very much based around digital.

Across its networks, Spark New Zealand can retrieve a mass of data.

Applying its own analytics and experts to this big data allows Spark New Zealand to be able to sometimes offer products to customers, as well as a lot of predictive modelling and follow-ups from campaigns and marketing.

The main aim is to understand customers and what programmes work, building service experiences — and being able to test.

“As a team, we went to use data in the best way possible, and the purpose of that is to provide the best customer service,” says Collins.

Examples of using and understanding network data is providing a reassurance that an individual is on the right mobile phone plan, or building triggers into a user’s data usage so that a bill shock is less likely.


Image from Spark’s Thanks launch campaign

Thanks at the heart of a Spark philosophy

As Spark applies its Thanks to all customers, no matter how large or small they are, it has also introduced ways to recognise and say thank you to its own staff

Thanks will perhaps be the biggest outward change for Spark customers says Summer Collins.

The company's been trialling the idea in smaller campaigns and understanding customer reaction, feedback and responses.

“One important component is that thanks needs to be something all customers can access,” says the head of retention.

“Allow me something I can get no matter how much I spend with you.”

From that understanding says Collins, “as well as the recognition that all customers have a choice, so thanks for choosing us,” Spark's thanks offer is not just a one-off, but a gift that can be used as many times as they want.

The targeting of music and movies play to Kiwis love of both, with no restrictions says Collins.

And just because Spark New Zealand has identified Auckland and under 35s as key battlegrounds, the offers in music and movies have been designed to be nationwide, and available to all.

Understanding customer requirements is also behind the no term contracts now being offered by Spark.

Attempting to handcuff mobile and broadband users in this way is counterproductive, “as it is the customer's choice,” says Collins.

“But we do need to ensure reasons that they should stay with us, and to be competitive we need to be the best that they can choose.”

Part of the feedback received is that Kiwis want to be with a brand that they love.

Thanks, the movies and music is an appreciation from Spark, and an element that will evolve over time.

Collins also points out that the movies and music is being delivered in partnership with others, and that such synergies will also be evident in the future.

“We also know that Kiwis love to see the world,” she says, alluding to but not specifying a further thanks in the offing.

“I also have absolute confidence that what we're taking to market is steeped in customer understanding.

“I've also been pleasantly surprised at the groundswell of passion across our organisation to deliver this thanks proposition.”

After a year away, Collins has also observed how the thanks philosophy has been integrated across all Spark's channels including online, stores and call centres.

Thanks isn't just across its external customers either she says.

Spark is also focusing on easy accessible ways to say thank you internally; a recognition that a job is about more than its pay packet.


Craig Olsen - Spark Home, Mobile & Business Willis Store Manager

Changes at the shopfront to wow the customer

“It isn't just about selling a person a phone. It is about them walking out of the shop and them becoming advocates of Spark, rather than just customers.”

While the two and a half years that Willis store manager Craig Olsen's been with Spark Home, Mobile & Business have always been fun, one of the biggest recent changes has been in becoming more customer-centric.

“It's happened across all aspect of our business,” says Olsen.

“Early on, if one of our competitors brought out an offer, we'd be slow to react. It would take a week or so to produce a counter offer.

“Now, we can react overnight, if not at the same time.

“Now too, it is us that's putting the better offers out there, first.”

Olsen says such competition isn't necessarily about price, but in also having value-added service and in being able to “offer some really cool stuff.”

Another notable improvement has been in streamlining the sales process, making procedures more efficient in-store so that customers don't have to hang around too long to fill in the paperwork.

The company has always had team meetings every morning, and historically managers would go through the previous day's sales figures and what was sold.

“What's changed is we also talk about the customer-inspired moments that we've had,” he says.

“Things like, what did we do that wowed the customer, and how we can replicate that so others can do the same.

“It isn't just about selling a person a phone. It is about them walking out of the shop and them becoming advocates of Spark, rather than just customers.”

Some of what Olsen describes as simple conversations with customers can involve pointing our products and services that may save them money, or provide a better experience for not much more.

With between 350-400 people walking through their doors every day, the four-five customer service employees can always find good comments about what happened the day before he says.

Customers' reactions to the name change from Telecom to Spark varies.

There's always detractors, “who tend to comment, we'll wait and see what happens,” he says.

“Most people are open to the change, especially when you explain it isn't about looking after a copper line into a home, but about digital and being connected. Those people are really interested in where we're heading.”

Olsen regards the Never stop starting tagline as a fantastic statement.

“It means we're about customer-focused value add, about evolution rather than revolution,” he says.

“From our point of view, if all of us are thinking about what the next new things are or could be, its a pretty exciting place to be.”


Images from Sparks ‘Never Stop Starting’ launch reflect the new customer focused brand in New Zealand

Simple measures to ensure a bright Spark future

A simple, customer-centric model will be a key metric in the company's assessment of just how well the reinvention has been.

Too often strategy and its outcomes are expressed in lofty management-speak which staff, shareholders and the general public struggle to understand.

But as Spark GM Home, Mobile & Business Jason Paris puts it, he should be able to have a conversation in an Invercargill pub (with his mates from the original city he grew up in) “and they're not going to call me a tosser.”

However, and as displayed on posters around Spark's Auckland headquarters, the five insights and inhibitors, being addressed by five key strategic programmes, will change what customers will say about the company as it delivers on its promises.

Customers will say:

1. You know me like no other
2. You value my business everyday
3. You bring me the new, cool stuff
4. You are the easiest to deal with
5. You are a brand I love an am proud to be with

“We presented the strategy to the Telecom board in January this year,” says Paris.

“They loved it for its simplicity and its customer-centricity.”

It was at this time that the decision to change the brand name was finally decided, as where the company intends heading “isn't reflective of the old Telecom.”

“So we moved to Spark.”



In Part Three of "Igniting the Spark" we will look at why Spark and New Zealand’s future are inextricably linked.

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