SDN Team
Author - SDN Team

This story is about the transformational journey of Telekom Deutschland GmbH (Deutsche Telekom) as it moves towards having a more customer-centric DNA.

This article by Maik Medzich and Pia Drechsel is part of Touchpoint Vol. 8 No. 2 - Design Thinking and Service Design Doing.  Discover the full list of articles of this issue or flip the preview to get a sneak peek at fascinating insights on this topic! Touchpoint Vol. 8 No. 2 is available to purchase in print and PDF format.

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As the market leader and incumbent of the German telecommunication sector, Deutsche Telekom faces a continuous need for change due to a rapidly changing market environment. Here, we would like to introduce you to a bottom-up approach, which was invented from within the company by just a few people. This group of voluntary ambassadors are the so-called Customer Experience (CX) Navigators, who act as coaches and spend part of their regular work time supporting other projects. The approach is easy yet compelling: “Don’t talk about cultural change – do it, and use the chances you get.” In the following story, you will be introduced to some protagonists who tell the story of the transformational journey from their perspective. 

THE BIRTH

“I have often been asked where the idea was born to start the CX community. This is difficult to answer, because it was born out of an iterative process of trying, failing, and then trying it again in a different way,” says Maik, one of the founders of the community.

“However, yet another strategy programme was the trigger to start something different. Not because the idea was born in this programme, but because nobody took accountability for the good ideas in that programme. It felt like designing a car and leaving out the engine,” he explained.

“One idea was a diamond in the rough: ‘We need people in our company who constantly challenge the status quo in terms of customer experience!’. At this time there was no budget allocated for this topic. But somehow we (a colleague and myself) were confident that we could make a change if we just started to do something. We tried to convince managers that it would be a great idea to establish CX ambassadors in each department. Not only to spread the word but also to use them as neutral coaches for a customer-centric approach, by spending 30% of their time on projects outside of their own area of work.” 

TAKE THE CHANCES YOU WILL GET

“Starting with just four people at the beginning, roughly trained (self-developed, and with no budget), and with a method called Customer Experience Blueprint (CEB; a combination of Customer Journey Mapping and Service Blueprinting), the community was born,” says Maik. “It may not be highly sophisticated in terms of methodology, but everything we did was better than doing nothing,” remembers Maik. “At this stage we had the chance to learn a lot and make mistakes without being afraid of the consequences.”

“We came across Design Thinking by chance, when we met the guys from This is Service Design Thinking. They introduced us to the Design Thinking process. Although we had no clue about it, we instantly saw the potential for our work and our initiative. No need to mention that we again needed to tread an unusual path to get some budget for training. This time we luckily found partners, like the Creation Center (the utmost experts for Design Thinking within Telekom Laboratories) and SHAREGROUND (a change incubator within Deutsche Telekom Group’s HR department), who trained the first wave of CX Navigators in Design Thinking.

“We were finally able to prove that the way we worked could be successful, and roughly 10 months after we started, the CX Navigator community grew up and received a formal assignment from the board of management,” says Maik. “However, there are still many challenges ahead.”

SELF-RESPONSIBILITY AND MEANINGFUL WORK DRIVES MOTIVATION

But what motivates the CX Navigators to join the community? For Annabel, that motivation is: “the chance to develop myself in terms of methodology and personal experience while constantly mastering new challenges - in both my work and personal life.”

“We are co-designers of the community”, she says, “it’s like raising a child: We all have responsibility to refine the community work as we think it’s necessary. The job of doing customer experience feels like I’m finally there; we all feel that we do the right thing for the company. And after completing CX Boot Camp, I felt like I needed to go on immediately to not let the euphoric feeling pass away. Luckily a more experienced navigator took me into a project that had just started and I could actually learn on the job,” says Annabel. 

Interestingly, it is not always the so-called ‘high performers’ who are keen to join, but the people from the second row, something nobody expected at the beginning.

© Telekom Deutschland GmbH

Let’s have a look at this from an outside perspective. Pia is the co-founder of the Design Research Company, who has supported the CX Navigators from the beginning.

“At the Design Research Company, we have always been focused on developing a methodology with our customers and facilitating Design Thinking projects,” says Pia. “When I began my first project together with the CX Navigators I was unaware of the change they would eventually evoke. The first workshop was a twoday customer workshop. A group of Telekom colleagues were chosen to conduct the workshop but they first had to be trained in a customer-centric methodology. Most of them had little to no experience in customer research or any other design-related methodology. We came up with a format that enabled them to conduct a full day customer workshop the very next day – the first Design Thinking Boot Camp was born.

“While this first workshop was pretty chaotic, the following projects and workshops became more structured and established a clearer purpose. We developed a format that a few Navigators could conduct on their own and train larger groups of people. Over the past two years, my function has changed from a project designer and facilitator to a Design Thinking coach for this growing community.”

Not only the high-performers are keen to join the community, but the people from the second row.

PROS AND CONS OF A SIMPLE APPROACH

In the beginning, Pia was sceptical of this project’s feasibility. She had her doubts that her customers would be able to achieve the results they were aiming for.

“They were not designers,” she explains. “Nor were they experts in the field of customer research.” However, the approach of CX Navigators has been to create a learning community, in which internal positive engagement is more rewarding than any outside factors and the increase in projects and applicants for the community speaks for itself. The CX community is doing so well that there is often the need to pass projects on to external agencies, essentially spreading the success.

“Today, our mutual aim is to convey a holistic Design Thinking approach in which we enable people to partake in the whole journey and to truly own the process,” says Pia. “It is a learning experience for both me and my customers. My role has unexpectedly transformed and I have become a part of the community and a part of the change itself.”

STARTING TO CHANGE

But who are the customers? Let’s talk to Max. Max is a commercial manager at Deutsche Telekom, and is responsible for the commercial launch of new products.

“Like many large organisations, we tend to focus on short-term metrics rather than long-term experience. The work of the CX team supports and challenges us in order to gain better arguments for discussions with regards to budget and timing,” Max explained.

“I became aware of the CX Navigators by word of mouth through a colleague. After undergoing a pilot project, I feel more confident than ever in arguments, and discussions about ‘if’s and ‘but’s have decreased,” he continues. 

Essentially, it was a side effect of being customer focused which turned out to be the strongest argument for product and commercial managers such as Max to follow a user-centric approach.

“Another very important benefit is that the CX Navigators have a dedicated role as process coaches without having responsibility for the result. Especially at the beginning when the methodology was totally new to our project team, it was necessary to get their guidance,” Max says.

Today Max executes Design Thinking methods for his products with just a little help from the CX community. This change has proven successful. Of course, not every internal customer is like Max, according to Maik. “In the beginning we were not often hired for full-scale design sprints. Not running a full sprint involves the risk that the output is not as powerful as it could be. After a while we started to challenge the projects more consistently and sometimes even reject inquiries. The community does this without any outside influences or board decisions,” Maik says, looking back.

Blueprint for CX DNA
Blueprint for CX DNA - © Telekom Deutschland GmbH

GETTING LEADERS INVOLVED

In every transformational project, you will meet managers who either support, ignore or deny the change, often with the following arguments: 

“I have too many projects on my own table, I can’t commit the resources.” The response to this is that we move to a ‘fair share’ model – in that one can demand the same amount of resource, as they spend – no less, no more.

“I would prefer to build up my own team.” Yes, OK, but think about the benefit of having a Navigator who is new to your challenges and has a dedicated role uninfluenced by a line manager’s priorities. However, there are critical challenges for the Navigators: “Our main issue is that we have to compete with other priorities in terms of projects demanded by superiors,” says Annabel.

Maik elaborates further: “[This is] something we work on with our board mentors and the board of management, who are already committed the community idea and the idea of 30% work-time.”

“Every now and then we also hear something like this: ‘In my opinion this does not work, because the system of our hierarchical company does not support this. Just think about benefits, goals and quarterly feedback talks.’ In response, I always ask: ‘Does this mean that the idea is wrong or that the system needs to change?’

“We are working on the latter; we are going to introduce a manager’s circle of CX Navigator superiors to better understand their challenges,” says Maik. 

“You may ask yourself, why the hell are we trying to do it this way, when the easier way is so obvious: Put some experts in a department and let them do the job. We considered this as well, but in the end this would mean that a group of experts do the job (who – in the worst case – have no clue about operational business), so it’s always ‘them’ and not ‘us’. Additionally, our idea of a cultural transformation includes the vision that someday everybody will be doing Design Thinking. What will your experts be doing then?” 

EVOLVING A FRAMEWORK

“Over time and several learning cycles,” continues Maik. “We have developed a framework that we can use in order to follow our approach of transforming the corporate culture. This is nothing we do on our own. By now we have many supporters and partners that we cooperate with, and at the core we have the CX Navigator community, who are the fuel for the engine. All other areas have evolved over time. It is still a step-by-step process.”

One big challenge was to create a physical space, Maik explains. “We wanted it to be at our main headquarters as a visual symbol that could be used for our new work approach. When we started looking for a room, nobody would listen. We had to use a well-known trick to convince managers: We arranged to get a group of relevant people into a creative space during a Design Thinking sprint in Berlin to experience such an environment themselves. Somehow we managed to give them the feeling that it would be a great idea to have a space like that for themselves [at our headquarters] in Bonn. It took us another nine months until the ‘CX Garage’ opened its doors.” 

Step by step we have developed a framework to transform the corporate culture, which is still iterating.

SUMMARY

“Looking back over the past 25 months, we started with just four CX Navigators, no budget, and no clear or formal assignment by the board,” says Maik. “We have experienced a lot of ups and downs, but we always followed the same principles we try to teach to our colleagues: ‘Start small, but start and trust the process’. Today, we have around 30 active CX Navigators and a long list of applicants. Our committed goal is to grow to at least 100 Navigators across Deutsche Telekom. We have found sponsors for our ‘CX Garage’ and the next one is in development. We have two board members mentoring the community and we still have all the freedom to develop our approach as we find it appropriate.”

This is a story of no regulations, no top-down decision making – just coaching and mentoring. Recently, there have been requests beside supporting product and service design challenges but to help design new leadership and culture projects. The change is evolving. Product managers such as Max start doing customer-centric work on their own. Entire business units change more of their regular project work towards a Design Thinking approach.

Maik sums it up nicely: “These are achievements that we clearly attribute to the ambassador role of the CX Navigators. We are cultural change!” 

Pia Drechsel
Pia Drechsel - Designer and Researcher

She helps businesses to create user-centric products and services through the means of Design Research and Design Thinking.

Maik Medzich
Maik Medzich - CX Designer

Maik Medzich has studied business informatics and has been part of the Deutsche Telekom group for more than 15 years.

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