Technology Blog

You’ve probably heard about AT&T’s ongoing transformation -- if not, look no further than your current blog destination. One of our core principles is that we place the customer and digital experience at the center of every solution AT&T builds and service we sell. To this point, I’m responsible for AT&T’s chat strategy and infrastructure. We rely on chat to resolve customer service issues that in the past would have required a phone call.

A year ago, we embarked on a journey to completely transform our online chat experience with the goal of delivering better service at a lower cost. At the very core of our strategy was replacing a 10-year old, 3rd-party chat platform that was held in place by contracts that spidered through 28 internal use groups. In hindsight, AT&T’s chat business model was broken. Change orders overlapped, priorities conflicted, technology was dated, altogether stifling innovation.

At the beginning of 2015, we had a detailed 12-month plan to migrate to a new chat system provided by TouchCommerce. But, due to external circumstances, our migration timeline was compressed to 60 days. This wasn’t desirable – quite frankly it seemed impossible given the complexity. Regardless, the bottom line was that we had to flash-cut to TouchCommerce in 2-months or chat would go dark for AT&T customers.

My first step was to gather our internal team and external partners to communicate a vision of rapidly replacing our chat infrastructure. I asked everyone to take personal responsibility of execution, even if it was outside of his or her scope. The re-engineering effort involved over 200 people from both AT&T and TouchCommerce working at breakneck speed, but also created previously unattained alignment and execution across divisions. Looking back, I believe five principles emerged that allowed a fast and effective rapid transformation.

  • Vision: Given the complicated nature of the effort, the team has to be tied together by the overall vision. It’s important to instill a sense that the team is on a journey together, which will include new discoveries and unknown twists.
  • Leadership: The team will look to its leaders for inspiration and guidance. The leadership team must be able to effectively communicate the big-picture vision as well as provide ongoing updates. In such a compressed timeframe, it’s essential to eliminate misinterpretation and ensure alignment. Leaders must be able to make fast, firm decisions and be clear on roles and responsibilities.
  • Collaboration: It’s important to find a strategic teammate who shares your passion and capabilities. For AT&T, TouchCommerce became an extension of our team, with equal investment in the project’s success.
  • Structure: Daily 30-minute meetings with the entire transformation team created a consistent forum for a large group with many moving parts. Collaboration tools such as instant messaging and wikis helped the team stay in sync with key documents and consistent communication.
  • Prioritization: AT&T’s transformation involved replacing a highly customized platform with a new out-of-the-box platform that we could be minimally customized in the short, 60-day timeframe. By first identifying gaps from the old system, the team began a series of ruthless prioritization efforts. We used a simple prioritization matrix with three criteria (volume, revenue and cost) that everyone could understand and support.

Fast-forwarding to January of 2016, we’ve emerged with a new chat system that has more features and provides a better experience for our agents. We routinely manage over 2,000 concurrent chats with over 12,000 agents around the world in a flexible, cloud-based environment. The rapid migration saved us $16.5 million in fees, and AT&T recently hosted its 11 millionth chat on the TouchCommerce platform.

My team is most delighted with improvements in customer experience metrics in the last eight months, including a 27% increase in Willingness-to-Recommend (WTR) and 24% increase in agent satisfaction. And best of all, customers are telling us that they appreciate the service. I love this survey comment from one of our customers:

“Hands down this was THE BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE I HAVE RECEIVED FROM AT&T IN THE 8 YEARS I HAVE BEEN WITH YOU!”

It’s hard to beat that, but we’ll keep trying.

Kim Keating
Kim Keating Vice President - Data Science