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How Australia's Telstra used words to connect it's people and customers, improve performance and earn an IABC Gold Quill 2014 Award of Excellence and Best of the Best award.



At Telstra, customers are at the centre of everything we do. We’re serious about improving the customer experience.  In thinking about how we could support the business and create advocacy, we realised that improving the way we talk with customers and colleagues would improve their experience of Telstra and help create advocates.

Simply put – by changing the way we talk to customers, we would change the way they talk about us.

This insight inspired Connecting with Words, an internal training program to boost our employees’ communication skills – making their communications more simple, engaging and human.


About the training

We developed two online training courses – the first on written communication and the second on spoken communication skills.

One of our main challenges was to create training that appealed to all our employees. With more than 30,000 staff across Australia and a growing international presence, training needed to be universally applicable to a large and diverse group of people – relevant to everyone, regardless of their role, responsibility or location.

For this reason, we wanted the courses to reinforce key principles of good communication – keep it simple, engaging and human, with your audience always top of mind. We also wanted people to use plain English and avoid jargon – something many organisations, including Telstra, struggle with – and give people the confidence to communicate in their own personal way.

We wanted an innovative approach to the design elements too. For example, to keep it visually interesting, we employed unconventional, quirky and fun visuals to support the content – something people weren’t expecting in an online corporate training course. And we also linked it back to our customers and our advocacy goals, by including the voice of our customer in the training – for example, using customer feedback to highlight the importance they place on good communication.


Our approach

Our training was designed in collaboration with our HR and Marketing teams. It uses a simple framework that provides people with five basic steps to follow when planning and delivering their messages. It trains our employees to think more critically about communication and consider their audience – why are they communicating in the first place, what they need to say, how to say it and engage their audience and the best way to deliver it.

The training provides practical tips such as how to use PowerPoint more effectively – including keeping the number of slides to a minimum, the effective use of graphics, and how to avoid common pitfalls, such as overloading slides with too much text. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how often people get it wrong. We also encouraged people to make their communications two-way where possible – for example, to invite participation or feedback during presentations. The written communications training focuses on being clear, concise, and genuine, and always keeping your reader top of mind. And we delved into more advanced techniques in both the courses, such as how to use storytelling to create interest and craft a powerful narrative.


The outcome

The outcome was terrific and exceeded all our expectations.  For starters, more than one in four employees voluntarily enrolled. The subsequent feedback was extremely positive, and word got around that this was a terrific training opportunity….. our staff members were actively encouraging each other to try it out and the Yammer commentary was extremely positive.

The courses also highlighted the role communications can play in supporting the corporate strategy and achieving measurable results. This training contributed to a three percent increase in the number of customer advocates (relating specifically to our employees’ communication skills) – a terrific result! 

Plus our courses also set a new benchmark for other e-learning courses at Telstra – from design principles, to a plain English approach.


Gold Quill

Winning a Gold Quill Award, plus a Best of the Best Award provided important external validation that we had achieved something great.

It’s a terrific acknowledgement, both locally and internationally, by the industry, and our peers. It’s a highly coveted award and to receive recognition from the IABC is humbling.

It’s also testimony to the fantastic collaborative effort across the variety of Telstra teams who worked on this project.

I’d encourage professional communicators to take the plunge and submit their work next time round. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s sometimes easier said than done – after all, who doesn’t have a million things on the go these days – but the recognition and reward makes it well worth it.

Thanks to the IABC for awarding Connecting with Words.


Sandra Hilmer is a Senior Communications Adviser at Telstra.