STARBIZ: What has changed the past 15 months since you took on the job to clean up Maxis?
MORTEN LUNDAL: We started at the end of 2013 and we took a pretty harsh look at who we were. But as I went along last year, what I was most happy with was the quality of people in this company.
However, the way the organisation worked wasn’t effective or particularly fun. So we formulated a very clear ambition, short- to medium-term, to offer a superior Internet experience, which is a customer excellence obsession. We then formulated an internal ambition, where the long-term aim was to be a company admired for excellence.
And we set ourselves a very high bar for everything we do for the company.
What we also learnt from our customers was that we were more a barrier to communication in the Internet age than an enabler of it. And the barrier was driven by years and years of very non-transparent pricing, complicated plans, difficult contracts and underperforming services.
For people who were travelling, there’s always a lottery on what your bill will be when you came home.
All this was not just Maxis, but the industry in general.
We took that head on and we created products than I think are unique not just in Malaysia but also internationally. And to be a serious data player, we needed to change the revenue model from voice to data, distribution model from manual to self-serve, and the increase the use of apps.
Lastly, we also changed the way we look both in terms of our ads and our graphical profile and also how we work in the office. I think if you take this in totality, there were a lot of positive changes for the staff and customers last year. That said, we spent also a billion ringgit modernising the network and basically re-building it for a data age.
All this has yielded a lot of positive customer reactions, and also complaints have halved last year because our network has improved so much and most of our processes have improved. That said, I think we still have lots to do but we changed Maxis rather fundamentally last year and we will continue that transformation the next few years.
We are not about cost-cutting, but about great customer experience and also great employee experience. The company is efficient now, so we feel we have the capacity to invest in how employees work and we think that would translate to better customer experience, hence the reason why we re-did our offices.
Will the numbers get better in 2015?
The company has been on a momentum decline in the last few years. I took over at the end of 2013 and it will go down before it goes up again. So, I don’t look at 2014 versus 2013, but at the quarter versus previous quarter numbers. That’s what I can influence because I can’t influence the average of 2014. So 2014 is lower than 2013 but the momentum is going up again quarter by quarter, last quarter was 2.2% higher than Q3.
Service revenue for prepaid increased by 1.5% from Q3, and it is the first time we had year-on-year growth since early 2012. In postpaid, the corresponding number is 2.4% for Q4 vs Q3. But postpaid is still declining because we did away with the revenue like pay per use. But these are good numbers for us and profit wise, it is normalising.
That’s the company’s turnaround story.
Are the customers still making complaints?
A lot of the complaints back then were about bills. People didn’t understand and did not accept the bills. They were roaming and using data. It’s nice now when you have the MaxisONE plan. You can’t complain about the bill now. Seventy percent of the calls regarding the ONE plan are people asking if it’s true that we don’t charge for voice and SMS. This is a wonderful call to receive.
People still call now but it is not because they are unhappy with data speed as those calls have reduced a lot. They call us when they don’t get that service their phones are capable of doing. That’s what I’m saying, we still have gaps in the network. It has also shifted. When people use voice, they often call from the car whilst data is basically used when you eat or where you work. If we can fulfil their needs at places where people eat and work, then we have good coverage. That means indoor solutions for malls, restaurants, offices, houses etc. In many ways, we are rebuilding our network towards data network. From where you drive to where you eat basically. Those calls are still there but data is taking over. It’s part of evolution from voice to data.
When you joined the company, Maxis axed several hundred people, tore down offices, and created a new open style office, but have productivity and engagement improved?
We don’t think about productivity as such, we think about engagement and how engaged our people are. We’ve been following a certain index for people’s engagement and how much they feel they contribute and how they feel valued and how inspired are they at their work place for many years.
For the last seven years, Maxis has been in the decline in employees engagement. Last year we boosted that score to 2007 level again. It is one of the highest increases they have seen in this index. So, we have gone from a disappointing result in 2013 to what we call a high national average of employee engagement and of course our goal is to reach an international benchmark. We still have a gap to close there but we have significantly more enthusiastic employees.
People within Maxis are working harder, thinking more thoroughly, being more ambitious about their own goals and executing faster so this translates into customer value.
Are customers really getting value?
It isn’t about prices but value. If you want the cheapest price you have to go somewhere else. But if you want to have high value meaning a reasonable price to a great network, we’re great these days. There is no price premium in prepaid, there’s no price point that is higher than anybody else, we are very competitive in prepaid but we have free basic Internet and that’s great value.
We’re introducing ways to expand the quality of Maxis in a way people will find it to be good value. We’re never gonna be expensive, we’re always gonna be good value for customers.
The biggest challenge you faced in transforming Maxis
It hasn’t been one big challenge, but it has been a very inspiring journey of aligning management towards a goal and seeing the progress. I would say that we are on the right track when it comes to having a very highly-engaged performance culture in Maxis.