A week in the middle of the desert in very basic conditions and labouring in the scorching sun doesn’t sound like a typical corporate reward. But for Telstra’s Bridgit English, it was “a life-changing experience” – and one she would not hesitate to repeat.
English, who is Telstra’s group manager, customer care, strategic accounts, won a place in the company’s Pay it Forward program. This program, which recognises outstanding customer advocacy, sends employees to volunteer on projects in Australia or overseas.
Transformed by experience
English, one of a group of 20, travelled to Birriliburu, in Western Australia’s Central Western Desert, to help the Martu people build some basic infrastructure on their lands. The Martu elders wanted to be able to take their young people out into their land and teach them traditional culture and stories. The facilities were also to serve Aboriginal rangers looking after country.
En route to the extremely remote spot, a five-hour drive from the township of Wiluna, English got a taste of what lay ahead. “We got off the air-conditioned bus to eat our sandwiches, and the bread went hard in my hand, it was that hot and dry,” she says.
At Birriliburu, the Telstra team mostly slept under the stars. They worked long, hard hours, building a picnic area with barbecues, a shed with a run-off roof for water tanks, and a lavatory.
“Being out there with the Aboriginal people and their elders, it created such an emotional connection,” English recalls. “It completely changed my way of thinking. I’m a member of Recognise [the campaign for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples], and a big supporter of Aboriginal rights.”
Other Telstra teams have spent time in Cambodia and the Philippines, working with international non-government organisation Habitat for Humanity to build homes for disadvantaged people.
“Telstra is not only investing in the community, but using its talented people to support that community and create incredible memories and moments in their lives.”
– Bridgit English, group manager, customer care, strategic accounts, Telstra
Program supports talent
The manager of Telstra’s reward and recognition program, Craig McDonald, says Pay it Forward not only dovetails with the company’s corporate social responsibility and sustainability goals, but also helps Telstra to retain its best talent.
As English sees it: “Telstra is not only investing in the community, but using its talented people to support that community and create incredible memories and moments in their lives.”
Of her own customer service philosophy, she says: “The most important thing is to care about the customer, to genuinely and authentically have their best interests at heart, to listen to them and understand what they need and what they want.
“It’s important to be honest, and never create an expectation that you can’t deliver, and absolutely always deliver on your promise. And it’s absolutely key to always keep people informed.”
At Telstra, English has also enjoyed more conventional rewards – under the Extreme program for high achievers, she recently had an all-expenses-paid trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. While it was a wonderful experience, she says, “if I were given a choice, I’d go back to the desert tomorrow”.
Telstra's Pay it Forward program:
- rewards staff who put the customer at the centre of everything they do
- creates an opportunity for Telstra to give back to the community
- shows that business is about more than just revenue and sales
- is prized by Telstra staff who rate the program higher than conventional rewards such as all-expenses-paid trips
- has strong support from C-level executives
- creates an opportunity for Telstra teams to come together from different parts of the company.