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Academy Xi: Client Success Stories

Insurance provider – Preparing job-leavers to re-enter the job market

By Academy Xi

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The challenge: Redundancies are never easy. Our client, a major Australian insurance provider, was committed to supporting people during periods of redundancy by providing them with relevant skills training to ease their transition.

The outcome: A total of 50 participants were provided with a 1:1 consultation ahead of choosing a course that best suited their goals. 30 hours of practical skills training and employee development followed to kick-start their new direction.

Learners cited the program as a rewarding personal development opportunity and a good use of what would otherwise have been unproductive time.

The aim was clear: create better, more sustainable opportunities for people through training. The consultative process involved Academy Xi working with work-leavers to identify which specific skills needed to be learned for a person to move into an emerging area. Key areas of focus included digital literacy, data literacy and human-centred design.

Learners could choose to upskill in in-demand areas such as Digital Marketing, User Experience Design, Product Management, Data Analytics, User Interface Design, Service Design or Graphic Design.

Key outputs:

  • Supportive transition strategy
  • Provision of future skills training
  • 1:1 tailored coaching for job-leavers
  • Risk and reputation management
  • Empathetic, consultative approach
  • Opportunity for redeployment
  • Reduction in complaints

Academy Xi: Client Success Stories

Transforming friction into empathy

By Academy Xi

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The challenge: The NSW Department of Education needed help to enhance communication between its help desk staff and teachers across NSW. Both sides felt frustrated and neither could identify how to communicate more effectively.

The outcome: Following extensive research across eight different locations, Academy Xi helped co-design a twofold solution incorporating customer-centricity and service design called the “Embedding Empathy Project”.

  • 1) Create a Way of Working (WoW) framework that supported individuals to think and work more collaboratively and
  • 2) Use this framework to drive staff training in empathy across the organisation.

“We worked closely with Academy Xi as our strategic design partner to co-design a customer-centric Way of Working framework, set of supporting capabilities and a guidebook containing tools and templates. Academy Xi performed deep research insights for the organisation which contributed hugely to the program’s success”

- Carmelina Senese, Director Customer Experience, NSW Department of Education.

For this project, co-design was the obvious choice. Co-design allows for the design approach to take place with stakeholders and business representatives, rather than alongside. This means that capability is continuously built upon over the life of a project. This capability remains in-house ensuring long-term success.

Staff on both sides discovered that there was a “lack of understanding and clarity on how teams can work together” and that many team members were “reluctant to adopt changes due to technology gaps and the volume of change.” Team training and employee development were needing to be prioritised.

This “Embedding Empathy Project” was able to illustrate that 99.9% of people want to do the best by the customer, they just need the right tools. By learning some key customer centricity and human centred design principles, the relationship between the two teams was able to be improved.

Key outputs:

  • Increased empathy
  • Simplified processes
  • Open lines of communication
  • Customer-centric playbook
  • Internal program champions
  • Multimedia training assets
  • Higher employee satisfaction
  • Reduction in complaints
  • New capabilities

Academy Xi Blog

EdConnect Case Study

By Academy Xi

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When empathy isn’t a given: Department of Education on redesigning relationships [Case Study]

Completing the unit on time while bandaging scraped knees? A teacher’s everyday job. Answering 3,000 calls a day and managing 60,000 queries a month from every school across NSW? An EdConnector’s remit. When communication lags and empathy dissolves between the two parties, few problems get solved. 

That’s where Service Design and Customer-Centricity come in handy. 

EdConnect (part of NSW Department of Education) hired Academy Xi to help enhance communication and build empathy between its Help Desk staff and teachers across NSW. Instantly effective, the training was then scaled across the entire EdConnect organisation. 

The Department of Education’s roll-out of the SAP finance system was a decision that impacted all NSW public schools. As EdConnect solves technical issues and gives expert advice to schools in critical financial areas, they were a core player in the roll-out. 

EdConnect staff provide advice in areas like accounts payable, accounts receivable, transactional banking, assets, master data, and taxation. If it’s a complex issue, the call goes to an internal expert in one of these areas and those teams will resolve the issue with the customer and the school. With four contact centre locations in Bathurst, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Parramatta, EdConnect contact centres receive around 60,000 inquiries a month and roughly between 3K-4K calls a day. 

This can lead to a lot of frustration if communication isn’t efficient. 

What EdConnect needed from teachers was patience and understanding, and to see that admin weren’t a “jack-of-all-trades,” capable of waving a magic wand to solve all problems on the spot. 

“There are a number of ways schools can help things run as smoothly as possible, such as ensuring correct processes are followed and working together with the EdConnect team to get the support they need,” said Reece Mahoney, Director of the EdConnect Contact Centre. “What would be great for the schools before they call is if they’d advise of what they’ve already tried, whether they’ve looked at a handbook or an online guide, just advise what they’ve tried and what’s failed, and then we can get straight to the problem quicker for them.”

Meanwhile, teachers needed the same thing from EdConnect staff. With countless activities, responsibilities, and tasks to balance every day at school, they needed EdConnectors to appreciate the urgency of their issues and the time it might take for them to adopt EdConnect’s recommendations.

On both sides, receiving and supplying what was needed required a substantial amount of mutual understanding, and that’s where Academy Xi stood out as the perfect fit for the job. 

As part of their “Embedding Empathy” project, the EdConnect team and NSW schools used Xi’s help to increase empathy and understanding between individuals and teams. 

Part one of the training resulted in the creation of a Playbook outlining more human-centred behaviour to be adopted within the EdConnect team. An online booklet, flashcards and videos with practical tips were also developed for the team. 

 Part two involved scaling the initiative across EdConnect and all its departments, with rapid training programs designed to be self-sustaining once Academy Xi had finished its work. 

Digging into the problem

After 37 hours of research across eight different locations—which included desktop research, market and competitor research, customer interviews, stakeholder interviews, and contextual inquiries—Academy Xi helped EdConnectors and teachers unearth five major insights about their relationships and goals:

  1. Empathy is about balancing the needs of all customers.
  2. EDConnectors want synergy, not silos.
  3. An EDConnect interaction is part of a broader customer journey.
  4. Internal networks are seen as the easier option.
  5. Change is a constant for EDConnect and schools.

Staff on both sides discovered that there was a “lack of understanding and clarity on how teams can work together” and that many team members were “reluctant to adopt changes due to technology gaps and the volume of change.” They were able to dispel certain biases, such as the common refrain from teachers that “If I call [the centre], it’s going to take a while,” and instead show teachers that “99.9% of people want to do the best by the customer.” 

Co-designing a solution

The goal of the project was twofold: 1) Create a Way of Working (WoW) framework that supported individuals to think and work more collaboratively and 2) Use this framework to drive empathy across the organisation.

For this particular task, co-design was the obvious choice. 

“Co-design allows for the design approach to take place with stakeholders and business representatives, rather than alongside,” says Eric Lutley, Academy Xi’s Head of Partnerships. “When we work closely with an organisation to embed the design approach, capability is continuously built over the life of a project. This capability remains in-house long after we have departed ensuring the long-term success of the project. Importantly, this also allows the project to run at a much faster pace and decreases the need for a lengthy sign-off process.” 

What’s more, co-design means the long-term benefits will be even greater.  

“Having people in the organisation who have experienced the journey and understand in detail each decision point, we naturally created an internal group of people who championed the benefits of the project and will support it post go-live,” Faoro says. “Co-design also ensured that any outcomes not only align to the needs of our customers but also the strategies of the organisation.” 

Mapping different perspectives

As part of the Service Design Thinking process, teams created EDConnect Personas, which were workshopped using a behavioural matrix based on findings from the research across the various EDConnect teams. The behaviours were grouped and mapped, and aligned to the following axis:

  1. Individuals who value fixed processes vs. individuals who seek alternative ways of doing things
  1. Individuals concerned about change vs. individuals with a positive regard for change

Part of the power of this exercise was to show that Personas are not a one-size-fits-all classification, and individuals within the organisation may not resonate strongly with one specific persona. 

“They are there as a broad consideration point to ensure you think about a new approach from multiple perspectives and how it would be perceived or adopted by different audiences,” Faoro explains.

Creating Personas is an exercise in empathy itself, as it leads teams to rethink the preconceived notions they might have about certain groups or individuals and to, somewhat ironically, resist the urge to throw all individuals into one category or another.    

Using human-centred tools

With the help of Academy Xi, the EdConnect Team created a Playbook containing Tools, Templates & Plays that specifically helped EDConnectors overcome frustrations within the organisation. 

The Playbook contained the new EDConnect Way of Working (WoW) capabilities, including the Tools & Plays that would help embed those capabilities across the organisation, forming the future of EDConnect’s service design. 

For instance, to facilitate the “Achieving Service Excellence & Innovation Through Human-Centred Design” capability, participants were directed to do the following:

  1. Create a succinct set of Way of Working capabilities that align to the Way of Working strategy and framework as well as to the broader Public Sector Capability Framework and ecosystem.
  1. Create a set of practical, future-focused Performance Criteria for each capability at three levels of performance: Foundational, Intermediate, and Advanced.

These initial activities then led to two key sets of capabilities: the “Be”s and the “Do”s. 

  1. “Be” Capabilities: A higher-order set of mindsets that overarch all company operations, these capabilities allowed staff to support, practise, and apply certain behaviours in projects, everyday activities, and interactions, helping the organisation move progressively toward a human-centred culture and build its capacity to achieve human-centred outcomes and innovations.
  1. “Do” Capabilities: A set of practical skills specific to a human-centred design methodology, these skills allow staff to conduct activities throughout the double-diamond framework, and are used in tandem with “Be” capabilities. 

In addition to the Playbook, EdConnectors participated in a Training the Trainers program called “Walk in My Shoes,” which reinforced the goals of delivering a new Way of Working, learning new capabilities, and embodying a human-centred mindset.

Transforming communication 

EDConnectors and schools reported substantial gains in empathy and inter-team communication as a result of the Embedding Empathy project. 

One key to the project’s success was direct, face-to-face communication between EdConnectors and teachers. Directly connecting with actual school staff gave EdConnectors a new-found perspective and enthusiasm for their clients, and schools reported being highly engaged and gaining appreciation for EDConnect’s approach.

“Quantitative data does not paint a picture,” one EdConnector said. “The stories [schools] painted for us was the most powerful outcome.”

Reflecting on the program outcomes, another participant reported, “Importantly, the staff were not just telling the stories from the schools that they visited—they also described how it made them feel.”

Academy Xi provided a “comfortable learning environment” that allowed EdConnect participants to be “very collaborative when creating the empathy map and school profiles.”

As an added benefit, engaged participants went on to engage and inspire others who hadn’t been involved in the training directly. For that reason, selecting the right participants was also a key to program success, and to self-sustaining, continued training within the organisation.

If empathy builds trust, then trust promotes clear communication. Whether it’s juggling phone calls or lesson plans, both EdConnectors and teachers now feel well-equipped to handle problems that arise on a daily basis. Academy Xi showed up with the right tools for the job, but it was the trainees who empowered themselves to solve their own problems in the future.  

Academy Xi Blog

Discovering the role of empathy in business

By Academy Xi

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Businesses are realising the importance of empathy. 

Businesses are tuning into the importance of truly understanding their customers, anticipating their needs, and meeting them. Much like a toddler who suddenly gains empathy, the ability to look at situations from another’s perspectives, businesses are gaining user insights, enabling them to really put themselves in their customer’s shoes.

Empathetic Management

To effectively conduct user-research strategies, develop needed changes, and then implement these changes; a Product Manager is so incredibly valuable. Understanding the entire product roadmap, managing user inputs and ensuring multiple stakeholders’ interests are taken into account; a product manager‘s most valuable trait is to understand the drivers and incentives of customers and internal stakeholders.  When pitching changes and co-ordinating changes across teams, product managers put themselves in other’s shoes.

Similar to Service Designers and User-Experience Designers, Product Managers keep customer experience at the fore. Product managers take it a step further, by using empathy within a company to justify decisions and understanding how to best manage teams and best improve a customer’s experience. Holly Joshi explains product management as ‘the strategic mindset at the centre of business activity’.

Building better products

When improving the product, empathy needs to be front-and-centre. With entire teams dedicated to improving customer experience and analysing where and how changes should be made (think Service Design and User Experience Design), companies that rapidly iterate and adapt to change are better set-up to stay relevant; responding to changing consumer behaviour and wants. Often customers THINK they know what they want, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find they aren’t always aware of their true motivators. As part of user-research, designers need to go past these surface desires and drill down into the real motivators of their customers.

User-centric design

The biggest design mistake is designing for yourself. User-centric design isn’t exactly new – in fact, all design should be user-centric by default. The underlying goodness of design, creating useful, thoughtful, beautiful things, at some point got lost; we saw a common misconception emerge, that design=aesthetic . At the core of user-centric design is empathy; taking the time to understand the user, and design for their needs to create things that are actually useful. In the context of design, empathy is not simply imagining how a user thinks and feels – this ultimately relies on assumptions and thus your own personal experience largely influences the outcome. Empathy, in the context of design, is an understanding based on thorough, pointed, user-research.

A healthy work-environment

A study of over 600 companies showed that those in the top quartile in organisation health, registered two times higher in financial performance. Empathetic leaders, happy employees and a healthy work environment all make for a higher-performing company. Though empathy is intrinsic, it doesn’t always show at work; measures of performance, reward systems and overall culture don’t reward individuals for empathy. To cultivate an empathetic workplace, leaders need to be role-models to the rest of the company, and actively try to implement human connection in their business

Takeaway:

There are quantifiable results supporting the importance of empathy. Businesses that don’t think about their customers and their employees will get left behind. Though financial incentives are fuelling this push, it’s still a step in the right direction; we hope to see a mass cultural shift towards empathy. Embedded in a business’ work environment and team culture, used to create better products, and to coordinate valuable changes to a business’ entire product offering; empathy creates better businesses.


Learn Product Management, User Experience Design or Service Design to gain the skills necessary for embedding empathy in your business.