Empathy and Understanding the key to service

CEO of Direct Connect, David Holman, is at the leading edge of the Australian energy and sustainability industry. We caught up with him to find out how the company is combining big data and the human connection to better meet the needs of consumers.

In an increasingly technological world, David Holman knows people are more important than ever.

The Direct Connect Chief Executive Officer says the moving services company’s employees and the vibrant culture within the organisation are what makes things tick.

Of course, technology aids their workflow and makes things easier for customers, primarily renters who are moving house, to connect services such as gas, water and electricity.

There are also plans to improve the technology they use, heading towards apps and “one-click” moves as well as boost data analytics

But David is steadfast in his belief that tech will not take over.

“A very large part of our business is about people talking to people,” David says.

“We live in a world of artificial intelligence and one where computers do the heavy lifting, but in my view, they can never replace the empathy of a human being.

“And that’s at the core of who we are and what we do.”

Over the past 15 years, Direct Connect, which is owned by Snowy Hydro, has helped move more than 1 million households nationwide, connecting electricity, gas, water, phone, internet, and pay TV.

Direct Connect works with referral partners around Australia, including 1500 real estate offices who send tenants and, increasingly, buyers and sellers to the company to get connected.

“We help up to 100,000 people a year to move home and get connected,” David says.

“Direct Connect was born out of a desire to create opportunities to help customers.

“One of the most stressful times in a person’s life can be moving home, and our ethos is to help make that experience more convenient and easier.”

Direct Connect works with more than 20 providers to get customers’ services connected and when clients call, the phone is answered within 10 seconds 90 per cent of the time.

And you get to speak to a real person. You’ll find those people in the 1909 heritage-listed Bryant and May building in Melbourne.

Spread over three levels, the workplace is anything but old-fashioned.

David describes the setup as like “viewing the inner workings of a finely-tuned watch”.

There are no offices and the customer service consultants form the heart of the workspace – literally and figuratively.

“I don’t even have an office,” David says. “The building was designed to be a flexible working space, so there are no offices.

“Every part of it has been designed to collaborate. Leaders are highly visible, and no one is tucked away in an office in the corner of the building.

“There is a buzz from the moment you walk into the building.

“Most of our people are on the phones talking to customers every day.

“Desks allow people to sit or stand, every headset is wireless and our people have the freedom to express themselves.

“They are the depth and breadth of our business.”

David says the company fosters career pathways and many customer service consultants have moved into marketing, finance and varying leadership roles.

He says the consultants have a taxing job at times as they are often dealing with customers who are moving home due to stressful situations.

“I often hear one end of the calls and our consultants are, at times, like a counsellor, and they do a superb job of listening to the stories of our clients,” David says.

“That’s important because, as we know, moving can be full of joy, but it can also be full of sorrow depending on why that move is being made.

“It might be due to a new job or a new start, but it could also be related to a break-up or a death.

“We never want to lose sight of that empathy.

“When we use technology, we want to make sure we advance in the right way and that we’re not losing human connection.”

One of the ways Direct Connect uses technology to foster its relationships with its customers is via data analysis.

It uses various data streams to gain a better understanding of its customers and what services they may desire.

But David says data is not used just for the sake of it.

“You can be data-rich but insight-poor,” he says.

“It’s what you do with that data that matters.

“One of the most stressful times in a person’s life can be moving home, and our ethos is to help make that experience more convenient and easier.”

“Innovation around data is something we live and breathe, and we use it to better understand our customers

“That’s the most important thing we can do.

“When someone is moving home, if you think about a 20-year-old moving out of home for the first time to an apartment, they have very different needs to a family moving interstate for work.”

David says in the past year the company has used Roy Morgan data to understand customers’ needs better.

“It helps us better predict what different customers want and how they consume media. For example, whether they are home renovators, regional homeowners or inner-city renters,” he says.

“It’s mosaic data, but we use that data to say ‘do they have a greater propensity to want pay TV services?’

“Then we can tailor the conversation around their needs.”

Going forward, Direct Connect wants to make its technology more intuitive, with rich functionality, to create a “one-click move”.

“We want a seamless, integrated process,” David says.

“We have an element of that now, but we are continuously improving on that.

“The information you provide for a home or a move, once we know that information we don’t want you to have to repeat it time and time again.

“When you take up internet, electricity, gas and so on, you don’t want to have to say the same things multiple times to multiple people.

“We’re investing in technology that integrates into the existing processes to ensure seamless data flow that works effectively.”

When asked about his leadership style, David emphasises he doesn’t like talking about himself, but that humbleness is a good attribute for a leader.

“I think good leadership is about supporting people not telling people what to do,” he says.

“You should also want to inspire other leaders in the business.”

David says the Direct Connect values, of decency, ownership, agility, courage, teamwork and safety, help foster a positive culture that cares for its people and cares for others.

That includes the support the company lends to charities, which includes The Pyjama Foundation.

The Pyjama Foundation trains Pyjama Angels who give numeracy, literacy, life-skills and mentoring support to children in foster care.

“We believe that everyone deserves a home,” David says.

“Not just a house but a home.”

The company supports the foundation financially, donates presents at Christmas, and once a year raises funds through wearing their pyjamas to work.

“We take what we do very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” David says.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.