Opportunity knocks at 'unpopular' telco

When Irishman Rory Faughnan came to New Zealand he was looking for a job in retail. A personnel company suggested the cellphone market was that opportunity

Opportunity is often how the individual perceives it. When Irishman Rory Faughnan came to New Zealand he was looking for a job in retail. A personnel company suggested the cellphone market was that opportunity.

“I asked them which one of the telcos was the least liked,” Faughnan says. “They all said Telecom. I thought: this is a big company which will have to change, and I wanted to make a difference.”

He began selling and servicing cellphones in Wellington. Within six months he was an assistant manager and within a year, a store manager, a position he has held in various locations.

‘Store manager’ is a bare-bones title in Faughnan’s case. Telecom called him in to help former Prime Minister Helen Clark with her landline and broadband requirements before she moved to her new role at the United Nations. He has similarly given professional advice to such people as Federated Farmers boss Connor English.

Faughnan moved to suburban Johnsonville in 2007. The store turned a profit for the first time in six years. “It was all about networking the local area,” he says.

As a side project, he ran a kiosk at Wellington airport to service international travellers.

He moved to the top-end Lambton Quay store and was then appointed to run the new store under the Telecom building in Willis Street when it opened in July 2011.

In 2010-11, he was named Telecom’s top store manager of the year, a title he retained this year.

It’s all quite different from his formative years in his native Dublin.

“I wasn’t a very good academic. For six months I avoided school, playing golf in the summer and snooker in the winter.”

At age 17, his father gave him an ultimatum: a one-way ticket to London, 100 Euros and an instruction to learn from the University of Life.

“I got a job the first evening, emptying boxes in the warehouse district. I was living in a hostel with two girls, one of whom got me into retail, working for Tommy Hilfiger (a high-end clothing retailer).

The up-market store was in Knightsbridge and dealt with what Faughnan describes as “very VIP” customers.

“I found out all about relationship building. The customers then trusted your product knowledge.”

He did his OE in Australia, spending a year travelling until he ran out of money. He then took a job at a potato farm in Bundaberg, where he met his German wife to be.

“She wanted to travel, so we went back to Europe. I then spent two and a half years in Ireland, working for my father, who had an agency for a DVD chain and also sold cellphones. I was into phone tech and gaming.”

Two things happened which prompted his next move. He was called up for jury duty, where he became foreman in a murder trial stemming from gang wars. The second, was a number of robberies by junkies, who would come into stores armed with syringes.

“We wanted to get out of the country, so we planned a 10-month trip to Asia.”

The couple travelled through Russia, China and Tibet, then spent two months working at a children’s orphanage in Nepal. India, Thailand and Cambodia followed.

“We’d heard good things about Wellington, so decided to come to New Zealand,” he says.

It’s a vastly different world at Telecom today.

“Our back end systems have changed hugely. We can now focus on understanding the customer’s needs, make a recommendation and close quickly.

“We treat corporates as if they were personal customers. All our staff know who to contact in other parts of the business if there is a requirement.”

There are procedures around the sales processes, which he says is a key part of any relationship.

Telecom operates a technical training “Star School” programme, a one-week course which covers the sales process for new staff.

The service desk is a different kettle of fish, he says. “I only choose people with a good knowledge of technical trouble shooting.”

The telco also operates a “device evangelist programme” where staff share technical information through a private Facebook page.

Faughnan says there is a self-training focus at Telecom, and staff have KPIs to meet.

“It’s all about empowerment and sharing knowledge,” he says. “It used to be ‘it’s fixed’ but now we teach the customer how to do it if the problem happens again. They become repeat customers.”

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