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Trusted partners: cultivating deep and resilient customer relationships for public benefit

We are committed to enhancing public service outcomes for government departments around the world through innovative solutions that help them deliver vital policy commitments, raise public service standards, and achieve better value for public money. 

Our opportunity to do this, and to keep doing it as government agendas grow and evolve at an ever-accelerating pace, depends on cultivating deep, resilient relationships with our customers. 

Christi Mackie (Director, Personnel Readiness, Defense Services, Serco Americas) and Terry Skinsley (Pursuit Manager, Defence, Serco Asia Pacific) are both experienced in leading rapid organic growth for Serco Defence operations. 

Christi oversees our work with the US Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service to deliver, enhance and expand its Transition Assistance Program (DOL VETS TAP), helping more military service members and their families to transition into civilian employment successfully. 

Terry was a Contract Director for our maritime warfare training operations at HMAS (Her Majesty's Australian Ship) Watson in Sydney, where we help the Royal Australian Navy maintain operational readiness and capability by training officers in a simulated war fighting environment. 

They and their respective customers may be based on opposite sides of the planet, but their experience and insights into what being ‘a trusted partner of governments’ looks like on an everyday basis are consistent with those you’ll find anywhere in Serco. 

For both, trust is the key: 

“Organic growth might look easy,” says Terry, “but it won’t happen unless the customer trusts you to deliver, which takes time and effort. You can only reach that level with a strong relationship, an excellent understanding of one other, and a very healthy portfolio of delivery.” 

Developing a strong relationship with the customer may not be a contractual requirement, per se, but it’s more important than anything else, as Terry explains: 

“As their needs multiply and resource constraints become more acute, governments look to Serco for people, process, and technology solutions based on deep understanding. They need to work with someone who ‘gets’ them and genuinely wants to help them find practicable answers to the difficult questions they’ve not even had the chance to consider yet.” 

“Our customer leans heavily on Serco for thought leadership,” says Christi. “They’ve found their own growth challenging without it. Inside and out, we know what support our client community needs. Most of our people are from that community.” 

Among the 500-strong DOL VETS TAP team, more than 75% are veterans or military spouses. For them, improving client outcomes is a very personal mission. 

“It’s who we are and what we do,” says Christi. “Our customer knows that, and they love it. They don’t have to come to us – we’re always two steps ahead, anticipating their needs and taking ideas to them. Through everyday engagement with the client community, our specialists see the issues and opportunities and gladly bring that insight to the table.” 

The transition assistance landscape and client community are evolving constantly, and our US customer relies on Serco to stay on top of it all: 

“We allocate a lot of resource to understanding what’s going on and what to do about it. People rarely stay in the military for life anymore. Almost anyone who’s served for any length of time qualifies as a veteran now. Those are big changes. There’s an ever-increasing volume of people exiting the military each year, all at different life stages, all with different needs.” 

In such dynamic and demanding service delivery, how we respond when challenges arise is vital. Ultimately, the customer values transparency over performance: 

“Be honest, always,” Terry insists. “The instinct to overpromise or hide issues can damage the relationship and it can take a long time to recover that capital. I’ve learned to lean into transparency – fully supported by management with no conflicting pressure for results. It matures the relationship on both sides: we learn how to work better with our customer; they learn how to work better with us.” 

Hand-in-hand with this goes a proactive and responsive flow of communication across a complex universe of customer stakeholders: 

“So much is happening, all the time, every day,” says Christi. “Whether we’re keeping everyone informed, reporting performance, or simply making ourselves available for discussion, continuous engagement is critical. We need to stay flexible as well, able to shift focus and adapt from one moment to the next. That’s how we helped carry our customers and clients through Covid-19 without skipping a beat: continuous pivoting.” 

Terry and his team had a similar experience: 

“It wasn’t easy, but it was a journey we shared with our customer. In fact, we discovered we could be more agile than they could, so we focused on supporting them as we learned how to navigate the gamut of complexity together. As a result, Covid-19 was a catalyst for new solutions which might never have been considered otherwise. The switch to virtual training, for example, was very successful and is still running.” 

Both Terry and Christi recognise that a focus on trust, thought leadership and transparency count for nothing without a strong and engaged team on board: 

“What differentiates Serco more than anything else is its people,” says Terry. “The right people, well-managed, will deliver consistent excellence for the customer.” 

Terry cites Serco’s ex-gratia recognition payments to all frontline employees as an example of how well this is understood at all levels of Serco Group: 

“You just don’t see it happen in this sector. That the Company reached out to its people in that way – to voluntarily do something extra for them – had an enormous impact. There was an immediate spark of connection to the Group, and a heightened feeling of being valued, recognised and cared about. It made a huge difference during what has been a very difficult time for everyone.”