Coates Hire: Building a Customer-centric Culture


Coates wanted to maintain its market-leading position by bringing its focus back to the customer – but many staff thought they already had this nailed.  
As a trusted partner, Interchange co-designed a multi-phase culture transformation program, focused on values of collaboration, performance and customer experience. 
We successfully helped Coates’ workforce take ownership of their strategy and values through innovative learning experiences, such as film, theatre and simulations.
Coates didn’t just protect their market share – they grew it. 

When you’re number one, you’ve got to consistently push yourself to grow under pressure and deliver for customers. 

That was the problem faced by Coates, Australia’s leading equipment hire company, and its owner Seven Group Holdings (SGH). 

In the age of technology where customers want things faster, Coates chose to redefine what it meant for their employees to serve the customer well. In partnership with Interchange, Coates focused on transforming their culture and as a result, their leaders became stronger, their employees fostered deep connections, and – against all expectations for an incumbent – Coates experienced significant growth in market share. 



Before Interchange entered the picture, Coates had faced pressure from changing market demands (like a declining mining industry) and tighter cost structures. 

After cycling through three CEOs in four years, Coates was vulnerable to emerging competitors who threatened to swoop in and win over their customers. 

Coates needed help with building a more productive, customer-centric culture across 164 branches nationwide. And from our previous work across SGH’s portfolio, Coates trusted Interchange as a reliable and innovative partner. 


Interchange kicks off every engagement with a Discovery phase, holding hundreds of honest conversations across the organisation from C-suite to contractor.  

When people are given the space to tell stories about their day-to-day work (in many cases, for the first time), they feel heard, respected, and invested in the eventual transformation. 

With this rich data, we dug even deeper. We found that the headline issue: a lack of centralised leadership which gave rise to concerning behaviours and attitudes around safety, support and divergent working practices across branches. 

These ultimately affected the customer experience, employee engagement, and the bottom line. As partners to our clients, we’re firm but fair, always telling it like it is.

We didn’t shy away from playing back employees’ unfiltered insights to Coates’ leaders in an eye-opening, emotional exercise. 


In the Design phase, Coates employees became our “design partners” in three rounds of workshops. They bounced around ideas with us, and shaped the final product down to the look, feel and eventual name, “The Hire Road”. 

This collaborative, human-centred design approach helps us nail down the real issues faced by our client’s workforce and create a bespoke program that hits home. 

Here’s just one example: after asking our design partners how Coates could improve for the future, we flipped things on its head, and created AirHire, a fake competitor that was strong in everything we had identified as a weakness at Coates. If we wanted to shake up complacent behaviours and attitudes, we knew we’d have to catch Coates’ workforce unawares. 

For two weeks leading up to the first workshops, we emailed employees with news reports that slowly built the mystery and intrigue about the rise of AirHire. We sent these from a fake email account for the ‘Head of Risk’ at Coates – and had some employees googling AirHire and responding with concern.  


We always believe in building an emotional connection to any transformation. For Coates, this meant creating uncertainty and a little fear to generate the buy-in we’d need for a change in culture. 

It wasn’t the only method we went for to engage people. Coates executives were set a simple challenge: pick up the phone, and chat to an employee they’d never talked to before. To this day, many of them still talk about how effective this simple activity was in deepening connection across the organisation. 

These bold, creative, and human approaches were the catalyst for Coates’ culture transformation. 


When transforming culture, Interchange looks beyond the piles of process documents and smorgasbord of systems. 

Instead, we zero in on how an organisation’s culture influences how people feel at work every day. 

In this final Deliver phase, our expert team of consultants and psychologists drew upon robust research about human behaviour and organisational change. The program we created helped Coates align their culture, purpose and strategy with the set of values created by the leadership team around collaboration, performance and customer experience. 

This wasn’t your traditional classroom setting – we built large-scale, adrenaline-fuelled environments, to give people a sense of excitement and challenge. People zoomed around racetracks as race car drivers and ran simulations as space explorers to Mars, while deepening their understanding of collaboration and communication. 

We reflected people’s experiences in new ways, through interactive stage plays based on real interactions between Coates branches, and a short film about how pressures at work impact wellbeing, no matter your role. We enabled them to capture those experiences through video “confessionals”, which would go directly to leaders. 

The video confessionals were captured in a unique-to-Coates fashion

Because successful transformation requires consistent time and effort, we reinforced learnings after the workshops with 1-to-1 support and coaching for leaders, and small group coaching on rolling out their new values. 

In the end, the response to The Hire Road was strongly positive.  

Interchange believes that for an organisation to be successful, its purpose, strategy and culture must align. With The Hire Road, we helped Coates to ensure how its people were working was supporting what it wanted to achieve – through a deeper, more holistic understanding of care, collaboration and performance. 

As a result, Coates increased its market share in a tough COVID-impacted market. 

Ultimately, Coates’ issues with customer satisfaction and market competition boiled down to a misaligned culture in an organisation which was otherwise leading the market.  

As our model of organisational success puts it, it’s that focus on the intangibles – mindsets, behaviours, values and leadership – which enabled people at Coates to build trusting relationships, care for others at work, and strive for excellence over complacency, which all combine to create an incredible customer experience. 

Read more of our Case Studies here.



Back to Case Studies

    Creatives, consultants, psychologists and more.

    Find out more