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News & Press: Homepage - Announcements

Disrupting Disruption: improving customer experience

13 August 2020  
Posted by: Simon Kendler
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This webinar, held on 14th July, had a panel of industry experts to give some insight into how the rail industry deals with disruption. Things go wrong, it’s a fact of life and it is no different on the railway. Disruption and delays will occur, and passengers will get frustrated. However, how the industry deals with these incidents and supports customers can be patchy, leaving some customers with little to no information. This paints the industry in a bad light, making train operating companies (TOCs) and staff seem uncaring, and increase stress and frustration for all.

However, it is demonstrable that when customers are given accurate, up-to-date and regular information on such events that the opposite is true. Customers value a service, they value not being patronised with no, or vague, information and they value having the power to understand their situation. Furthermore, given the emergence of open data platforms, such as realtimetrains and opentraintimes, some are able to have the latest information to hand at the same time, or even sometimes before, staff.

In light of this, this webinar brought together a panel to discuss how the industry handles disruption and the challenges, ideas and initiatives to help improve the customer experience when things go wrong. The panel consisted of:

  • Suzanne Donnelly, Commercial Director at London North Eastern Railway (LNER)
  • Nathaniel Owen, Area Stations Manager at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)
  • Blake Cracknell, Train Manager at Eurostar
  • Tom Cairns, Founder of RealTimeTrains
  • Richard Clinnick, Head of News Rail Magazine

Each panellist was able to draw on their own sector experience to provide different perspectives.

Suzanne Donnelly provided the TOC perspective and talked about how LNER have targeted improving the customer experience, particularly during disruption – she said this can be through recognising the issues, understanding what customers want from an operator and utilising tools like LNER Assistant, that can provide regular notifications to customers. Suzanne also highlighted the role staff play in making improvements, understanding the different types of disruption causes and how to reach out to customers. The key takeaways were that TOCs should have a focus on the issues, collaborate to tackle them and put customers at the centre of all tasks and initiatives.

Nathaniel Owen presented the perspective of station staff, who are very much on the front line of interacting with customers. His presentation demonstrated the three Rs of React, Respond and Resolve. The key areas to focus on are getting the information to staff that is needed, how to ensure the customer has the right information and ensuring the customers can get to where they need to go. Nathaniel also outlined the various initiatives used by station staff to do this and stressed the importance of integrating TOC tools with open data sources, keeping things simple and that management should also be on the ground to assist and understand the situation for both customers and staff.

Blake Cracknell was a Train Manager for Greater Anglia and is now a Train Manager at Eurostar. He discussed his work at Greater Anglia and the impacts of disruption for customers on the train. Blake talked about tactics he uses for customer interactions during disruption and how direct interaction, honesty and availability can be used to improve the customer experience. In addition, he described how social media can be useful tool for connecting with customers and the importance of operators trusting their staff to manage these tools and interfaces, and to try to ensure that customers are kept as best informed as possible.

Tom Cairns is the founder of RealTimeTrains which is a web platform that offers real time train timetable information. It is open source, using Network Rail open data feeds. Tom talked about the importance of clarity in communications and that often operators’ information systems can clash with more accurate available data and that the timeliness and quality of information can be disregarded. Tom suggested that some more consideration of the passenger and their needs would be a better approach and that there isn’t consistency in approach for dealing with perturbation rather than normal operation. He also showed how tools like RealTimeTrains can help as it harnesses data. His view was that data is a valuable resource which is being underexploited and there is much wider scope for the industry to harness the data and real-time tools, mentioning the “Know your Train” and “C-DAS re-propositioned” facilities as examples. Tom ended by saying that the industry has a lot data at hand but doesn’t necessarily know how to leverage it.

The final speaker was Richard Clinnick who, as a leading industry journalist, gave a broad, strategic perspective from the operator and customer point of view. Richard talked about how the industry has many resources and good ideas to improve customer service but highlighted the gaps that still exist as well - particularly between the informed passenger (who can use real time data tools) and the uninformed passenger (the latter being more dependent on the operator to provide timely and high quality information whilst remembering that not all passengers have smartphones!). He highlighted responses from the National Rail Passenger Survey showing that the majority of passengers are dissatisfied with usefulness of information given. He highlighted the importance of improving the customer experience and gaining trust to and using data to do so.

At the Q&A, the panel took questions on a variety of topics. These covered the sources of information on disruption, the messaging and the importance of giving reasons for disruption – particularly being open and honest about the reasons, the opportunities to benchmark data being pulled out of the open data feeds and the prioritisation of communications.

We thank Suzanne Donnelly, Nathaniel Owen, Blake Cracknell, Tom Cairns and Richard Clinnick for taking the time to take part and present at this webinar. We hope the webinar was interesting, engaging, challenging and positive about this issue and how as industry we can make the necessary improvements.

Do keep an eye out for future topical webinars on the railway and operations. If you didn’t watch live then you can find the catch-up recording of the webinar here.

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Young Rail Professionals Ltd
Derby Carriage Works
Litchurch Lane
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United Kingdom


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