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Next gen staff for next gen services

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Every spring, independent watchdog Transport Focus releases the results from its latest National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS).

The report is informed by responses from 50,000 passengers and includes scores on overall passenger satisfaction for the 26 train operating companies in a league table format.

Clinching the top spot alongside Hull Trains in 2017 was a great achievement for Heathrow Express (HEx). To secure it again in 2018, this time alongside Grand Central, was an accolade the company was very proud of.

Continuous improvement

The Heathrow Airport to Paddington operator understands that success is not a destination but a journey of continuous improvement. To push its 95 per cent passenger satisfaction score even higher, HEx is now training what it describes as the next generation of customer service staff.

“We’re entering a new era of transport at Heathrow,” said Dan Edwards, HEx commercial customer service manager. “In the face of emerging competition – not just on the railway but companies like Uber – we really want to position ourselves as the onward travel and operator of choice from Heathrow. We see our people as being absolutely crucial to delivering that.”

Part of this new era has seen Great Western Railway being issued a management contract to run some of the operational aspects of the HEx service from 1 November. As a result, a modified fleet of Class 387s will be introduced by December 2019 to replace the service’s existing Class 332s.

As Dan explained, this allows HEx to renew its focus on customer service. “This is an opportunity to work with partners to offer the fast and reliable service our customers know and love while maintaining and building on our NRPS results.”

Investing in people

Dan oversees a team of 130 customer concierges and mobile sales advisors, as well as nine managers, and said that HEx has had its staff focus shift from revenue-orientated roles into delivering higher standards of customer service – also known as “sales through service”.

When Dan joined the business in February there were 12 customer concierges. Now there are 80. Recruiting new staff and training existing employees to fit this culture has therefore become a big part of his job.

Dan explained how HEx has taken a new approach to ensure it attracts the best possible candidates by partnering with a new recruitment firm that is providing high-quality applicants. If they’re successful, candidates are hired on a temporary basis before being made permanent to ensure it’s a position that works for them and a role they’re suited to.

HEx is also changing its customer service practices. For example, from the New Year, the train company will be issuing its frontline staff with mobile devices to allow them to make decisions that customer relations would have previously made. This enables them to resolve complaints on the spot rather than refer the customer to an email address or to fill out a form.

Dan added: “It’s about thinking where we want Heathrow Express to be in 2030, and we are really committed to ensuring our people are a big part of that journey. It’s not just about ticketless travel and replacing people with machines, it’s really about investing in our people to deliver a supported self-service to our customers because they tell us they love having lots of people around.”

At the heart of it all

People are also placed at the heart of the RailStaff Awards, the industry’s only awards ceremony that exclusively recognises the hard work of rail staff.

This year HEx has sponsored one of the awards’ newest categories: Marketing & Comms Person or Team of the Year, which was launched in 2017.

With the high calibre of frontline staff it attracts, the RailStaff Awards was an event HEx was keen to associate itself with.

Dan added: “The RailStaff Awards are pretty unique in terms of the types of awards that you see in this industry.

“There are a really talented group of people that come to the RailStaff Awards every year and, as an organisation that is really looking to be an employer of choice and attract the best talent, we see it as a fantastic opportunity to have our brand associated with all of these great people who are working so hard to make the railway a great place for our customers.”

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