Earlier this year, Transport Focus revealed Heathrow Express (HEx) was – for the third time in a row – the train operator passengers are most satisfied with.
HEx prides itself on delivering a first-rate service between Heathrow Airport and London Paddington and is preparing to elevate its service to an even higher level in the face of two emerging challenges.
The first is the opening of the Elizabeth line, which will provide another direct link between the airport and central London. This will provide direct competition to HEx for the first time in its 21-year history.
The second is the loss of a platform at London Paddington. Currently one of HEx’s unique selling points is that passengers who arrive early for the service can board the train and sign into the complimentary wi-fi to work while they wait for the service to depart. The use of only Platform 7 for 12 months from December will mean passengers will have to wait on the platform for longer than they currently do.
Mike Morgan-Batney, the train company’s new commercial customer experience manager, explained that HEx will focus on customers and employees to drive service quality.
“We’re really about elevating the product further, despite the challenges coming down the road,” said Mike, who stressed the importance of customer concierges and mobile ticket sales staff to delivering “world class service”.
“I’m at the early stages of rewriting our strategy for the year now and it’s very much centred around our people development and customer engagement.
“The aspiration here is to provide world class hospitality, so we need to start with our colleagues and make sure that we are attracting like-minded people, creating an environment for them to deliver their best service whilst giving them the right tools to deliver what our customers want.”
Mike has almost 15 years’ experience in the aviation industry, largely spent at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports in people management roles.
One of his standout achievements was overseeing the rollout of the passenger ambassador programme at Heathrow. Different functions are overseen by different companies at the airport but the passenger ambassadors, who are dotted throughout and wear purple uniforms, are trained and led by one organisation. They are also equipped with the knowledge and technology to help passengers, regardless of the query. Mike hopes this experience, combined with that as a workforce engagement consultant, will put him in good stead for the transformation at HEx.
Recruitment, training and retainment
This changed approach begins before HEx welcomes new personnel onboard. At the recruitment stage, Mike explained that the focus will be widened to target those with backgrounds in hospitality, particularly those with experience working with airlines or at hotels, to pick up the very best interpersonal and customer service skills.
Once they join the company, the new starter will go through a new training process that moves away from a reliance on PowerPoint presentations and integrates virtual reality, to ensure they’re engaged while allowing them to experience different situations to better prepare them for work.
Mike said this virtual reality technology will also allow staff to familiarise themselves with locations such as stations and depots, as well as changes to them, without the timely and costly need to visit them.
The “most important” aspect of this virtual reality training and the scenarios it can simulate is the ability to allow able-bodied staff to put themselves in the shoes of those with reduced mobility or hidden disabilities, Mike added.
E-learning modules – accessed through soon-to-be-issued work mobile phones – will ensure this initial investment in training is “kept alive”.
Service recovery training will empower colleagues to turn around a customer’s experience by spending allocated daily budgets on things such as upgraded seats. Mike said this is inspired by some of the world’s best hotels and will bring HEx “one step closer to offering world class hospitality”.
Heathrow Express Academy
The final element to Mike’s new people strategy is retainment and development.
Initially he’ll ensure training facilities are fit for purpose, that rest rooms stimulate staff and that uniforms are comfortable and reflect the service’s quality, but further down the line he has far more ambitious plans.
Chief amongst these is the launch of the ‘Heathrow Express Academy’, an initiative that will acknowledge staff for years of service and experience by promoting them through grades without the need to enter a management post.
Mike said: “By having a Heathrow Express Academy we’ll have a clear disparity between someone who’s just come in on induction who’ll be on level one for example, and someone who has maybe been in the business for two to three years and has been through the accredited training and is actually on level six, earns more money and is involved in coaching and mentoring, for example. Clear levels that people can progress through.”
To further recognise good customer service, Mike is introducing personalised rewards and he is looking to enable customers to hand out ‘golden tickets’ to staff that go above and beyond.
“This is something I get up every morning for. Having the autonomy and the commitment from the business to be able to get this thing and run with it and get it off the ground is incredibly exciting,” added Mike.
Recognising its importance, this year’s RailStaff Awards has a newly launched category dedicated to learning and development – one which Heathrow Express was quick to sponsor.
Mike said: “Ultimately, we are about employee satisfaction and employee engagement so it’s an obvious choice for us. We absolutely believe in investing in our people and making sure that we reward and recognise good behaviours and good service.”
To nominate one of your colleagues or to find out more information, head to: www.railstaffawards.com