The need to improve and enhance the ‘customer experience’ has remained a key theme at the various rail events and exhibitions Collingwood have attended over the last 12 months. Virgin Trains have led the field in this area and the Collingwood team were keen to learn more when they met with Gary Iddon, Virgin Trains General Manager for the North and Scotland.
Virgin Trains consistently beats the average overall satisfaction levels for long-distance operators. How does the organisation and management ensure that a culture of delivering great passenger service is delivered throughout the business?
Gary: By ensuring our frontline people are engaged at all levels in what is important to the business and therefore what is important to the customers. By trying to create interesting and varied working lives for people and by empowering them to make decisions to improve customer experience.
If you had to pinpoint one key area that influences passenger satisfaction more than any other (value for money, cleanliness, etc.) what would this be?
Gary: See above, great empowered people delivering against what customers require.
What changes have you seen that have influenced passenger satisfaction over your time in the railway sector?
Gary: If we think back 15/20 years I do believe that the customer was viewed more as a passenger and got what they were given in terms of experience. What I am trying to say is that the operation drove the level of service people could receive, now I feel that there is a genuine desire for the operation to deliver what our customers require.
How has technology influenced how you interact with passengers at Virgin Trains?
Gary: Information in real time is key, customers expect real-time information in terms of delays etc. Also what was viewed as perhaps novelty a few years ago (Wi-Fi as an example) is now viewed as a necessity by a large demographic of our customer base we need to constantly innovate to try and stay ahead of our competitors to deliver this.
What are the key personal characteristics that the business looks for when recruiting new employees and how does this link back into improving service levels?
Gary: Able to engage with customers and recognise that this is key to growth and retention of customers. I like to think we recruit for attitude and train for skill.
We would like to thank Gary for taking the time to share his thoughts with Collingwood.