Unless you’ve been living in an abandoned signal box on the West Highland Line the past few years, you’ll know big changes are coming for Britain’s railways.
The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail is set to shake up everything from passenger fares to commercial models.
And with new incentives and penalties for performance, train operating companies (TOCs) will face greater pressure to maintain standards.
Customer experience is at the heart of the new reforms. So if you want to make profit and avoid costly fines, you’ll need to level up your service quality regime (SQR). Fast.
Why existing SQRs won’t cut it
For most train operators, station maintenance tasks are performed reactively. Problems only get fixed if they’re reported. And they often don’t get reported until an SQR auditor notices them – by which time, performance indicator scores have already suffered.
Unstaffed stations are one reason for this. There are around 1,200 of them in the UK, with operational staff visiting only occasionally and briefly in transit.
Station cleanliness and maintenance issues often aren’t seen or reported because, in many cases, there’s literally no-one to see or report them.
And even when things are seen, staff generally have neither the time nor the remit to take action.
The ‘it’s not my problem’ problem
When a cleaner, for instance, turns up at an unstaffed station, they have a clear task: make the place look clean and tidy.
They may notice, say, a broken sign in the car park. But because it’s not in their scope, they don’t do anything about it. Understandably, they see it as someone else’s job.
Reporting the sign would involve a series of manual processes: sending emails, filling out logbooks and so on. All of which eats into their very limited time.
The hassle factor is simply too high. So the problem gets ignored. Audit day arrives. And, sure enough, the station fails. Then, and only then, does the sign get sorted.
Of course, once incentives and penalties are introduced, it won’t be commercially sustainable to keep failing service-quality audits before fixing issues.
Continuous improvement is needed – as well as a sector-wide change of mindset.
Time for a digital and cultural shift?
To make SQRs fit for purpose, everyone in a train company must feel empowered to improve service quality. From cleaners and maintenance staff to drivers and station managers.
For this to happen, employees need the means to make a difference. That is, a digital, single source of truth that removes the faff from reporting and solving problems.
With such a tool, our time-pushed cleaner would be able to report the broken sign in seconds. They’d simply whip out their mobile, open an app, take a quick photo and hit send.
A maintenance person would then get a job notification on their phone – complete with photo, station details and a deadline for the repairs.
By the time the next audit comes, the sign should be fixed. And if for whatever reason it isn’t, there’s a clear (and paperless) paper trail. So you can see exactly where the process failed, and how to mend it for next time.
Apply this approach across your TOC, and suddenly service quality is everyone’s job. Employees feel engaged and enabled. And customer experience becomes a company-wide source of pride.
Sound far-fetched? It’s already happening
It might all sound like pie-in-the-sky thinking. But this way of working is already becoming reality in the rail sector
Several train companies are already a long way down the track towards connecting their departments and delivering a clean, safe and passenger-focussed customer experience.
Is your train company ready for the new reforms? Or does your SQR still need work?