The future of customer experience at Arriva Rail London
‘It is imperative we use this moment in time to adapt to our customers’ needs’, writes Charlotte Whitfield, Arriva Rail London’s recently appointed Customer Experience Director.
I am absolutely delighted to have been appointed Customer Experience Director at Arriva Rail London, the train operating company responsible for running the London Overground, and am excited to be leading such a great team.
I have worked for Arriva Rail London for four years now and have been with Arriva Group for six years in total. Arriva is an incredibly people-focused organisation, which places a lot of importance on development and progression. A key priority for the business is seeing its own people grow through the business, and I have benefited so much from the support of colleagues and mentors who have taken time to firstly guide me through the transition from bus to rail, and more recently to help me grow as a leader.
Developing the vision for customer experience
Our current offering for customers is good, but we need to look to do the basics brilliantly – to a gold standard.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have entered a world where rail travel has dramatically changed. It’s absolutely imperative that we use this moment in time to understand what our customers now want from a world class railway, and ensure that we adapt our offering to give them the confidence to return to the railway.
During the recruitment process for the customer experience director role, I thought long and hard about what the future of customer experience at Arriva Rail London could look like. Our current offering for customers is good, but we need to look to do the basics brilliantly – to a gold standard. I want to work with my team to develop our vision for customer experience in this new world, and from that implement a strategy that will ensure we are renowned for providing fantastic service.
We will only achieve this through our frontline teams and the managers leading those teams. Our service delivery managers are critical to our success, and I want to ensure they are involved in developing our vision, so they fully buy in to what we want to achieve, and so it is threaded into everything we do.
Providing great customer service
Ensuring our frontline team is present where our customers need them is a huge priority for me, as well as giving them the skills, training, and inspiration to deliver the highest levels of service.
We know the way customers are paying for travel has changed and that an incredibly low percentage of tickets are retailed through our ticket offices. The vast majority of our customers pay for travel through contactless cards and Oyster, and they want staff available as they transition through our stations offering help and assistance at our ticket machines and providing great customer service.
Ensuring our frontline team is present where our customers need them is a huge priority for me, as well as giving them the skills, training, and inspiration to deliver the highest levels of service. We are currently rolling out a training programme for our frontline staff, which encourages the use of behaviour that fosters positive relationships with customers, and asks staff to commit to making marginal gains in areas they feel they need to improve for our customers. In addition to taking our customer experience offering from good to great, the programme encourages personal development and is designed to help our frontline staff to see themselves as professionals.
Growing revenue for our client, Transport for London (TfL), is of the highest importance, but protecting our existing revenue is also a major concern of mine.
Growing revenue for our client, Transport for London (TfL), is of the highest importance, but protecting our existing revenue is also a major concern of mine. Through the pandemic, we did the right thing and protected our revenue protection teams from risk by stepping back their face-to-face work. Some passengers chose to take advantage of this and saw free travel through the pandemic as an opportunity. Fare evasion significantly increased as a result. We are therefore working hard on our strategy to address this and are investing in our people, as well as giving them the best tools to do their job, whilst calling on the support of the British Transport Police (BTP) and TfL’s Transport Support and Enforcement Officers to provide additional assistance. We are already seeing significant increases in the levels of penalty fares issued and this will continue to be a big focus for us.
Using innovation to meet customer needs
I am committed to using innovation to meet the needs of our customers, and we have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline in this space.
I am committed to using innovation to meet the needs of our customers, and we have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline in this space. Our Class 378 trains contain loadweigh technology which utilises the air suspension fitted to the train to estimate how many people are in each carriage. We know our customers are much more sensitive to crowding as a result of COVID-19, so we will soon be using this data to provide them with a prediction of which carriages are likely to be the least busy on the train they are waiting for. This will be shared on customer information screens at stations, enabling passengers to board less busy parts of trains and travel with confidence.
We also recently completed the first UK trial of an end-to-end journey using an audio navigation app called Waymap, which has been developed to give people with visual impairments more independence to navigate public places. While we are awaiting the final results from the trial, initial feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive and I am excited to see how this technology can be used industry-wide to enable better accessibility for customers.
Taking a strategic responsibility
Whilst leading the customer experience team to improve our customer offering is my main priority, I recognise that as a Director at I am also now accountable for ensuring that Arriva Rail London’s overall business strategy is achieved, and that I must take responsibility for looking strategically across the whole company to ensure we are delivering a world class railway for our customers and our client – TfL. This is also something I am really excited to do, and I feel very grateful to have this opportunity.
Charlotte Whitfield was appointed as Arriva Rail London’s Customer Experience Director in October 2021. She joined Arriva Rail London as a General Manager in 2017 after holding management positions at FirstGroup, G4S Global and Arriva Bus.