With the opening of Lines 2 and 3 in 2015, Nottingham’s tram network doubled in size with 28 new stations and over 17km of new track. The network expects to transport around 23 million passengers each year and Jo Bentley is responsible for ensuring they receive excellent customer service.
- Tell us how you ended up working in the rail industry - when and why?
Before working in the transport industry, I worked in customer service management for some large corporate -Virgin Media, BT - and also the NHS, until 2013 when I was headhunted and invited to interview for Nottingham Trams. I have lived on a tram route in Nottingham all of my life, so I was genuinely excited about potentially working for a company that I have been a customer of for so long. Working in the transport industry was a completely new sector for me, but a very exciting change from what I’d been doing previously in communications and technology. With customer service, there are similarities and challenges that you find across all industries, however, my previous roles had focused more on the management of call centres. Working for Nottingham Express Transit (NET), you find yourself much more involved with the public directly, which is something I really enjoy.
- What does a typical day look like for you?
Although it may sound cliché, there really is no typical day in my role. I am often based in the thick of things in our main control room, which allows me to see exactly what is happening on the system and how it will affect our customers. I also spend a lot of time at our travel centre in the city centre, which I set up in 2013. Here I have much more face-to-face contact with our customers. A large part of my role involves reviewing customer comments and social media to identify any trends that could help us improve. Project work is also a large part of my role, I am currently working on the KeoLife initiative - a project that features heavily in Nottingham and focuses on continuous performance improvement and customer communications.
Each week I also attend a visualisation meeting with the senior management team to look at the previous week’s performance. These are incredibly useful to track the success of our service, make changes if necessary, and make sure as a team we are looking ahead collaboratively to the future.
- What's the best part of your job?
I work with a really motivated, professional team of senior managers and we have a great sense of teamwork here. I also enjoy having such a positive influence on the quality of service for our customers. I have always had a real passion for customer service excellence, and I love implementing new ideas to improve the customer experience. For example, last year I moved the customer service team into our control centre, so they could see exactly what’s happening and have the first hand information to relay directly to passengers. Seeing the difference these initiatives can make is a very satisfying part of the role.
- If you could change one thing about your job what would be?
Apart from perhaps having more time there isn’t a great deal I would change. I particularly enjoy sharing methods of best practice with my colleagues both in the UK and abroad, it is something I find incredibly beneficial and would love to be able to focus more time on.
- What's the proudest achievement of your career?
My proudest achievement at NET is the introduction of the Institute of Customer Service to the business. Introducing off-tram ticketing in 2014, represented a big challenge for our customers, many of whom were used to the presence of conductors. As we anticipated, this caused a slight drop in customer satisfaction. Part of my response was for NET to become a member of the Institute of Customer Service, which included new training for our entire customer facing team. For example our travel officers were given an assignment to look objectively at the business and identify potential improvements to customer service. From this, we received 72 new ideas that we could look to put into practice, which was hugely valuable. We successfully raised satisfaction and came top in the Passenger Focus satisfaction survey, with a 96% rating, which we’re very proud of.
- What has been the biggest challenge you have faced? And how did you solve it?
Responsibility for customer service can too easily be seen as just being the job of the customer service team. My challenge was to embed that culture throughout the whole of the business and ensure that everybody takes ownership of customer service, whether they’re out cleaning on the network or working in finance. We’ve formed a team of Institute of Customer Service champions, responsible for driving the customer ethos, and managing the 72 new projects the training identified. It has been a big challenge to try to get everybody on board but we’ve made great progress.
- What are the biggest challenges facing the UK rail sector today in customer service? And what do you think is needed to solve them?
Social media has raised customer expectations, particularly in terms of response times and visibility. So we continuously work on this to increase our response times, stay abreast of changing attitudes and ensure we deliver a consistent and clear message, across all of our communications channels. To ensure social media works for a company and not against it, you must be willing to adapt your communications strategy and empower staff to listen and respond in the right way. Harnessing social media is a challenge for any industry, but it is a very exciting opportunity to gain valuable insight from your customers, demonstrate that you are listening to their feedback and make improvements based upon it.
- What has been the most exciting development in the rail industry that you've seen during your career?
The new technology that is coming into the industry every day fascinates me. Developments such as smart ticketing, contactless payments and the use of apps, have all helped the customer to plan their journey end to end more efficiently. How advances in technology continue to improve the customer experience is something I find very exciting about the transport sector.
- What excites you most about the future of the industry?
Nottingham is becoming an integrated public transport city and that’s very exciting. The new Robin Hood smartcard in particular is a fantastic step forward, allowing passengers to travel across trams and buses on the same card. Nottingham is the first UK city outside of London to initiate this level of integrated travel, and I’m looking forward to being part of what comes next.
- What advice would you leave your successor?
My advice would be to carry on driving continuous improvement and the culture of customer service throughout the business by involving staff, empowering them to make decisions and encouraging them to make suggestions on how we can improve. Also, making the most of the support on offer from your colleagues. I believe that our approach to collaboration has been key to our success at Nottingham Trams.