Consistency, Cleanliness and Personality – How First TransPennine Express Achieves Customer Service Excellence

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First TransPennine Express

Interview with Kathryn O’Brien, Customer Service Director at First TransPennine Express, about industry challenges, the importance of personalisation and changes driven through digital disruption.

Kathryn O’Brien is the Customer Service Director at First TransPennine Express (FTPE), where she is responsible for managing and transforming a customer service team of 600 people. She is accountable for providing a great customer service daily whilst staying attuned to the ever-changing customer preferences and requirements and sustaining delivery of the highest possible standards of quality and service.

Appointed as Customer Service Director in 2014, having worked in the rail industry for the past twenty-three years and within FTPE since 2012, Kathryn had transformed the culture of the business, defining and delivering a new vision for the customer service strategy. Recognising the importance of a personalised service, she restructured the management teams and the way the business communicated – and, more importantly, invested and continues to invest in the people.

In this interview with CX Network, Kathryn talks about her role at FTPE, overcoming industry challenges, her focus on personalisation, and the changes driven by digital and mobile disruption – a clear passion for providing customer service excellence at all levels shining through in her answers.

Customer experience strategy

Hi Kathryn, welcome to CX Network. Can you tell me what your role as Customer Service Director entails and what your involvement is with First TransPennine Express’ wider customer experience strategy?

As Customer Service Director, I am responsible for not only leading but also developing and inspiring First TransPennine Express' entire customer service team of 600 people, who take pride in transporting almost 29 million customers annually, via 300 services daily.

I am also responsible for our customers experience whilst travelling with us, at a number of contact points, including stations as well as the on-board environment, cleanliness, and our catering offer.

What have been the biggest challenges impacting your role as Customer Service Director? What steps have you taken to overcome these?

It’s been a tough twelve months. The infrastructure of the railway and general industry noise around crowding and train service performance creates a challenging backdrop, with customers expectations rising all the time. My strategy has been about investment in people, they are absolutely our unique selling point.

One of the first things I did was to make some changes to re-focus the leadership team, I then invested time and energy in this team to share my vision to ensure they all bought into my strategy so they could then inspire our frontline delivery teams; there has been no looking back.

This has been a huge success, through the new vision the teams are genuinely focused 100% on the customer with a clear objective on what they are expected to deliver.

How is the digital and mobile disruption driving the way you approach customer service? Have there been any innovative developments at First TransPennine Express off the back of these changes within the industry?

We are always looking for new ways of working and strive to lead the way in communication. There have been a number of innovative ideas introduced which include a customer app, mobile ticketing and even digital posters at some stations.

We recognise, and indeed customers tell us, that they want up-to-date information particularly during times of disruption and in response to this, we have introduced and actively promote our free online journey check tool.

It's clearly important that our frontline people have the right tools to do their job and iPads have been a huge success in this area.

Personalisation has played a big part in the optimisation of your customer service strategy, can you tell me how you ensure a personalised and consistent customer journey across all customer contact points?

My customer service vision drills down into the areas that the customer service team can control and influence, and I have tasked the team with focussing on three key areas, which are:

1. Consistency – 70 per cent of our revenue comes from leisure customers, so often we only get one opportunity to shine. We want customers to be our biggest advocates and recommend us to their friends and family.

2. Cleanliness – ensuring all our trains and stations are always clean and tidy. This is a basic expectation of all customers and we have to deliver consistently, each and every day.

3. Personality – I want our people to always be friendly, polite, helpful, visible and most importantly I want them to smile. I want them to enjoy coming to work, show their personalities and be brilliant ambassadors for our business. I don't want automated announcements, I am looking for personalised messages for our customers that offer reassurance and make a strong connection with people.

It's important that all 600 members of my team have the right skills and mind set to deliver my vision, and they are currently undergoing training through the World Host programme. I didn't want this to feel like any other training course, so we are using a model that ensures the concepts are embedded throughout the business. I'm delighted with the response so far, which has created a great buzz around the business.

Many thanks to Kathryn for the insightful answers! We also asked her about innovative employee engagement initiatives and what customer service trends for 2016 the team at First TransPennine Express are currently preparing for, which will be published in the second part of the interview on CX Network soon.