Rail Industry Focus

07.01.16

How smart technology is helping station staff do their jobs better

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 16

RTM speaks to LOROL’s customer service director David Wornham and customer service project manager Matthew Bromley about the new devices and software that customer service staff now have at their fingertips.

London Overground has grown fast, both in terms of passenger numbers and as a company – it now has about 1,500 staff. But this growth, and the inevitable pressure it puts on capacity and resources, has come with its own challenges. An important one has been how its frontline staff engage with passengers at increasingly busy stations. 

It introduced driver only operation and redesigned its staffing model. Customer service director David Wornham said: “We had just under 50% of our railway with a conductor, and the decision was made that because the train was so busy, unfortunately there was not a lot of customer service they could do.” 

To complement its existing staff, however, the operator created a ‘customer service ambassador’ (CSA) post, working solely in the weekday peak periods. Wornham explained: “It’s not your typical railway train dispatcher role – they don’t get involved in the operational safety of the train. But what they do do, with these increasing passenger numbers, is have a thought for comfort – moving passengers along the platform, and so on. They’ve got remote microphone PAs, so they can walk along the platform and make announcements. 

“It’s designed with a bit more fun in mind. We all know the daily commute can be stressful for customers, especially because the trains are so busy, so we recruit people who are confident to work on there, and have a bit of personal humour. We don’t have scripts for these guys. We want them to be a lot more personal and relevant to the station they serve.” 

But staff dealing with customers need more than just an engaging personality – they need access to the right information. 

That is why LOROL rolled out a trio of digital innovations at the end of 2015 to help staff. 

Smartwatches 

The first was smartwatches for 35 CSAs, linked to their main smartphone or tablet and sending them discreet notifications. 

Project manager Matthew Bromley said the roll-out followed a trial in early 2015 that got extremely positive feedback. He said: “Out and about on a busy platform, it’s not always possible to hear your phone go off. In winter, if it’s in your coat pocket, you might not feel it vibrate. But with a watch up against your skin, it’s very hard to miss a notification. 

“It’s also very discreet, so if our CSAs get an email, they don’t have to get their phone out every single time, just to find out it’s a rostering amendment or something not important. That looks very unprofessional – constantly checking your phone in front of passengers. 

Smartwatch 1 edit

“The idea of a watch is about giving them really discreet, targeted information, in a way that’s very difficult for them to miss even if it is noisy and busy.” 

Feedback since the go-live in September has been “very positive”, and the next step is to improve the amount of information that can be displayed on the watch. They could be rolled out to more staff in the future, depending on demand, Bromley told us. 

Lorolpedia 

Hot on the heels of the smartwatches came the Lorolpedia – a searchable knowledge database for staff to access on their tablet or smartphone. 

Lorolpedia

Bromley said: “My own personal experience as a former station manager told me that when you’re a member of frontline staff and you don’t know the answer to a question – which is always going to happen, however knowledgeable you are – you didn’t really have a resource to go to except for paper documents. Those aren’t practical in a lot of cases. 

“What we’ve tried to do, as the name Lorolpedia suggests, is create a Wikipedia for our own staff, with all the information they need.” 

Lorolpedia isn’t designed for real-time information and data, but rather for easy and convenient access to knowledge, documents, maps, procedures, scripts and so on. 

It isn’t quite as freely editable as Wikipedia is – the management team at LOROL’s Swiss Cottage headquarters retain full oversight to ensure additions and changes are “the official way of doing things is published, not a local variation”. But staff can suggest content to be added, as some staff at Camden Road station had recently done when we spoke to Bromley. 

It was designed for LOROL by Artonezero, and built on the mobile development framework Appcelerator. The app, and accompanying website, were designed in less than six months. Artonezero managing director Mike Lloyd said: “The streamlined and functional design and the clear and comprehensive layout means that LOROL customer-facing staff now have all the information they need at their fingertips to do their jobs to the best of their ability anywhere on the railway.” 

Senior developer Rob Cooper said the system was designed to ensure managers can easily edit the content on the website and the app without extensive training. Since it was rolled out, LOROL has been adding more video information to the platform. 

Lorolpedia Image 2 of 3 edit resize 635888802903440597

Orinoco 

The final digital roll-out was Orinoco, a real-time information system and app for staff combining journey planning with disruption and service information directly from the control room. It has already replaced the Nexus Alpha Tyrell communication platform in the control room, and the app for frontline staff should be going live during January.  

The process of designing the system began with staff themselves, with frontline customer service telling developers exactly what they would need to do their job well. 

Bromley, speaking to us just before its launch, said: “We hope it will make communication easier during disruption, by giving the controllers a really intuitive, easy-to-use information system, so they can focus on incident management rather than data entry. And it gives our frontline staff a really intuitive and easy-to-use app that combines all the TfL and National Rail data, plus our own disruption information, into a single place.” 

Like Lorolpedia, it is available on iPhones, iPads and web app, and includes features that are new to UK rail such as a live Google map showing all London transport, including buses and the Underground. “No matter what mode our customers are using, our staff can see it in real time,” Bromley said. 

Investing in the best 

Bromley said the three digital innovations are all in response to staff feedback. “A lot of the systems used to communicate both internally and externally are quite old-fashioned: text messages, email alerts, things like that. This is all about staff engagement, and one thing they said they wanted was an app instead of emails, good-quality smartphones instead of budget phones. That’s what we’ve invested in – to give them the best technology and tools we can, so they can deliver the best service to our customers.” 

Wornham echoed that, and suggested that not all operators would invest so heavily in new technology in the final months of a contract or franchise, as LOROL has done. “We’re proving to our people we’ve broken that trend,” he said. “Culturally, we work very hard at staff engagement. I’m sure many companies do the same, but we spend a lot of time out there – for example, one day a week you’re out on stations, meeting your frontline teams. 

“It’s the old adage: If your people are engaged, they deliver better customer service. 

“With all this new technology, with giving our staff individual iPads – and we’re just about to invest in WorldHost training, a two-day training programme – and even though the current concession comes to an end in November 2016, we’re still showing our frontline people that we’re fully committed to customer service. We’re committed to technological investment and people investment.” 

RTM will watch to see how these digital developments are reflected in passenger feedback and surveys. The next National Rail Passenger Survey is due out at the end of January, though fieldwork for that took place back in the autumn, before all the changes had been rolled out or had time to bed in.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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