Customer service secrets - from the rail industry

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Alex Hynes, MD ScotRail Alliance, on how borrowing ideas from other sectors has doubled food and drink sales on Glasgow-Edinburgh trains.

Last Updated: 23 Nov 2018

Great customer service is a common feature of great businesses. But how do you bring great customer service into a firm or even an industry that’s traditionally lacking it?

Alex Hynes is MD of ScotRail Alliance, which operates the main railway routes in Scotland. It’s not a sector famous for giving you that warm, glowing feeling after your interactions with staff, but that’s something Hynes - who's a year and a half into the job - is trying to change.

The first step has been listening to customers, both in person and on social media. ‘We religiously track customer comments on a minute-by-minute basis. At 1030 every morning an email goes out to everyone in the business, saying this is what our customers were saying about us today. Every single bit of staff praise we put into folder, and we hunt the person down to congratulate them,’ says Hynes.

The next step has been to benchmark ScotRail’s customer service against firms outside of the railway sector. Hynes points to Prêt a Manger and John Lewis as examples of places that have great customer service, which he says comes from the bottom up, pointing to the freedom Prêt's staff have in offering regular customers a certain number of free coffees a week. 'The way you make a good company amazing is by turning it upside down,’ says Hynes.

In an effort to pivot from a product-focused business to a consumer-focused one, Hynes also made a point of hiring the new brand manager for ScotRail’s express service from outside of the industry, in this case from the British Gas smart home business Hive. Immediately, Hynes says, she was able to see things differently.

‘It’s the simple things. She saw that customer behaviour had changed. Hundreds of people are having lunch on the train, they’re dropping crisps and getting grease on the tables, so we changed how we clean the trains,’ says Hynes.

Food and drink stewards now also make announcements, introducing themselves by name. As a result, Hynes says, food and drink sales on the train have doubled since ScotRail’s new trains and service were introduced in the summer. The company hopes this will trend will continue once electronic point of sale technology is fully rolled out, allowing meal deals and in-seat ordering.

‘The fact that people are buying tells me we’re making their life better. That’s another customer touch point, an opportunity to put a smile on their face.’

Key Takeaways

Customer experience starts with employee experience. If your people are miserable, they’re going to make your customers miserable – look after them.  

Get feedback. Your customers are the only ones who really know how you’re doing. Make it easy for them to tell you, and listen to what they say.

Look beyond your own sector for inspiration. The highest standards require benchmarking against the very best, wherever they are.

For more information

This piece outlines some quick and easy ways to refresh your customer service. For a personal take on the difference between good and bad service, read John Sills’ blog. Or for some customer feedback caveats, see here.

Image credit: Elevate/Pexels


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