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cost reductions become a false economy. Often said but rarely delivered is the mantra ‘Our people are our greatest asset’. Most train operator employees deliver the customer experience, but how much investment do we truly make in equipping them with the skills to deliver exactly what the customer wants? The requirement for demonstrable delivery of a world-class customer experience is becoming the norm in the UK, and should be carefully planned as part of franchise commitments. The impact of innovation in the customer experience on

employees is often a neglected aspect of planning change, but it can be one of the most significant determinants of success. It is worthwhile modelling the transition from current state to new at bidding stage, ensuring that detailed processes and resources for bringing about the change are identified up front. Such a model will include consideration of optimal organisation design to facilitate performance delivery and encourage productive relationships between individuals and groups, looking at: l How to resource the organisation effectively with appropriately skilled and motivated people; l Organisational culture and whether it is appropriate to delivering the new contract; l Employee communication and engagement;

l Performance;

l Employee relations; l And, of course, how these will all change and develop over time. Detailed planning for the changes required is crucial and needs to

be done early. For example, service enhancements within the life of the contract might entail significant recruitment of scarce or unskilled resources. It is worth thinking through at the bidding stage how this will be

achieved. When to recruit? Where? Who will do it? What impact will this have on day-to-day operations? How will induction and training be carried out? What kind of investment will be required in training? Not only mandatory safety and skills training, but developmental training will support your vision. How long, realistically, will it take from recruitment to having a fully skilled productive employee? Is the organisation structure suited to managing the change alongside day-to-day operational imperatives? What impact will this have on the culture of the organisation? This last question is interesting and should not be left to chance. Long before Heathrow Express won its awards for customer

service, processes had been implemented to ensure recruitment of people who were passionate about service, but with the ability to be trained in all safety aspects, rather than the other way round. Organisations we have worked with, including those in the rail industry, have successfully built a reputation for passion in their customer service by setting out deliberately to align all their processes to support its delivery. Thus the recruitment process attracts candidates who can thrive in a customer-service environment.

JUNE 2010 PAGE 29

Selection processes assess inter-behavioural skills, empathy with

customers, dealing with pressurised situations, the ability to follow rules and the potential to work in safety-critical roles. Training focuses on ensuring that individuals believe in and are equipped to meet the needs of customer service, as well as technical and safety requirements. Longer-term bids are likely to be differentiated by the willingness of bidders to invest in these processes and demonstrate that the investment will be sustained throughout the term of the contract. It is imperative to make sure UK railways identify the right

number of appropriately skilled employees to deliver the contract, and can then use their development as a differentiator in a bid. During a contractual change, it is essential to consider legal compliance, employee communications and relations, trade unions, relocation, recruitment, remuneration and pension schemes, both to ensure a smooth transition and to meet all the safety requirements of business change with no adverse impact on performance. But this is just the starting point. Bidders need to be able to demonstrate that processes will be in place throughout the term of the contract to respond flexibly to changing circumstances. The benefits that longer-term planning would bring if we move

towards longer franchises is clear. Even with shorter-term franchises, significant returns can be made on investment in employees to improve the customer experience, which in turn drives customer retention and revenue growth.

CATHERINE NOAH IS A SENIOR CONSULTANT AT NORTH STAR:

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