Improving the customer experience for 6.5 million bus passengers was the ambition set out by Transport for London (TfL). To do that, it decided the best way to drive loyalty, reduce complaints and maintain revenue was to improve the customer service skills of London’s 13,000 bus drivers.
The issue was that, despite record reliability and improved real-time information, London buses generated two-thirds of all TfL’s complaints. The complaints flagged up inconsistencies in the day-to-day customer experience on the capital’s buses.
A large proportion of customer complaints were about buses not stopping when expected or requested. Customers wanted drivers to communicate when there was a delay or disruption to the service. TfL also discovered a disconnect between what customers felt was important when using buses and what bus drivers viewed as their role.
All these issues highlighted the role a driver could play in the human side of the bus customer experience.
With the goal of introducing a customer-centric mindset, TfL invested £6m in ‘Hello London’ – a customer experience programme for its network of drivers and staff. The project was focused on tackling ‘gain points’ around bus driver and customer interactions.
To encourage the drivers to deliver a better service, workshops were held with bus operators and staff to set the vision for what customers should expect from the bus experience. This built on the customer service element of the driver’s role, which was traditionally seen as secondary to the technical skillset.
The programme encouraged drivers to recognise the impact not stopping had on customers and advised them on how to deal with problems like the bus already being full. The project addressed the need for drivers to acknowledge customers and be helpful, while they were also given coping strategies on how to deal with conflict.
Lastly, the programme looked at how to build driver confidence in making public address announcements and providing information to customers on the journey.
As customers see London buses as a single brand, any improvement to the experience had to be delivered across 10 different bus operators that did not have a history of extensive collaboration. TfL, therefore, identified that the biggest risk was the logistical challenge of bringing together all operators and managing potential conflicts of interest.
As a result, the Hello London programme was developed in partnership with operators, while the training counted towards the Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) drivers are required to complete and was accredited by the trade body responsible for drivers’ professional development.
The team were also aware the content needed to strike the right tone and not appear to be telling experienced bus drivers how to do their job. To get the balance right, the Hello London development team spent weeks working in bus garages to understand the environment, ensuring that the programme had an authentic tone of voice.
TfL also used roleplay to enable the drivers to see situations from other perspectives. The two-day programme included ‘a day in the life of a bus driver’, where actors role-played scenarios raised in common customer complaints. The team also ran quizzes and group work to facilitate a deeper discussion around the challenges to providing great customer service.
Solutions were welcomed from the drivers themselves, who contributed 2,600 ideas to improve the customer experience, the best of which were implemented on the network.
Understanding that customer experience issues were not just down to the drivers, TfL ran a series of one-day courses to provide the 1,700 garage-based staff with training on basic customer service principles and management, enabling them to support the drivers.
The team also challenged the managers to find ways to make the training messages ‘live on’ for the drivers once they were back behind the wheel and asked them to appoint ‘champions’ to embed learnings from the Hello London programme. Then to ensure they felt supported, TfL launched a marketing campaign reminding customers of the challenges drivers face.
The programme had an instant impact, which contributed to Hello London winning the 2019 Marketing Week Masters award for customer experience.
The reputation of London buses saw a significant uplift, including a 10% increase in the score for ‘London buses have friendly and helpful staff’ and an 11% rise in the score for ‘London buses are on the way up’.
TfL saw a 77% increase in customer commendations and 57% rise in the frequency of drivers making announcements, two key measures of the impact of driver behaviour. There was also a 12% reduction in complaints relating to ‘buses not stopping’, which TfL estimates represents an annual saving of £40,000 in complaint handling costs.
Furthermore, driver interaction levels in TfL’s customer satisfaction survey peaked at 87 points, including a 23% increase in the score for providing information during delays.
TfL estimates the £6m cost of the Hello London campaign was more than outset by the customer service improvements, thought to be worth £13.3m in additional revenue per year.
The Marketing Week Masters awards 2020 are now open for entries. To find out more information, visit www.marketingweek.com/marketing-week-masters