Posted on September 18, 2014 · Posted in General IRO news, South East

On Monday 14th July 2014 The Institution of Railway Operators South East area had the pleasure of welcoming James Burt, former Service Delivery Director of Southern, on the subject of creating a customer service operations culture. James began by outlining his career path which started as a British Rail Graduate Trainee in 1983. James explained that from the start he had a passion for service and that this was what attracted him to the rail industry.

James divided his talk into six components which he felt were necessary to make an organisation truly customer focused:

• Recruit for attitude and train for skills (and never compromise). James felt that the best customer service practitioners love helping people and that this was an attribute which is hard to teach and therefore worth making the effort to select for.
• Fixing the hygiene factors which means getting the basics right like pay, tools for the job and rest facilities. James highlighted an example of an ill fitting uniform and the impact that this can have on a person’s motivation to help customers.
• A leadership style that models open, honest, timely and simple communication with everyone in the company. James explained that there was a need to move away from communication via union reps and create a direct link with every employee.
• The most important relationship is that between the manager and the employee. This is underpinned by emotional intelligence. James described the importance of building trust by creating quality one-to-one time. It is perfectly feasible for a manager to have one-to-ones with all of their staff twice a year by meeting two of their team each week.
• Training and development. James described the importance of experiential customer service training for managers and first line staff, combined with effective follow-through in the workplace.
• Managing by walking about. James explained that it was essential that directors and managers model customer centric behaviours in order for encourage and support employees to deliver the best service that they can.

James said that his preference was not to refer to customer focused staff as ‘front line’ as this suggests a battleground and an adversarial approach to customers. James prefers to use the term ‘first line’ as this removes the battle connotation and encourages the thinking that first line colleagues stand alongside customers understanding their needs and solving their problems, supported by the rest of the organisation.

The talk was very informative and very well received by those who attended. For me personally it was great to benefit from James’s wealth of experience and will certainly assist me in my future career.

Glen Merryman, South East Area Chairman