How the new Virgin Trains employee app aims to take the stress out of train travel

Anyone who regularly has to catch trains in the UK knows that things never run as smoothly as railway operators would like. From minor issues like signal failures and the weather, to much more serious incidents like line-side fires, trains are often delayed and customer satisfaction levels are at an all-time low.

Virgin Trains has been operating along the west coast of England for 22 years, with 39 million passengers travelling on its trains annually. However, the company had noticed that over recent years, customer satisfaction levels had started to dip.

“Generally, our customer satisfaction Net Promoter Score (NPS) sits at around 40,” Virgin Trains CIO, John Sullivan told Computerworld UK during the ServiceNow Knowledge event in Las Vegas this week. “In times of disruption, it can go down to minus 30, which means we have some very dissatisfied customers.”

On days when disruption is particularly bad for passengers, the backlash is often felt by Virgin Train employees working in customer-facing roles.

“What we've found is there's a really close link between our customer satisfaction and how happy our employees are. But we know at times of disruption, when it really can be quite chaotic, it’s difficult for everyone," Sullivan said.

The rail operator wanted to drive greater transparency with its customers and employees around disruption, but a set of legacy systems saw it held hostage to its technology suppliers. All its data and processes were trapped inside systems only the suppliers had access to and, as a result, system changes were only being made once every two years.

Realising that this was an unsustainable way to work in a digital world, the company first deployed ServiceNow three years ago and, at the time of publication, 15 of its 17 departments use one or more of the SaaS vendor's platforms in some capacity.

Virgin Trains are now able to make two changes to its system every week and provide customers with information that can help them improve their journey when disruption does occur. Sullivan claims the company has seen its customer satisfaction rates rise by 44 percent since it rolled out ServiceNow’s platform.

With its internal IT delivery system streamlined around ServiceNow, Virgin Trains wanted to see if it could further leverage the technology to improve the service it offered to its employees.

“Our control centre has three or four people and if there’s disruption they can get 1,500 phone calls in a two-hour time period,” says Sullivan. “They just can’t cope. But, if I can’t get through to control, I sometimes end up ringing my boss or my colleagues to try and find out what’s going on and it’s just mad.”

Customer-facing employees often face similar struggles when wide-spread disruption on the railways occurs. Sometimes customers know more information than Virgin Train employees about what is going on. As a result, they find themselves making multiple phone calls to their colleagues to try and gain the most up to date information which can then be passed on to customers.

“So, the big thing that we do with ServiceNow is where there's an issue, we actually face into the issue and try to resolve it at the highest level,” explains Dean Underwood, head of IT services at Virgin Trains. “We're really passionate and excited about what we're doing with disruption and how we get that clarity around what employees need to do.”

Virgin Trains had already seen the benefits of providing its customers with accurate information and wanted to do the same for its employees so, when incidents do occur, everyone now has access to the latest and most accurate data possible, so the company decided to build a mobile app for its employees.

Virgin Trains ran an internal competition to name this new app, which goes live next week, and around 2,000 of its 3,400 employees submitted an idea, with ‘Back on Track’ winning.

All Virgin Train employees will have access to a mobile device or tablet which will host the app and allow them access to vital, real-time information, even if they don’t have a role to play in the resolution of an operation. The company expects to see an annual saving of £400,000 as a result of this application launch, incident resolution time will be cut by 20 minutes and there will also be a 50 percent reduction in phone calls coming into its contact centre.

“We’ve done a lot of work with ServiceNow. We’ve done a lot of workshops to get people from our business just to talk about the challenges they’re having in their job with disruption. We spend an awful lot of time talking, but having the ability to communicate with our employees on the frontline is massive," Underwood added.

In addition to improving the quality of information customers now receive, Virgin Trains have also been able to improve other digital experiences on offer to users. Currently, 30 percent of all train tickets sold by the company are digital, a percentage they claim is higher than any of its competitors. By the end of this financial year, it wants that number to sit around 50 percent.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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