Influencing the Train Experience: the Role of Staff
Mark Van Hagen, Netherlands Railways, Jessica Sauren, Netherlands Railways
The findings of the study demonstrate how important the role is that staff play in the assessment of the customer and thus how great the People dimension is on the experience of the entire train journey.
Introduction & Objective
In order to improve the image of Train Operation Companies (TOC) and the fact that it lags behind that of other service providers, passengers will have to assess the TOC’s service provision. One solution to achieving an improved assessment is by making the train journey more pleasant (see ETC papers Van Hagen et al., 2012, 2013). Any improvement to the total journey experience (i.e. dissatisfiers and satisfiers) must be measurable. Netherlands Railways (NS) has developed an instrument which allows the measurement of both hard and less tangible quality aspects (see ETC paper, Van Hagen & Sauren, 2013). This instrument, the so-called Train Experience Monitor (TEM), monitors the quality experiences of customers with an aim to influencing key areas and underlying aspects. The TEM is a measurement instrument based on scientific evidence and questions passengers on all kinds of aspects of the train and train journey. These can be either functional questions on e.g. security, cleanliness and information provision, or more emotional questions on the atmosphere and comfort of the train, e.g. whether passengers find the train pleasant and they feel welcome, including the role of the staff.
The experience of a train journey can be influenced in three dimensions (which in turn influence one another):
• Process (the basis, such as punctuality and safety). The more efficient and flexible the service process, the more satisfied the customers.
• People (customers and staff). The presence of other people in the service environment influences how the service is experienced, with too many or too few customers possibly resulting in negative feelings. By comparison, the presence of sufficient and competent staff positively influences the satisfaction of customers (a journey by public transport is no exception).
• Place (environment where the service is offered). The service environment has a strong influence on how the satisfaction with the service is perceived. As a service is not tangible, customers often unconsciously seek clues in the service environment that tell them something about the quality they may expect. If the environment is safe, clean and suits the service offered, the consumer has greater faith in the quality of the service provider.
With the objective of improving customers’ travel experience, a number of experiments are carried out on the basis of aforementioned dimensions in order to ascertain the influence of various measures on the train. Our focus here is the effect of the People dimension, and for this purpose the train staff experimented with a number of scripts which varied in their approach to tannoy announcements, ticket control and service provision.
Sixteen volunteers who wanted to participate in this experiment were recruited from the conductors. They were given a two-day training on a customer-friendly approach, via the tannoy, non-verbally and during the ticket control and service rounds. On trains where the scripts were carried out, the effect of the customers’ train experience was measured with the TEM questionnaire. The study was executed on Intercities on various lines throughout the country, on both weekdays and at the weekend, during peak and off-peak hours. The questionnaire was completed by 5026 passengers.
The main question was whether the scripts were conducive to a more positive assessment of the staff. And if so, which script gave the best result and does a more positive staff assessment also have a knock-on (i.e. a more positive) effect on the assessment of the train journey?
The findings show that the script focusing on control in combination with a warm (instead of a rational/business-like) service provision generates the highest assessment of the staff. On scrutinising the influence of the scripts on the General Assessment of the Train Journey, it is quite clear that the aforementioned script has a significant and positive impact.
These findings demonstrate how important the role is that staff play in the assessment of the customer and thus how great the People dimension is on the experience of the entire train journey.
Association for European Transport