Category: Customer Resolution Centre

CILT webinar: Building an efficient bus operation and retaining drivers

The bus industry is navigating its way through a challenging operating environment with changes in travel routines and driver shortages making the demand for bus services increasingly complex. To overcome these challenges, bus operators need to become more operationally efficient.

The live webinar which was delivered on the 17th January in conjunction with the CILT UK, Nick Brookes, our Software Director, and Aiden Proctor, Omnibus Product Owner, discussed how bus operators can make their transport business more efficient whilst retaining and engaging their workforce.

eBook – Building an efficient bus operation in today’s world

Our eBook discusses how to measure the performance of each of the components which make up an efficient, profitable, and sustainable bus operation.

Complete the below form to download our eBook.

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eBook – The future of customer service in the bus industry

Customer Service

Customer service is an important aspect of any industry, and the bus industry is no different. Bus operators and transport authorities must deliver exceptional services to increase customer satisfaction and grow patronage.

However, there are a variety of factors that are making customer services increasingly complex for the industry. 

Customer Service

Customers have high expectations; they have become accustomed to personalised and quick responses, and the way they provide feedback has evolved to include social media, email, and websites. This alongside changes in travel routines, driver shortages, and the National Bus Strategy requirement to share data and build into improvement plans has resulted in customer service teams in bus operations facing new challenges.

Our eBook discusses the challenges customer service teams in bus operations face and explores ways bus operators can adapt and enhance their customer service function to thrive in the current climate where the customer experience is key to a successful business.

Complete the below form to download our eBook.

Warrington’s Own Buses select EPM’s new solution, Customer Resolution Centre, to improve customer satisfaction

Warrington’s Own Buses are the first adopters of EPM’s Customer Resolution Centre which accelerates responding to customer issues, enhancing their service experience.

The EPM Customer Resolution Centre is a one-of-a-kind solution developed specifically for the bus industry, customer feedback is automatically collated from multiple sources across the bus operation into a central hub, along with complete visibility of the operating environment, enabling customer service teams to respond to customers quickly. The platform allows users to streamline the investigation process, automate workflows, and analyse customer service data.

Customer Resolution Centre

The system integrates with EPM’s Bus Incident Reporting Screen (BIRS) providing valuable insight in real-time into what is happening across the network including road traffic, accidents, and breakdowns enabling them to resolve customer queries promptly. It also integrates with EPM’s Insights solution to provide in-depth advanced analytics to build into improvement plans.

Ben Wakerley, Managing Director of Warrington’s Own Buses, said: “The way our customers are communicating with us has evolved to include social media, our website, and email, and although we welcome this shift in communication, we needed a system to help us adapt to the change.”

“The Customer Resolution Centre platform will revolutionise our customer service function by giving us the capability to access all the information we need in one place. Having the information easily accessible will enable us to efficiently investigate the root cause, resolve issues quickly, and analyse the data to enhance our customer service function.”

Ian Churchill, CEO of EPM Group, commented: “We are pleased to be working with Warrington’s Own Buses on the adoption of this exciting new technology, supporting them to manage customer feedback efficiently and giving them the capability to deal with feedback from across many communication channels, in line with the world we live in today.”

–END–

Press contact at EPM Group: Harmi Sangha, Harminder.sangha@epm-bus.com

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Optimising control room and engineering communication to improve operational efficiency

Optimising control room efficiency image

Bus operators have invested in multiple control room software systems from depot allocation to incident management in order to run a smooth operation. To maintain operational efficiency, they need to work in harmony as often an action or data point in one system has an impact on another.

But without integration, this can lead to double entry of data, which is an inefficient use of time and can lead to inaccurate data. Also, the team can make poor service decisions if all the relevant information is not easily accessible to them.

Optimising control room efficiency image

Improve communication

Control room teams and engineers rely on each other for information. The engineer needs to know when a vehicle has broken down, what to expect when attending or dealing with a breakdown and if a driver has reported a vehicle fault. In most instances, the engineer only discovers a vehicle problem when they receive a message from the operations team, and this does not always include all the key information they require to efficiently deal with the problem.

The depot controller needs support from the engineering team to keep the service running by providing the required vehicles. They need to know when a vehicle is available after being worked on by the engineering team. The receipt of this information can be slow, and this results in a delayed resolution to a time-critical problem.

Communication between controllers and engineers can be poor or slow due to several reasons. The control room and engineers are often based in different parts of the site and can be completely remote from each other. But more importantly, both functions use different software tools, so email and phone calls are the current means of communicating and sharing data.

What is the solution?

An operator’s engineering teams use a range of software solutions and providers to manage vehicle maintenance, inventory and costs. Integrating these third-party solutions with your vehicle allocation and incident management systems can improve operational efficiency by automating data flows.

For the engineer, this means that when the depot controller records a vehicle defect, the data is automatically populated in the system with the relevant incident categorisation against the correct vehicle. Time is saved as there is no need to enter the data manually; the system is updated automatically as soon as the driver reports the incident to the operations team.

For the depot controller this means that when a vehicle is taken off the road for maintenance it is automatically marked as not available for allocation. Similarly, when it is released by the engineering team using their software system, the vehicle immediately appears as available in the depot allocation system. The controller does not waste time chasing the engineer on the vehicle’s status.

The controller can also supply details of vehicle incidents, with details of the bus and any defects, straight to the engineering team. This saves valuable time as there is no need to rewrite the information in an email or relay it over the phone. Furthermore, the controller does not need to then mark a vehicle as unavailable in the allocation system because that is updated automatically as soon as the engineer takes it off the road. A double timesaving for the operator!

How EPM Group can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has comprehensive knowledge of the passenger transport industry and well-established software solutions.

We offer an end-to-end solution. For engineers and depot controllers, we can integrate with engineering software solutions to improve your operational efficiency by automating communication and data transfer. As soon as an incident occurs, it can be logged through the Bus Incident Reporting Screen (BIRS) in the EPM Traffic system and reported to engineering. Engineering can quickly process the issue and make the vehicle unavailable, and this is then automatically updated in OmniDAS (the complete depot allocation system offered through our sister company, Omnibus Solutions).

To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 01527 556 940.

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Local Transport Authorities: Utilise resources to meet BSIP requirements

Last month it was announced that thirty-one counties, city regions and unitary authorities have been selected to level up local bus services through government funding. Recipients of the grant will now be working towards implementing the proposed changes that were submitted in last year’s Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs).

Now more than ever there is an expectation that buses should run as efficiently as possible. Data will be required to demonstrate how services have improved and justify the government grants.

Upskill your team with industry-recognised courses

With all the newly required changes it can be difficult for LTAs to know where to begin. Upskilling the team with industry-recognised practical courses can provide a solid foundation for those who are unfamiliar with key aspects of the bus operation.

Learning to manually schedule buses and drivers with industry-trained schedulers helps in understanding what is actually involved in getting bus services out onto the road.

Covering a range of subjects, from the theory behind bus timetabling, including the creation of efficient vehicle workings and the relationship between these two disciplines; to creating cost-effective driver duties and understanding the impact they can have on vehicle workings and timetables, a working knowledge of bus timetables and their operational effectiveness is vital in ensuring the success of the network.

Increase operational efficiency with consultancy services

Many LTAs will have seen a reduction in staff levels in their public transport teams over recent years and will have faced budget cuts or budget freezes. Coupled with very tight timescales, they may struggle to meet their obligations at a critical time.

Outsourcing these services can alleviate the problem completely and deliver highly efficient results quickly and easily. Onboarding skilled and experienced consultants can fill resource gaps on an interim basis and help manage demand peaks.

Conduct network analysis for BSIP reporting

In order to identify the effectiveness of network changes, software can be implemented to monitor journey times and service levels at different times of the day.

Analysis tools can also be used to give a complete picture of the network by collecting all the data into one system and offering breakdowns of individual areas. Users can view information such as patronage trends that are formulated into graphs and charts. This drill down capability allows intuitive interrogation of the data, investigating root causes of any issues identified, and enables users to set and monitor KPIs for BSIPs.

How EPM Group can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has a comprehensive knowledge of the bus industry and works with four of the seven PTEs in the UK as well as a range of local authorities to streamline their organisational processes. We offer a two-day Manual Scheduling course for Local Bus Services and a range of consultancy services to assist with timetabling and scheduling.

In addition, our broad, fully integrated software range covers a multitude of functions from operations through to commercial and engineering. To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 01527 556940.

Ready to take your bus network to the next level?

Get in touch to build a tailored solution today

Maximising control room efficiency

EPM Group aims to empower bus operators’ control room teams with integrated technology.

As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic recedes, the bus sector is working harder than ever to get people back on the bus.

Software solutions specialist EPM Bus Solutions aims to assist that process with the creation of new products and techniques that can help operators achieve that goal while making them ready for the post-Covid world.

“We work closely with our clients and from those conversations, we know they are really focussed on rebuilding revenue and patronage,” says Nick Brookes, software director at EPM Group. “That’s a given, obviously, but they are also seeking to enhance their operational effectiveness as well in order to reduce costs and drive profits.”

Article featured in The ALBUM Report 2022 by Passenger Transport

Tools to enhance business processes

It means Nick and his team at EPM have been looking very closely at developing new tools that aim to improve business efficiency. That process has been broken down into three component parts:

  • ‘Before the day’ network planning;
  • ‘On the day’ control room processes; and
  • ‘After the day’ processes where commercial and operational performance are scrutinised.

“Our solutions play a key role at each of those three stages,” says Nick, adding that EPM Group has been closely looking at those ‘on the day’ control room elements in order to create new ways of improving efficiency and business productivity.

Part of that process is assisted by the breadth of solutions and products EPM already offers to clients. As Nick notes, they cover the complex chain of processes that run throughout bus businesses and they not only help to drive efficiencies but also lead to a better service for customers. “That really helps operators to deliver an excellent customer experience,” he adds. “That’s absolutely critical at the moment.”

Control room processes

Bus operator control rooms are the hub of the business and the key to ensuring fantastic on the ground service delivery. They cover a myriad of processes such as driver absences, lost mileage or on-the-road issues that can affect punctuality and reliability like traffic congestion or specific issues that require liaison with other departments, like in the case of an accident or vehicle breakdown.

Nick Brookes“They are tasked with providing a high-quality service to the customer,” explains Nick. “Those core tasks – making sure the staff are in, the vehicles are on the road and the service is running reliably – are key to that goal.”

But to gain greater insight into how those processes actually work, Nick and his colleagues have spent time in bus operator control rooms to observe them in action. He says it was an enlightening experience.

“One of the things that really stood out was that operators have invested in lots of different solutions in recent years,” he reveals. “There are lots of different systems in there, but we noticed it was all rather disparate – control room staff have to go to lots of different places to gather that information. When they find it, it’s not always in an easy-to-use format either.”

Nick says this means that some of the decisions made as a result of not having a centralised source of information can sometimes have significant cost implications and even detrimental impacts on service delivery. “Without a central hub, control room staff have to move from one system to another and then to another rather than it being presented in a way that facilitates good decision-making,” he adds.

A good example of that is a driver who may have been delayed on the first half of their duty, perhaps as a result of traffic congestion. Nick highlights that control room staff may have to extend their break before they can go back on the road for their second half. It’s a problem that has to be solved immediately, so having visibility of issues in a central hub enables operators to make decisions efficiently and cost effectively.

Solving the problem

“There are lots of different impacts in terms of how that situation can be managed,” says Nick. “If we have all of that information displayed and available, and particularly the key information you really need to know to make effective decisions, that’s not only going to help improve the efficiency and operation of the control room but also the wider business too.”

He says this could be the engineering department or customers services, but the key advantage is that rather than control room staff resorting to time-consuming written reports, ad-hoc emails or phone calls – all parts of the organisation are automatically informed immediately, triggering further automated processes further down that line.

“So you have this single operations platform, that brings together not only information from EPM systems, but third-party platforms too. That has the potential to not only create efficiencies but really improve communication across the business while avoiding the potential for errors to creep into the data,” Nick adds. “People don’t have to resort to frantic phone calls or wade through files or emails in order to find the information they need.”

Making the right decision

Of course, bringing together all these data sources also presents the opportunity to do new things with them. In that late running bus example, the driver’s duty may be in one system and the vehicle real time information may be in another, but by bringing those two sources together control room staff can be alerted in advance that there is an emerging issue that needs solving.

“We can facilitate proactive decision-making,” says Nick. “It’s perhaps inevitable that if you have information tucked away in various different systems, sometimes you just can’t see the wood for the trees. By bringing those pieces of information together we can help people to focus on making the right decision while managing the operation as efficiently as possible.”

Integrated solutions

The first phase of EPM Group’s development is to integrate between their new cloud-based Depot Allocation System, OmniDAS, and the EPM Traffic system to ensure that any staff-related incidents are automatically created. This streamlines the process and improves data integrity.

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Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.

Making the bus operation chain more efficient

EPM Group aiming to empower bus operators to deliver efficiency improvements with the very latest software

Since March 2020 we have all experienced big changes in the way we live, work, shop and play. And public transport is not immune to those wider societal changes, many of which were already established trends before the pandemic. But Covid has only greatly accelerated that process.

Meanwhile, the launch of England’s National Bus Strategy, plus changes to funding mechanisms and industry structure across the wider UK mean bus operators will need to embrace change now more than ever.

Article featured in special edition UK Bus and Coach January 2022 by Passenger Transport

The bus sector is working harder than ever to get people back on the bus while adapting to the so-called ‘new normal’. Behind the scenes, operators are striving to address the challenges of supply and demand and tailoring their networks accordingly, but those structural changes and financial challenges mean operators must also adapt and embrace new ways of working and tailor processes to ensure their businesses are as efficient as possible.

Just under 12 months ago two big names in the world of passenger transport software came together with the purchase by EPM Bus Solutions of leading supplier Omnibus. Bringing these two businesses together offers many natural synergies, but now they are hoping to spark a revolution for bus operators that will help them streamline their operations and business processes and help make them ready for the post-Covid era.

Natural partners

Aiden Proctor, Omnibus’s scheduling suite product owner, takes up the story.

Aiden Proctor“A bus operator is a very complex machine,” he says. “There are a lot of moving parts and there’s a lot of activity taking place to ensure the service is delivered to the passenger. We like to think of those processes that got the bus to the bus stop as a chain, a chain that runs right through the organisation and one that brings together a variety of processes.”

That chain commences when the operator begins planning the shape of their network, perhaps that process may commence with some market research activity or probing historical bus patronage data. It enables the commercial team to configure a network that provides the very best service possible to the passenger.

Aiden continues: “Once that’s in place you can move onto the timetables, then the schedules, driver duties and rotas. By that stage, you’re getting to the point where you need to put drivers onto vehicles and so you’re at the forward allocation process. Then you’re finally at the day of operation and you’re opening the doors of the depot and putting the service out on the road.”

And it is here that many of the solutions that have been developed by EPM take over with platforms that allow control room staff to log day-to-day incidents like accidents, unexpected traffic congestion or bad weather. That process continues beyond the end of the day when the service has been delivered. EPM’s solutions allow operators to determine ‘how well did we do?’ with reporting on patronage, profitability, fuel consumption, customer feedback and reliability. That continues with BSOG calculations and contractual reporting to Local Transport Authorities (LTAs). Aiden says it means there’s quite a complex chain of events going on and each and every link in that chain needs to be managed effectively.

“Obviously with the current climate off the back of Covid, there’s a lot of pressure on operating costs and revenue,” he says. “It’s more important than ever that operators have the most efficient service they possibly can.”

Enhancing service quality and efficiency

He says there are two parts to that process. Firstly, ensuring the service delivered is one that is of very high quality and that it encourages passengers to use it and, ultimately, grow patronage. Secondly, this must be undertaken in the most efficient way possible.

“Those two things are pretty intertwined,” says Aiden. “It gives a good idea of how effective the bus operation is. Quite often that process starts with a high-level dashboard of KPIs containing the obvious things like patronage and revenue through to profitability, engineering quality and customer feedback. This got us thinking – how can we help operators really understand how effective and, in particular, efficient their organisation is?”

EPM began to look at the range of KPIs that the typical bus operator wishes to understand from that chain of events. It helps that that entire chain is for the most part covered by processes that require input from the two companies’ software suite. From the Omnibus products that cover scheduling, rostering, crew duties and depot allocation to the EPM processes that gather the operational data and help operators to understand the revenue, profitability and customer service aspects of networks.

“So, we have most of the data to hand, which we can supplement with some third party data,” adds Aiden. “We began thinking about each individual link and how we can make it as efficient as it can possibly be.”

That process has been split into three broad areas: before the day – covering duties, scheduling and forward allocation; on the day – covering running the service and control room processes; and after the day – where the performance of the service is reviewed.

Assisting control room staff

From these broad areas, the processes are subdivided further by examining what can be measured, exploring the data that is required to improve efficiency further and the KPIs needed to make that process a reality. Meanwhile, the team began exploring how the solutions offered by both EPM and Omnibus can be embedded even further to ensure even more efficiency.

Nick Brookes, EPM’s software director, highlights one area where these moves to improve efficiency could bear fruit.

Nick Brookes“We’ve been looking closely at control room processes,” he reveals. “Traditionally the Omnibus schedules would be imported into the EPM system to give the control room the information about what is planned to operate that day. The EPM system is then used to record the incidents that will inevitably occur throughout the day, so, for example, breakdowns, traffic congestion or accidents that will inevitably have an impact on the service that is actually delivered.”

Nick says there are opportunities to bring together the two systems in a way that give control room staff the very best opportunity to make improvements in real-time. For example, there may be a driver who is delayed by traffic congestion in the first half of their duty, so the control room staff may need to extend their break period before they go back onto the road for their planned second half in order to ensure they meet legal or local requirements.

He continues: “That leads to a problem you have to solve immediately. Traditionally control room staff would have had to switch between different systems in order to determine what spare drivers are available to cover the work. You may also need to see what was planned for the driver to do for the rest of the day so you can devise a plan to solve the problem. What we want to do is to pull all of that data, bring it together in one place and give control room staff the tools to efficiently solve the problem.

“Ultimately, it’s a puzzle and at the moment they are having to use lots of different systems in different places to gather up the information they need to solve the problems that are in front of them. That’s not a particularly efficient way of working.”

Nick adds that once the problem is solved, there are a variety of people located downstream that need to be informed about the changes the control room staff have made in order to ensure as robust a service as possible is delivered on the ground. This could be the engineering department, customer services and certainly both the drivers and passengers are going to need to be informed.

“It’s about sharing and passing information throughout the organisation rather than people having to resort to phone calls and emails,” he says. “These are quite time-critical decisions that need to be made and people in that sort of environment don’t have the time to spend ringing up lots of people to tell them what’s happening; they just need to put the information into one place and from there, everyone is informed about what’s happening.”

Customer-informed process

And EPM is working closely with customers during this process. Nick reveals he has recently spent time in bus operator control rooms in a bid to understand the processes that could be improved. As he notes, it is far better to see these processes in action rather than as a theoretical exercise.

“I’ve been to three or four sites so far and I’m keen to get out to a couple more, just so I can discover where the pressure points are where we can make some serious productivity and efficiency gains by bringing systems together,” he says.

Local Transport Authorities: Performance monitoring and reporting to support BSIPs

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The deadline for Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) to develop and publish their Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) is fast approaching. By 31st October 2021, LTAs will need to have sent their BSIPs to the Department for Transport (DfT), and from 1st April 2022 they will need to be delivering the Enhanced Partnerships.

The guidance states that LTAs should set targets for journey times and reliability improvements, as well as for passenger growth and customer satisfaction. Initially, progress reports are required to be published against these targets on a six-month basis to monitor performance, which means it’s imperative that LTAs have access to accurate data to ensure that KPIs are set and monitored correctly.

Sourcing baseline data for KPIs

In order to set KPIs for the BSIPS, LTAs need access to baseline data. Due to the Covid pandemic, the past 18 months of data cannot be used as an accurate reference point, which means LTAs will need to look further back at historic data in order to draw comparisons. Established software solutions will have historic data embedded within the system and users can easily access the data from weeks, months, or years prior in order to build an accurate picture of progress.

LTAs are likely to focus on specific areas of the network to improve and being able to access systems that can compare recent results with results from two years ago is key to analysing if the changes have made the desired impact.

Streamlining data sharing processes

Traditionally, LTAs have not had access to such vast amounts of data but now the National Bus Strategy is encouraging a more collaborative relationship between LTAs and operators and is insisting that processes become more transparent. Because of this, it is important that both parties use trusted providers that can help facilitate that exchange of data.

Software is needed to streamline this sharing of data between operators and LTAs. In many cases, current processes are not synchronised and require time-consuming and error-prone manual data submissions. Data automation significantly reduces administration time and ensures a level of accuracy, which means users can spend more time understanding and analysing the figures rather than uploading large volumes of data to a system.

There should also be controls around what data is shared between LTAs and operators. Both should agree together on the information that they are going to provide and use a platform that can feed in the data between systems automatically and within agreed parameters.

Data accuracy is crucial to ensure that BSIPs and the KPIs around them are set and monitored correctly. The BSIP guidance refers to ensuring data is consistent throughout, for instance, the naming of stops between ‘operator A’ and ‘operator B’ must be the same.

Utilising data to improve the network

Access to this information can help inform the network, as close examination of corridors can indicate areas which need to be improved. For example, traffic congestion in a city or town can lead to an unreliable service, so LTAs and operators will need to work together to find a solution, whether that be changing the traffic light system or adding a bus lane. After this has been implemented, operators and LTAs can use software systems to monitor if the change has had an impact on patronage and customer satisfaction levels.

There is also a flexibility within these systems that allows users to home in on certain scenarios, such as omitting specific data from the analysis if there has been a large-scale event that will have skewed the overall results. Users are then able to quantify the results, to find out exactly what the changes have cost in terms of investment, and what the benefit has been.

Network analysis for improvement planning

Analysis tools can be used to give a complete picture of the network by collecting all the data into one system and offering breakdowns of individual areas. Users are able to view information such as patronage trends that are formulated into graphs and charts. This drill down capability allows intuitive interrogation of the data, investigating root causes of any issues identified, and enables users to set and monitor KPIs for BSIPs.

Customer feedback can be collated through integrated software solutions and monitored to see where issues may have developed and why. With this data, operators and LTAs can get a better understanding of customer complaints and use it to inform the improvement plans.

How EPM Group can help

With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group has a comprehensive knowledge of the bus industry and works with five of the seven PTEs in the UK as well as a range of local authorities to streamline their organisational processes. Our broad, fully integrated software range covers a multitude of functions from operations through to commercial and engineering. To book a free consultation to see how we can assist with your challenges and requirements, complete the online form or call 01527 556940.

Ready to take your bus network to the next level?

Get in touch to build a tailored solution today