Software solutions specialist supports bus operators as they transform customer service and rebuild patronage.
The bus industry is facing some significant challenges when it comes to providing high-quality customer service. Despite their very best efforts, many operators need help with staff shortages, traffic congestion, and post-pandemic uncertainty all impacting service delivery.
Nick Brookes, software director at EPM Group, believes the bus industry needs to react to these challenges and also think ahead to the passengers of the future.
Many of these potential passengers increasingly turn to cost-effective alternatives such as ride-hailing apps and micromobility modes like e-scooters or cycle hire. Younger generations are also less likely to use traditional public transport.
“Against this backdrop, customer expectations more generally are rising: people expect a more personalised experience and also the ability to provide feedback on their journey,” says Nick. “This puts pressure on bus operators to transform their customer service delivery and provide a more tailored and responsive service.”
The customer service challenge
Bus operators are also increasingly recognising the significant role that good customer service plays in responding to those challenges.
“Many operators acknowledge they need to enhance customer engagement, but there are other factors also contributing to this shift in attitude,” adds Nick. “The National Bus Strategy requires operators to demonstrate wholesale improvements in customer satisfaction and partnership working with Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) will inevitably require them to demonstrate its happened using KPIs.”
Customer service is therefore a crucial factor that should not be overlooked. “Not so long ago that feedback would have come from a small number of channels,” says Nick. “Passengers would have either written a letter to the operator or called their customer service team.
It’s completely different today, of course. Yes, those channels still exist, but there’s now also email, Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to consider. The ability to proactively communicate across multiple platforms is now critical.”
Offering a consolidated view
So how can operators get a handle on managing customer service? Nick believes the answer lies in EPM’s Customer Resolution Centre platform, a single system that automatically collects feedback from a variety of sources, effectively managing the process and providing a consolidated view of all communication.
“It has been designed to ensure that no feedback slips through the cracks unnoticed,” he adds. “Customer Resolution Centre consolidates data from social media networks and websites along with more traditional communication methods, such as face-to-face or telephone calls, to reduce the time spent recording customer interactions.
Managing these very different communication channels can be time-consuming, so it’s really vital that operators ensure they have the right systems in place to collect the data they need.”
Built-in workflows ensure that every comment, complaint or commendation is assigned to the appropriate department for investigation, and the passenger also receives a notification about how their feedback is being handled. It’s an approach that Nick says has been designed to save staff time and make it easier for them to keep on top of all customer communications.
He continues: “Traditional methods of investigation can be time-consuming and frequently run the risk of straining relations with both passengers and between teams, but operators these days have access to a wealth of data captured in standalone systems, such as real-time information systems, and it seems logical to use that information to help resolve the issue.”
Nick highlights how Customer Resolution Centre can work across different platforms. Investigators can swiftly retrieve data on the route, timetable, vehicle, and driver, even with the most basic of details and that means investigation times can be reduced, allowing the case to be efficiently resolved.
“When looking at data such as ticketing information, driver logs, and congestion reports on their own, little actionable insight can be gleaned from them,” he adds. “However, when these disparate data sources are combined and analysed alongside customer feedback – effectively a single source of truth – a much clearer picture emerges. It means operators can identify network issues or routes where extra running time may be needed.”
Customer service teams inevitably spend more time dealing with complaints than commendations, not because the service is poor, but because passengers are more likely to report negative experiences. Nick stresses it’s important to focus on positive feedback.
“There are well-known industry driver recruitment and retention issues, so ensuring any positive messaging gets back to the driver concerned to recognise their good work is an important aspect of an operator’s driver retention strategy,” he adds.
Nick also feels that Customer Resolution Centre can improve compliance. “That consolidated view means you’re capturing a comprehensive snapshot of the business,” he says. “There isn’t the risk you’re missing silo datasets, so there are some real benefits when it comes to Traffic Commissioners and regulatory compliance.”
A key focus
EPM has been placing significant emphasis on improving control room processes for some time now with its BIRS (Bus Incident Reporting System) tool enabling operators to work more flexibly and efficiently. Nick adds the company now wants to build on this by consolidating all information flows in and out of the control room into one solution.
He says this will be crucial in allowing control room staff to make more informed and proactive decisions. By integrating data from different systems, like Customer Resolution Centre, and using historical data to identify trends, the aim is to eliminate silos that currently exist.
“The goal is to improve operator efficiency and that’s a key priority for us,” Nick concludes.
Powering the future of your bus operations
Grow patronage, boost revenue, and drive operational efficiency.
This year’s theme is the changing face of our industry focusing on four pillars within this – policy, customers, products, and colleagues. The event will be a celebration of all areas of the industry looking at both the present and future of the industry, and how we can navigate the challenges and maximise opportunity.
Visit us on stand 37 for product demos and speak with Software Director, Nick Brookes; BSOG Director, Matthew Hanlon; Account Manager, Penny Johnson; Omnibus’ Founder, Peter Crichton; and Product Owner, Aiden Proctor about our software solutions and consultancy services, including:
The government has announced the £2 bus fare cap will be extended for three months to 30 June 2023.
Millions of passengers across England will benefit from £155 million in government support to cap bus fares at £2, maintain services and ensure people can travel affordably.
The Transport Secretary has confirmed £80 million from 1 April to 30 June 2023 to protect vital bus services people rely on for work, education, medical appointments and shopping.
The government has also announced plans to provide up to £75 million so that bus operators can continue to cap single bus fares outside of London at £2 until the end of June, saving passengers money and encouraging more people back on the bus. With the average single local bus ticket costing £2.80, passengers can save almost a third of the ticket price.
Disruption to bus services has a negative impact on the customer experience so it is important that transport operators can manage re-allocation problems on-the-spot and with the least number of processes for faster resolution.
But the impact of driver shortages and staff sickness is increasing workloads for controllers. They use multiple systems to resolve staff-related operational issues and this eats into their time which would be better spent managing the network. How can operators streamline the recording of bus driver incidents and free up their controllers to focus on higher value work?
Challenge: Time lost to manual data entry
Operators use a range of control room systems – often disparate technology that is not integrated – to record information on absences, customer feedback, accidents, lost mileage, and monitoring punctuality and reliability. Each operational action may also require a record to be made or updated on one or more separate systems.
A staff-related incident, for instance, that results in changes to planned mileage is recorded in the depot allocation system and the bus incident reporting screen. If using disparate data sources (systems which function on their own without sharing data or working with other computer applications), the controller rekeys the same information twice; once in each system. This is not only tedious and time-taking but also makes managing disparate databases difficult as the bus operation grows.
Challenge: Rekeying data leads to errors
There is also a lack of data integrity borne out of two different sources of the same information. Re-entering or transferring data is prone to human errors and lack of precision and can result in varying versions of the same information being entered into different systems. In addition, any discrepancy takes time to identify and rectify.
Furthermore, driver availability issues mean operators are cancelling and amending services in lots of different systems. If the controller is distracted and there is a delay in recording information, the data is logged incorrectly or they forget to enter it in one or more systems, this can result in out-of-date information going out to the end-customer.
Data that is manually entered in multiple systems or generated from a variety of sources can become unreliable if it is not consistent. This, in turn, may lead to difficulties with reporting and poor decision-making, and result in significant cost implications for the operator and directly impact the service to the end customer.
Solution: Reduce duplication with software integration
Operators can overcome these challenges by automating interactions between their data systems and in doing so streamline processes. For instance, staff-related changes recorded in the depot allocation system can automatically transfer to the bus incident reporting screen, meaning data only needs to be entered into one system. This reduces the time required to record the incident, therefore, increasing staff efficiencies, and allows for faster response times to solving problems as they arise.
Software integration also ensures operational data across systems is consistent. The removal of duplicate data entry points reduces the opportunities for human error, providing operators with a single source of truth for decision-making and reporting purposes.
How we can help
With over 30 years’ experience in software and consultancy services, EPM Group (EPM and Omnibus) has comprehensive knowledge of the passenger transport industry and well-established software solutions to improve operational agility.
Control Hub automatically consolidates operational data from multiple control room systems into one central location, empowering operators to efficiently manage on-the-day issues and achieve significant cost-savings.
Bus statistics for England for the year ending March 2022 have been published by the Department for Transport. Statistics include recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, passenger journeys, bus mileage, and vehicles.
The number of local bus passenger journeys in England saw an increase by 1.3 billion or 79.6% to 2.8 billion in the financial year ending March 2022. This was however still far lower than 2 years ago where passenger journeys in the financial year ending 2020 for England were 4.1 billion.
Bus mileage in England saw an increase when compared to the financial year ending 2021 by 93.3 million miles or 9.6%. Bus mileage has been less severely impacted than passenger journeys over the last couple of years, largely due to the COVID-19 Bus Service Support Grant (CBSSG) and then the Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) which was introduced to keep services running that may have otherwise operated at a loss, or not operated at all.
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.
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.
How would you describe a typical day in the life of an Internal Recruiter?
Any recruiter will agree that recruitment is a rollercoaster, you have to be able to roll with the punches, but this is what keeps me going, no two days are the same!
How does your role contribute to the company’s overall success?
I think people are at the heart of any business. Recruiting the right people is pivotal to success. If we have the right people and they are happy doing their jobs, the world is our oyster.
What do you most enjoy about working at EPM / Omnibus?
I am enjoying the challenge, it’s very busy but I enjoy that part. I also love working with all the different teams and senior management. Everyone is so helpful and supportive, so I have a big thank you to say to a lot of people who have made me very welcome.
What is the biggest achievement of your EPM / Omnibus career?
I think for me, my biggest achievement is the relationships I have built with hiring managers and the wider team. I feel that we have managed to work well together and got things moving quickly. It was important to me to be able to come in and have an impact on the business.
As we continue to expand the team, what advice do you have for someone joining the team?
I would say invest in spending time with key teams or people. There are so many knowledgeable people here and everyone really wants to help so take advantage of that and take in all you can.
How do you anticipate the industry may change over the coming years?
I think it’s fair to say the industry is evolving and always becoming more technologically and digitally advanced. Great news for us as this is what we are here to do! I also think there will be more environmental focus with everyone making a conscious effort to be greener.
Outside of work, how do you spend your spare time?
Honestly, my favourite pastime is eating out which also means I have to enjoy working out (I am still working on enjoying that as much though). I am also very family oriented so enjoy spending lots of time with them.
Who is the person who inspires you most?
My daughter, she inspires me to be the best I can be every day.
Tell us a random fact about you – the silliest, most daring or spontaneous thing you have ever done you’ve ever done is?
I will be honest, this is a difficult one for me as generally, I am a very sensible person (boring I know). My mum would probably say the silliest thing I ever did was dye my hair bright purple and pink when I was 27 but to be honest, I loved it, so the style stayed for a good 12 months.