First Capital Connect’s Twitter face

FOR more than 7,300 Twitter followers, the human face of First Capital Connect is Ally Dear, who runs the company’s personalised updates on the social network platform via @FirstCC.

Running from 7am to 10pm daily, Ally provides direct messages on service problems, helps with lost property, updates followers about specific issues, and also endures a regular onslaught of abuse from disgruntled customers.

The system works remarkably well, and Paul explained the reasoning behind the initiative: “A lot of what we do is very system-orientated, which is why we took the decision to put a real person at the end of Twitter, for example.

“It’s a really new environment for us and we are learning from it. The unfortunate thing about Twitter is that we can’t control everything that goes on there, and that is one of the challenges in terms of accuracy. We’re looking at how we manage that whole area, and at the moment we don’t have an answer, but we’re learning.

“When we first launched I was very nervous, I wasn’t sure how we’d be received, and now I’m an absolute convert.”

THE success of FCC’s Twitter feed is part of the company’s reassessment of its stance towards customer relations in general.

The old policy of faceless announcements is being phased out in favour of a more personal approach when it comes to talking to passengers.

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Paul explained: “One of the pieces of equipment we’ve invested in is roaming microphones like London Underground use, and we’ve also quite unashamedly borrowed all of their training material. They’re very human and they’re allowed to be expressive, whereas previously we’ve been very prescriptive, as in ‘here’s your manual and here’s the format for announcements’, and actually that doesn’t work, it’s not what customers want.

“Research has told us that customers want to be told exactly what’s going on and how it is, with a human touch. So we’re currently rolling out training to all our staff on these roaming microphones.”

Neal elaborated: “Some of the feedback about these robotic voices used for announcements has been people asking ‘who’s looking after me, have they all gone home, is it just plugged into some machine somewhere remote?’ That’s obviously not the truth, but you’re able to put back that human flavour into things if you’ve got an empathetic person on a microphone. They use it in normal services as well, and they’re brilliant, it makes such a difference.”

The company is also employing a different type of person to work on Thameslink stations, as Neal revealed: “We took a different approach to recruitment in the past 18 months with recruiting for attitude rather than for skills.

“Previously we were looking for people who knew how to handle themselves in a conflict when actually you don’t want them to get there in the first place, and it’s an absolute delight to go to some of the induction courses now because you get young people coming from a retail background who are very engaging, very bright, very pleasant, and you can tell when you meet them that they’re not the ones who are going to get into any disagreements or difficult spots with customers.

“That is starting to flow through, but you are talking about a cultural shift that will take its time. I think the first step is to deliver the tools for people to use, and then the training that goes with it in customer service. Then you’ve got to hold people to account against these service levels, and we follow up on any conduct complaints by dealing with them on a specific basis to drive them down.”