Currently on the Virgin Trains East Coast recruitment site they're recruiting for a role called "Voice of Customer Manager" (that link is a copy of the original ad, the original is available here while the job is still promoted). UPDATE: As it has now been announced that Virgin Trains East Coast will have their franchise terminated on 23 June 2018 there's no certainty whether this job will go ahead or if it does whether the job spec will be changed.

If you're interested in the role and the job is still open, why not apply? We really need someone who would act as a voice for passengers and willing to ensure that their views are considered when changes are made.

What I would do...

The "voice of [the] customer" should be a role that's a mix of both hands on as well as dealing with collecting and analysing information. There also needs to be a strong understanding of business needs to ensure anything suggested is actually deliverable. The job spec as written does not seem to be very hands on but instead concentrates on processing the information obtained from various sources. What the role needs is someone who is willing to discover the needs of different types of passengers and ensure their views are represented when decisions are being made. In other words the passengers should know there's someone who's going to be there when decisions are made to ensure their view is represented.

The important thing to do first is to ensure you understand the needs of those passengers who have special needs. Talk to passengers who require assistance and find out what their real life experiences are, talk to groups representing passengers with special needs and find out what can be done to help make transport accessible to all. Not all disabilities are visible so it would be important to learn more about what can cause barriers to travel and also spend some time out and about seeing what sort of challenges are faced on a day to day basis.

I think it's also important to see the service from a passenger perspective, so you know exactly what's on offer. Spend time travelling both classes at different times of day on different routes talking to both passengers and staff where appropriate. Spend some of the time which would usually be spent in the office working on the train. Will WiFi issues make it difficult? Being able to work on the train should be a major selling point when comparing plane to train for business travel. 

Airtime

As mentioned in a previous blog, VTEC seem to have scrapped their Airtime (meet the manager) events. They ran these between 2015 and 2017 and despite originally listing events until 2018 they were pulled without warning towards the end of 2017. I feel it's important that there's organised meet the manager sessions that are promoted well in advance so people can turn up and ask questions. Therefore I believe these events should be reinstated in the future. They should also make use more of social media to do live Q&A with not just managers but with people of other roles within the company. They do have these, but they don't happen that often.

Customer panel

VTEC currently has two customer panels. One that meets face to face and the online panel 'Viewpoint' (which is shared with west coast). Presumably LNER will have to have a separate online panel to VTWC, I think it was a mistake having a single online panel under the Virgin Trains brand covering both franchises as there's a lot of differences between the two.

One thing to note about Viewpoint is that a lot of the functionality of the site has been disabled, there is a forum facility that used to allow people to discuss things regarding the service but that didn't last long. As Viewpoint is an invite-only community it seems to give the wrong impression that they were stopping people discussing issues they may have. Currently the site is usually just used for surveys and a blog which lists what the outcome of these surveys are.

The face to face panel a good way to get people together with the same aim of improving the service being able to discuss ideas, with a suitable non-disclosure agreement in place it also means you can get them to try out potential changes such as new seats.

It's also important to recognise other passenger groups that have formed along the line whether they specifically cover the East Coast franchise or are just about a specific area (e.g. Peterborough commuters), this role would act as a point of contact between these external groups and the company. Groups that are recognised on a national level (e.g. Transport Focus) may also come under this role or they may already have their own dedicated contact.

Other feedback channels

Collecting feedback through the usual channels (customer relations, social media) can often identify areas for improvement and when a passenger has issues the way the issue is handled can turn a negative experience into a positive one. Although the handling of feedback through these channels wouldn't fall under this role it's important that information obtained through these channels is also used to decide which areas need addressed as a priority. These feedback channels could also be used to identify people that may be interested in joining either the face to face or online customer panels.

There should be regular 'voice of the customer' updates either as a section in the biannual reports produced for passengers (currently called the 'Red Report') or in blog postings showing examples of how the service has been improved based on suggestions/feedback by passengers. The current approach by VTEC gives the impression they're only interested in the views of people who agreed with their current strategy. Although it's never feasible to satisfy everyone, a company that does listen and makes visible improvements based on passenger feedback will generally create more satisfied passengers than they would be if they felt completely ignored.

Competitors

Although it wouldn't directly fall under this role it is important to have someone monitor direct competitors (e.g. coaches, airlines and open access operators) in areas including pricing, on-board service and ease of purchasing tickets. It'd be worth surveying passengers on the customer panel who also use the competitor modes as to their reasoning for choosing each mode of transport. Using a personal example I'd choose VTEC over Grand Central on a weekday as there's (normally) a better catering offering in first class, but on a weekend with the reduced offering I'll happily use Grand Central if the price is better. Other passengers may be price sensitive, others happy to pay more for a better service or more convenient schedule.

Summary

This role should be someone who works full time as a passenger advocate for VTEC/LNER. Willing to spend time finding out what passengers are thinking and then willing to represent their interests when decisions are being made.