If service quality is the key to customer satisfaction, then the key to service quality is making sure employees are well equipped to interact with customers. One way to address this is by focusing on attracting the right talent; another way is to ensure the retention of talent present in the workforce.
In general, public transport operators today are definitely making efforts to evolve into attractive employers. A big challenge that many face is the necessary shift in corporate image, or ‘employer brand’, from an employer of fleet vehicle managers to an employer of agile, customer-oriented service leaders.
One transport group that places great emphasis on employer branding is Tower Transit, which subscribes to the mantra, ‘Happy Employees Make for Happy Customers’. Since winning bus contracts in Singapore in 2015, the operator (currently running 26 services from three interchanges), has become an employer of choice in the ‘Garden City State’.
“We’ve always understood the importance of employer branding, but never more acutely than when we came to Singapore”, said Tower Transit group communications director Glenn Lim. This was partly due to the operator’s challenge of attracting 750 new ‘bus captains’ in an industry that, at the time, was suffering from poor public perception, which made it difficult to attract enough qualified candidates to satisfy a legal requirement to have a 60% local workforce. To change those perceptions, Tower Transit decided to professionalise the Bus Captain role by redesigning the job scope to refocus on the core activity of driving. Bus Captains previously were also responsible for duties such as cleaning, refuelling and parking their vehicles.
The image of who could be a driver was also addressed, as Tower Transit made efforts to appeal to non-traditional sources of employees, such as mothers and young job-seekers.
“Previously, it was a struggle to recruit Singaporeans, which we assumed was due to the profile of drivers, career prospects and the remuneration package,” said Jeremy Yap, deputy chief executive, public transport, policy & planning, Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore.
In 11 months, Tower Transit Singapore built a team of over 900 staff
The above efforts apparently paid off, and in 11 months, Tower Transit Singapore built a team of over 900 staff, nearly 80% of whom were local.
‘At your service’ – creating a culture of customer care
Once employed, Tower Transit had to ensure employees were genuinely customer-focused on the job. Part of their solution was to reward drivers for good service. For instance, a special device, installed in its buses, was used to monitor ride quality and record events like surging, quick cornering or harsh braking. Drivers are then given a monthly cash incentive if they provide a smooth, safe ride for passengers. Additional incentives for instilling a desire to perform well include a monthly cash bonus for drivers who receive public compliments. A sense of pride is also promoted, as along with the bonus, the names of these drivers are displayed on screens at the bus depots.
“There is a great deal of training on customer service, but the broader, more strategic approach has been the building of an external brand personality that is approachable and down-to-earth,” said Mr Lim.
Given today’s importance of having both a satisfied customer base and a satisfied workforce, there will be a number of sessions at the UITP Global Public Transport Summit focusing on achieving the right balance. Of note is the plenary session, ‘Setting employment conditions in urban and public transport companies/how to bring change?’
UITP’s latest Knowledge Brief, ‘Brand alignment matters in public transport!’ also covers this topic in more detail. The report explains the importance of having both strong commercial and employer branding in order to have long-term success in the public transport sector, and provides examples of other companies that have taken steps to address this.
“At Tower Transit Singapore, we have built a unique company culture that staff have described as, ‘like family’ and ‘friendly’. Since we started operating in Singapore, we’ve enjoyed a good level of staff retention”, said Mr Lim.