Creating an ultimate travel experience
A Great North Eastern Railway case study

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Page 5: Restructuring

Great North Eastern Railway 4 Image 4GNER is a people-oriented business and as such recognises the importance of its employees in ensuring its success. Delivering this kind of service to achieve the vision requires the complete support of everyone who works for GNER from the directors down. The staffing structure GNER inherited from British Rail was cumbersome and divisive. There were nine different grades of staff with clearly defined functions to perform. Demarcation lines were very clearly drawn and the rail industry had a tradition of high union involvement. The system was process-led, which meant that each employeeÕs role was decided and set down for them to perform by the book. It was inflexible and took little account of customer requirements, particularly in unusual situations.

GNER has undertaken a restructuring which is creating multi-skilled teams on all trains, working under the guidance of a Customer Service Manager, who is empowered with the total responsibility for delivering excellent service. The development of team-working and the desire to make their service proactive rather than reactive has been the driving force.

Firstly, all 600 on-train staff had to be retrained to meet the requirements of their new role. This process was not just about new knowledge, but also an exercise in motivation. The aim was to move from being process-led to becoming genuinely customer driven on a day-to-day basis. Employees are encouraged to work as teams and prioritise their activities, always placing customer contact ahead of less visible activity such as administration and paperwork.


Great North Eastern Railway 4 Image 5The recruitment and induction of new staff was completely reassessed to fit in with the new service vision and the application forms and interviews placed great emphasis on the need for awareness of customer needs. This process was not without its teething problems and GNER had to recognise significant initial difficulties and breakdowns in communication between members of staff and also between management and staff. This was often due to the culture where individuals were reluctant to take responsibility. Team-working practices were not developed as quickly as would have been hoped and this was blamed on a lack of direction. Nevertheless, GNER standards were judged to be significantly higher than those of its competitors by independent consultants.

Once the on-train crews had received their initial retraining, GNER turned its attention to the remaining 2,000 GNER employees with an intention to cascade the service vision and mission statement. This was done by organising 140 small group sessions, taking in all the different functions to improve awareness of all the different activities and emphasise their interdependence and impact on the customer.

GNER can only judge the success of its initiatives through extensive market research to discover customer perceptions of the service being provided. Best practice benchmarking is also employed, both internally (within the company) and externally (when looking at competitors). Benchmarking is an approach which has become increasingly popular in recent times for organisations wanting to improve the quality of their service. It involves identifying best practice around an organisation. At GNER, visits to other departments and companies were used to collect ideas. These could then be brought back to GNER to exemplify the best practices being undertaken within the market so that GNER could make a realistic appraisal of the service it offers.

Great North Eastern Railway | Creating an ultimate travel experience