Constantina Samara is the customer service manager for the award-winning Nottingham Express Transit (NET) tram network. Here she talks through what made her fall in love with the transport industry, and her role in ensuring outstanding customer service.
Tell us how you ended up working in the rail industry – when and why?
I never imagined I’d find myself working in transport. I’m originally from Cyprus and moved to the UK to complete my undergraduate and master’s degrees in psychology. After I graduated, I started work as a sales adviser for Domestic & General, and that’s where my passion for customer service began.
After D&G I moved to Vodaphone, focusing on customer experience and employee engagement, but after a couple of years I was ready for a change. I spotted a vacancy with Nottingham Trams – for me it was an opportunity to challenge myself and try something completely new. It really feels like I’ve found my home here, and it’s difficult to imagine a future now that doesn’t involve transport.
What does a typical day look like for you?
In this industry, I don’t think there’s such thing as a typical day for anybody. When you’re running a live network, you need to make sure that you’re constantly ready to adapt to new situations, with everything you do geared towards ensuring the best possible network performance and passenger experience. For me, it can range from a quiet day managing ad-hoc customer queries, to dealing with disruption on the network where it’s crucial that passengers are constantly updated with the latest developments.
What’s the best part of your job?
I’m lucky to work with a great group of people. As a relatively small company, having a strong team around you is so important. Particularly within this industry, people are truly passionate about delivering the best experience for the customers they serve, and it’s motivating to work with colleagues who are driven to achieve the very highest standards.
If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
Employee engagement is something that is so important to me, but it’s difficult to achieve when the nature of the organisation means staff are constantly working across lots of different locations on the network. I’d love the opportunity to have more face-to-face interaction with staff – it is an area we’re actively looking into, but it remains a challenge now.
What’s the proudest achievement of your career?
Over the last 12 months, there have been two achievements I’m especially proud of. The first was completely revolutionising our social media platforms to transform the way we were able to communicate with passengers. The key was shifting our channels to becoming real-time tools, able to respond to customer queries as quickly as possible. It’s really helped to boost positive perceptions of the network with our passengers. The success of the project was recognised at the 2018 Light Rail Awards.
The second achievement was to implement a new customer relationship management (CRM) system for my department. Previously we would manage customer comms on an asset management system, which is the typical approach for the transport industry, but we made the decision to switch to CRM to allow us to respond in the most efficient way possible. It’s increased the volume of queries we’re able to respond to at any one time by a huge 663% - so definitely a proud moment for me!
What’s the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
Always putting the customer first is something we all talk about, but it’s challenging to ensure that everyone within the business lives and breathes that ethos. Within my team, we’re constantly working to devise new, innovative ways of engaging employees to help us spread the message far and wide. We’ve started hosting more face-to-face events, such as workshops, bringing together different areas of the business and enabling us to share best practice. But it’s an ongoing job for us to drive that customer-centric culture forward.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the transport sector? And what do you think is needed to solve it?
From a customer experience perspective, social media has really raised the bar in terms of what passengers expect from a transport provider. We need to up our game to make sure we’re equipped to keep customers constantly informed. But the biggest challenge is to deliver a consistent message across every one of our channels.
What passengers don’t see is the work that goes into delivering those rapid responses and updates, rolling them out across your apps, websites and social media channels, and ensuring that staff on the network and in-house customer service agents have the latest information at their fingertips. There’s always room for improvement within this process, so we continuously collect feedback from our customers to understand how we can do things better.
Ultimately, customer satisfaction must be at the core of every decision taken by transport providers. Regardless of what challenge you face, be it with your infrastructure, operations or comms, you must be thinking about how to put the customer first, and how they form part of the solution.
What’s been the most exciting development in the transport industry that you’ve seen during your career?
It’s been exciting to witness how quickly the sector is modernising. Innovations such as smart ticketing, which are now starting to become commonplace across the industry, were huge developments when they were first introduced and revolutionised the ease with which passengers could travel. Even the introduction of facilities such as contactless payments, which people may perceive as being simple, have helped us to make huge strides in terms of enhancing convenience and accessibility.
What excites you most about the future of the industry?
The potential for technology to not only improve the customer journey, but make it truly ‘smart’, is vast. We’re part of a generation that is ready to embrace the benefits of technology, and tools such as artificial intelligence are set to revolutionise the transport industry. I’m excited to see how AI can be used to enhance the passenger experience on our own trams. Being able to have a means of directly communicating with customers while they were travelling, providing them with relevant updates to help them complete their journeys efficiently, is something I think we’ll see more of in the future.
What advice would you leave your successor?
It’s so important to have ambition when you work in this industry. We’re not doing the kind of work where you can allow yourself to stagnate – we’re constantly challenged to come up with new approaches and solutions. So, my biggest piece of advice is to seek to continuously improve and ensure you’re making the biggest impact you can.