Happy Busdrivers, Happy Customers

At Busworld Brussels last year there was one conference with a title that stood out, “Happy Busdrivers, Happy Customers!” Kate Taylor, Commercial & Customer Director at Go-Ahead in London, gave an enthusiastic and inspiring speech about how Go-Ahead is approaching its drivers with understanding for their problems on the road but also at home, finding solutions and how this helps in creating happy customers. Although Busworld Brussels is already four months gone, this is a lesson for everyone in the 'bus business'.

To create those happy bus drivers and happy customers Go-Ahead tailored a consistent formula. A simple cycle, explains Kate Taylor. “If you have happy employees you get happy customers and that leads to strong financial results. Nobody will dispute this, but it is amazing how little this is used in our business. For example, this is the only session during this three day conference at Busworld which is about customers.” She told her audience how important it is to tell the staff about the business and strategy. “It happens so often that people who are working for you, actually do not know why they are doing it, do not know what the purpose of your organization is, do not really know where it is you are going. So tell them in a clear concise way and repeat it, all the time in a very local interaction. Explain that your people are part of something bigger and what that is doing.”

She also emphasises that companies should involve their staff more in the transition to sustainability and how to achieve this. “Give them pride, give a reason for them to come to work and give them a reason to do the best they can do. It is all about communication, telling them about the initiatives we take and how they can use this to support our communities. If we can't commit our staff to be our advocates how can we expect our customers to be our advocates?”


It is not all about telling people how they should be acting but also about giving examples. Leadership that shows the way and what sort of behaviour is expected, is in her view massively important. “Leaders need to be modelling the right values in the organization. It is about how to behave but also to call out when behaviour is not acceptable. We need our leaders demonstrating that day in and day out. If you do so, the customer will be approached the same way and feedback is given. We make sure we get our Go-Ahead leaders out there as often as possible, including the chairman of the board. Our drivers spend a huge amount of time with our customers so they know quit a lot. What do we do to make sure that we are hearing what they are saying? One thing customer insight will tell you is that customers are changing. What the customer wants today is not what he wanted yesterday or wants tomorrow. Make sure any information you'll get is shared to provide the best service.”

Open door policy

At Go-Ahead they implemented a very simple solution to get rid of barriers between managers and workers. Taylor describes that managers are no longer tucked away in an office somewhere in a corner. “What does such an office say? That I am better then you because I am sitting in an office? Doing so you can not encourage the staff to do the best they can and believe they really are part of the success. At depots often there are counters installed were drivers have to stand and check in with their supervisor. Why would you do that? It is a hierarchy culture tradition what we have in bus depots. But there is no need to have a counter these days, why not sit at a desk or table and have a cup of coffee and talk to each other? We should have an open door policy. Keep your eyes open for this. Get some one from outside, fresh, to visit the depot once in a while because everybody gets used to his own environment. Keep asking your self: is this the best we have to offer to our people and customers? And take some time to speak to the drivers. Avoid that they are there for only a few minutes to sign in and out and go home again. It is so important to get these interactions right.” She gave an example how this can work or be initiated. She uses the happy-or-not buttons were customers can express their opinion about the service given. You see them for instance in toilets on airports. But when a driver presses the red, Unhappy, button you still don't know anything. So Taylor put the idea in place that if the red button was pressed they also should leave their email address. “Just to get interaction started. We made sure that within 24 hours the manager contacted the 'red button pusher' and ask him or her what is going on. In a short period of time we managed to stop at least two employees from quitting their job, just by showing interest in them. Consider how much money it takes to train a new employee? It is expensive. With this simple process we are saving thousands of pounds.” 

Create a better work environment

Her message is: listen to your people and be transparent! Talk to the drivers. Listen to what problems they encounter. For instance, a controller tries to manage all the buses on the London streets but the driver sees the controller does not understand what the situation on the street is with the horrible congestion. So the controller thinks the driver does not want to do what he is asked to do, while the driver says it is impossible to do what the controller wants. It is all about walking a bit in each other shoes, understanding what stresses the other person and what he is going through makes a massive difference in how you can solve problems and make things better for customers. It is about empowering people.” The question should be, what can we do to create a better work environment? We invested a lot in social media, just to help our staff to listen to and understand each other. In the end it will help solve problems and benefit our customer because our staff is better informed and becomes more service minded. It helps drivers to make a decision in a moment. We have great stories about what bus driver have done and always will do to help their customers.

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