Jonathan Welch attended the recent opening of Stagecoach’s new UK customer contact centre in Perth
Perth has been home to Stagecoach since its birth amid the heady days of deregulation, and the Scottish city continues to host the group’s headquarters. Thursday 19 May saw the opening of a new national customer contact centre within the corporate HQ, to provide support and services to passengers across the group’s UK bus operations. The new centre, which Stagecoach says will offer an improved seven-day service with extended opening hours, has been hailed as a demonstration of the firm’s continued commitment to its customers and communities served, and has created over 60 full-time roles in the local area.
Stagecoach UK Managing Director Carla Stockton-Jones officially launched the new contact centre at a ceremony attended by local dignitaries and industry bodies. Following a ‘soft launch’ period over previous weeks, the new centre, which Stagecoach says marks a key milestone in its customer transformation strategy, was brought fully online on 19 May, and is now home to teams covering each different region of the firm’s operations. Customers contacting the company by telephone will be asked to select a region, and then for English users to narrow it down so that they are put in touch with one of the teams, which each covers a specific area of the country. Each team has been equipped with the technology to allow them to deal with timetable and service enquiries, as well as help with smartcards, lost property or feedback on services.
Carla said that it was fantastic to be opening the centre in Perth, which brings the company full circle and back to its roots providing a reliable service with good customer support: “This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to providing the best possible service to customers in our drive to a cleaner, greener country and also marks another major milestone in our customer transformation strategy,” she told assembled guests. “I am proud of our team who have worked incredibly hard to introduce our new customer contact centre. This is an exciting and major step forward in our plans and from this week, our new customer service team will be serving our customers right across the UK.
“There is a huge opportunity to attract people to more sustainable public transport in the years ahead as national governments look to move to net zero. Delivering the best experience to every single customer is central to helping people make the switch away from cars to public transport.”
The centre will be supporting 17 operating companies the length and breadth of the UK, she added, which serve over three million customer journeys per year.
David Littlejohn, Head of Planning & Development and Chief Planning Officer for Perth and Kinross Council, also attended the event, and reminisced about seeing the company grow to the major player it is today, as well as using its buses in his youth. He said: “Stagecoach’s history in Perth stretches back more than four decades and this is a tremendous vote of confidence in the city and its workforce. Sustainable transport is crucial in the fight against climate change and this new customer contact centre will make it easier for people to leave the car at home and travel in a more environmentally-friendly way.”
Visitors were given a tour of the facility, which makes use of space vacated by Stagecoach’s withdrawal from railway operations and freed up by a reorganisation of space at the Dunkeld Road headquarters building. The facility was refurbished and is now a large, bright open-plan space with sufficient desks for every staff member, although once it is fully up and running Stagecoach expects that some staff may choose to work from home some of the time. The vibrant space also features ‘soft’ areas which offer sofas, vending machines and space to relax or eat lunch.
Most of the staff at the new facility are local to the Perth & Kinross area, and were recruited following a recruitment drive by CCA Recruitment, although staff working at other group companies across the country were also offered the chance to move to the new centre. The opening coincided with the loss of a number of jobs at another nearby call centre, helping to provide new work for those affected, many of whom moved to Stagecoach.
The centre is headed by Julie Wilson, Head of Customer Service. Originally from Glasgow, Julie has worked in contact centres since 1996, when she started as an advisor in British Gas and quickly progressed into management roles, spanning across Customer Service, Sales, and Learning & Development management roles including with British Gas, Sky, Heineken and more recently People’s Energy.
Julie explained that Stagecoach had looked at other operators’ with similar centres and learnt from them to ensure the best possible service. At Perth, one team will be dedicated to enquiries relating to more in-depth and technical queries such as about the app, whilst the remaining four will each focus on one region allowing them to build up a better local knowledge. Initially, she said, those had been divided according to predicted demand levels as well as geography, explaining why the quieter Welsh operations are dealt with by the same team as the busy Manchester area, for example. With regards to Wales, Julie also noted that although the company had tried to recruit a Welsh speaker in Perth, it had proven difficult and that for any enquiries by those wishing to use Welsh, or other local languages such as Gaelic or Cornish, there is still the option to reach out to companies at local level with the required language ability.
She went on to explain that training had been provided in the generic skill sets of customer service, and that all staff had access to a range of information sources to allow them to answer queries. Responding to concerns that locals might refer to places by a more local name than the name of the stop or have difficulty understanding places without local knowledge, Julie said she felt sure that there was enough information available that staff would be able to pinpoint the right location using a combination of mapping and timetable information, even if a caller only knew the name of a local pub, for example. Julie also made the point that calls will never be passed on, and even if a caller comes through to the ‘wrong’ region the team will be able to find the answer.
Based on preliminary feedback, the Scotland team having been ‘live’ for around five weeks already with others following, Julie said that customers appreciated having one point of contact. She added that there had already been some small changes and modifications to build on things that had been learned in the initial phases.
“Taking the noise away from operating companies allows them to focus on the core task of getting buses out on the road,” she said. “And it’s great that we can offer this service seven days a week now. It’s a massive boost for our customers. It will give them more choice over when and how to get in touch.”