John Sullivan, CIO at Virgin Trains, explains how the company is on a journey to modernisation and aims to radically improve customer services by streamlining internal processes and service delivery.
Virgin Trains is determined to transform the rail experience into a reliable source of enjoyment and pleasure. The company wants to deliver a consistently positive experience that keeps customers happy and keeps them coming back. When it set out to radically improve customer service, Virgin Trains selected ServiceNow as a strategic partner.
“We’re moving towards a digitised, automated, personalised rail experience that puts customer satisfaction first,” said John Sullivan, CIO at Virgin Trains.
“All of that starts with a foundation of streamlined internal processes and excellent IT service delivery, and that’s exactly what ServiceNow brings to the table,” said Sullivan. “Eventually, we’ll be able to use the same system to integrate data and automate processes across the enterprise, in just about any business function.”
ServiceNow provides Virgin Trains with the visibility needed for continued process improvement
For Virgin Trains, the first milestone on the journey to service excellence was modernisation of its IT Service Management infrastructure and applications.
The company’s legacy IT service management platform was ageing and had limited capabilities.
“Everything we do for customers starts with great support for employees,” said Dean Underwood, Head of IT Services for Virgin Trains. “If you don’t have infrastructure and processes in place that can improve service delivery and grow and evolve with you, transformation is just not possible.”
The initial focal point was transparency. “We had no visibility into processes and we had very limited data on which to base decisions that would improve service delivery,” said Underwood.
At a previous company, Underwood saw that the Now Platform could integrate applications and data from multiple sources, thereby creating a single source of truth and new ways to streamline IT service management processes.
“With ServiceNow, we have data and visibility into processes so we can take ownership of those processes and continuously improve them,” said Underwood.
The Now Platform gives Virgin Trains insight into core IT processes such as incident and change management. “We can quickly understand where failures are occurring, what’s causing failures, average resolution times and so on — and we can monitor our progress in both preventing outages and
minimising their impact to employees,” Underwood commented.
“Fundamentally, ServiceNow gives us the data we need to improve the service desk and overall service delivery,” said Sullivan. “In the past, we made changes based on what we felt needed changing. Now we have the data to drive better decisions.”
Virgin Trains also streamlined core processes, enabling staff to focus on higher-value tasks. “We’ve automated tasks and simplified processes, for example, making it easier and faster to get needed approvals for changes,” said Underwood. “In some cases, what used to take a month now takes a day.”
The modernisation effort was accelerated by the ease of implementation of the Now Platform. “The core functionality is all built in — it’s relatively easy to activate the specific modules and functionality you require,” said Underwood. “And the platform is cloud-based, so scale-up is not an issue.”
Better employee support translates to higher customer satisfaction for Virgin Trains, with NPS rising from the mid-20s to over 70
Modernisation brought radical improvements to the quality of IT service delivery at Virgin Trains. But that’s just the beginning of the transformation journey for the company.
“Richard Branson has a saying, ‘if we look after our staff, they will look after our customers’,” said Sullivan. “Thus, a key part of our transformation journey is constantly improving the service we provide to employees.”
To that end, Virgin Trains began tracking customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores internally. According to Sullivan, Net Promoter Scores (NPS) were initially in the mid-20s range, but today they average between 70 and 80.
“We saw a 44% improvement in the first eight weeks with ServiceNow, just from improved hiring processes,” Sullivan said. “To us, that score is a measure of how much lost time we’re giving back to employees and how much more they’re able to focus on what matters most — constantly improving the customer experience.”
Sullivan said CSAT increases were attributable to many factors, but the acceleration of processes enabled by ServiceNow was critical. He expanded: “Employees don’t always analyse why service seems better — they just perceive that they’re getting what they need faster.”
Automating tasks with ServiceNow helps Virgin Trains agents resolve customer issues faster
The next phase of transformation is currently underway with the implementation of ServiceNow Customer Service Management.
“Customer Service Management will help us automate common customer service tasks and save both agents and customers a lot of time,” said Sullivan. “We get thousands of inquiries, suggestions and requests each year. With Customer Service Management we can issue reference numbers, track cases more easily and get important data about our customers that will drive future improvements.”
In addition, Virgin Trains will use Customer Service Management to connect departments internally and further expedite customer service. With Customer Service Management, work can be routed from customer service to field service, engineering, operations, finance, legal and other departments, so
customer inquiries can be addressed quickly by appropriate staff.
Virgin Trains extends ServiceNow efficiencies to suppliers, creating an end-to-end service value chain
Recognising that the overall customer experience also depends on partners, Virgin Trains launched an initiative to create an end-to-end service value chain that extends to its base of suppliers.
“We’re on track to save 20% of our operating budget and we want to invest some of those savings into our supply chain,” said Sullivan.
More specifically, Virgin Trains is restructuring its RFP process to motivate suppliers to use the Now Platform for their own service management processes.
“We want to extend the efficiencies we’ve achieved internally to our supply chain to further enhance service and customer satisfaction,” Sullivan commented.
Innovating with ServiceNow helps Virgin Trains deliver a fantastic rail experience for its customers
Virgin Trains is looking at innovative ways to deliver the rail experience of the future. “We want to provide digital entertainment, easy access to up-to-date schedule information, simplified booking and payment capabilities, the list goes on,” said Sullivan. “The Virgin brand has always been about innovation and we’re trying to be inventive in improving the entire train experience.”
Sullivan concluded: “The reason ServiceNow is such as exceptional partner is that its platform is extensible to any business process. ServiceNow is capable of true enterprise service management —bringing service improvement not just to IT but to security operations, HR, finance, legal, compliance and more. The way ServiceNow connects to the business and business objectives is fantastic.
We’re working hard to move rail travel into the 21st century. It all starts with modernising our internal processes, and ServiceNow is the right platform and the right partner to get us there.”
We asked Sullivan some further questions about the implementation.
How does a positive customer experience correlate with business success?
I have always believed that happy customers come back and unhappy customers don’t. To prove that point, we can take a look into my first project at Virgin Trains — Automatic Delay Repay (ADR). I was bold enough to present to the Board that if we paid customers their due travel compensation, it would pay back in terms of repeat journey being higher. You may not know this, but if your train is 30 minutes late, you are due 50% of the ticket value back. If it is 60 minutes late, you are due a full refund. A number of customers cannot be bothered to complete the paperwork or do not know about the delay repay scheme, so they do not get the money back they are due.
I was delighted that the Board approved this proposal — and even more delighted that the revenue from the level of repeat journeys outweighs the additional costs incurred by paying all customers their due compensation.
How important is having a modern IT infrastructure?
That is a really easy one – it is critical. When I first joined Virgin Trains, we set out a portfolio of projects that were in two categories:
• Firstly, to start to drive digital innovation for the benefit of both customers and colleagues
• Secondly, to replace the current IT infrastructure with modern IT. I knew this was critical as in the rail industry ‘change’ was slow, so we needed to be far more agile, but to do so we needed the right tech platform
I was very aware that modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning do not deliver results by themselves. To make best use of these technologies, we need a modern and solid IT foundation to ensure underlying data sets are complete, timely and accurately.
I believe that a successful CIO will understand the need to prioritise putting the right modern platform in place and not just continue to add applications.
Finally, due to how complex our legacy technology environment was, we reduced our total cost of ownership (TCO), as well as delivering a platform that we will use for many years to come. This has already delivered many customer and colleague-focused projects.
What are some of the benefits of the Now Platform being cloud-based?
With the Now Platform, you get all the benefits of cloud but also the ability to automate workflow – in the best way – and deliver simple and intuitive experiences. Unlike other enterprise solutions I have used, ServiceNow puts the business in control and not the system parameters.
It has enabled us to remove the separate and siloed systems and deliver seamless digital workflow across our business.
For me, what is most important for CIOs is that we must outline a business vision and be highly creative with using your IT platform. That way you get the best out of the brilliant ServiceNow application and partner.
How has the solution specifically enabled employees to work more efficiently?
We are a ServiceNow connected enterprise with the application being used in 17 departments, automating tasks and ensuring that the flow of data across our teams is of the highest quality.
For many years now, I have been surprised at how complex business applications are, so the simplification we have been able to deliver has been a huge help for my colleagues. This is particularly important at Virgin Trains, as the rail industry is so complex, so by adding in a complex application, the need to make work easier at Virgin Trains was critical.
What we are finding is that now my colleagues have a bit more time, they can help customers with a complex issue and this is even connected to our JAM initiative, which stands for ‘Just a Minute’, and can be presented by anyone with a ‘hidden disability’ to show they need more time to communicate with our team.
I love the subject of how technology can help humanity and this is a really great example.
Finally, my three young daughters are thinking about what sort of companies they want to work for. With certainty, they want processes to be automated and not manual, because that is how technology at home is. I believe simplification at work should be a top priority for CIOs.
How do you ascertain the level of customer satisfaction you expect to achieve by this time next year?
You may have seen recently that Virgin Trains recorded the highest passenger satisfaction rating of any franchised train operator in Britain, which may be just months before we lose control of the West Coast route.
I expect our satisfaction to continue to increase over the next few months, regardless of our franchise position, which is due to our fantastic culture ‘Screw Average and Create Amazing’ initiatives.
One of our key projects that was recently delivered on the ServiceNow platform has been ‘management of disruption’.
Our NPS score general runs at around 50 but in times of disruptions it can get to lower than -30. This is exactly the same for colleagues as it is for customers. That is the main purpose of this transformation, by reducing anxiety when disruption happens and getting our customers home earlier, Virgin Trains will deliver a more consistent service by addressing the ‘blips’ in our operations.
Now that our control and resource teams have quality time and information, they can change the destination of trains. For example, if there are 1,000 customers in Euston, London and 700 of them want to go to Manchester, the next train can be diverted to Manchester to get our customers home earlier than we did before and with all the correct information. By removing the anxiety of travel, it will make customers more likely to use rail in future.
The results of the new system on our NPS scores has been stunning and exceeded expectations. Overall, we have already seen a 10 point improvement in NPS at times of disruption. There is a lot more to come from our new system and I cannot think of a better example of using digital technology to improve the customer experience.