COVID-19: How one railway team has adapted during the outbreak

Tuesday, 7 July 2020
Behind the Scenes

Greater Anglia’s ViTA Team takes calls from customers who get in touch via the help button on the station’s ticket vending machines.

They would usually expect to take around 8,000 calls per month, helping customers with anything from needing help buying a ticket to wanting information about the train service and other advice.

But when passenger numbers plummeted due to the coronavirus outbreak, these calls all but dried up.

At the same time, the pandemic was causing a vastly increased workload for other parts of the business.

So the ViTA Team rose to the challenge, moving swiftly to back up Greater Anglia’s Business Travel Team, helping to prepare for processing the thousands upon thousands of ticket refund requests that flooded in when the UK lockdown was announced.

As the ViTA Team’s staff of 14 cannot work from home (because the ticket machine call interface is not internet-based), they were still coming into the office on amended daily shifts to take any calls that might still come in, with the office re-organised for social distancing.

They were able to undertake the initial checking, logging and referencing of refund applications.

As a result, they have provided real help to the Business Travel Team, enabling them to focus purely on processing refunds, helping to speed up the response to customers.

ViTA Team Supervisor, Debbie Francis, says, “In the beginning we were helping to prepare between 400-500 refund requests a week for processing. As these were the refunds received by post they were the tip of an iceberg with customers also able to submit their refund requests online too.

“I’m pleased to say that as of the end of June we are now down to about 100 items coming in the post each week.

“We’re still helping out with refunds, but we received a lovely thank you from the team at Colchester for stepping in to help.”

Malcolm Cotter, Greater Anglia’s Head of Retail Systems who leads the Business Travel Team said, “With the number of refunds submitted and processed topping 41,000, the Business Travel Team have been working extraordinarily long hours to get the refunds processed as quickly as possible for customers.

“Being able to collaborate as departments has helped ease some of the pressures as were all doing everything we could to refund people as quickly as possible.

“The sheer volume of requests however has meant a longer wait for many and we apologise for any inconvenience or anxiety this may have caused.”

As Greater Anglia increased its timetable on 6 July and more people are expected to travel again for work, the ViTA Team is gearing up to take more calls again. They also take calls from West Midlands Trains’ ticket machines so expect to see an increase there too.

Debbie adds, “The team has coped really well and relished the additional work we’ve been doing.

“We do already provide support to some other teams in the business – for example, compiling catering sales figures for the On Board Catering Team and taking absence calls from members in the Train Presentation Team. Basically, we’ll do it whenever another team needs something done!

“I’m very proud of my team. They’re doing a fantastic job and have coped well with the changes we’ve had to make and have been very willing to change and be flexible.

“They’re a great team and we all get on really well, which has really helped in this situation as we’ve really pulled together.”

Did you know…

Greater Anglia was the first train operator in England to roll out the ViTA “Virtual Ticket Agents” across all its existing ticket machines, so that passengers can connect to a real person - via an audio link - who can offer help whilst they buy their train tickets?

Lynsey Flack, Greater Anglia’s Head of Customer Service Contact Centre, says: “This innovative customer service development has helped make life a little easier for so many people when travelling with us.

“At some of our more rural stations it’s a great benefit to people in the surrounding communities.

“We know that customers sometimes feel apprehensive about buying tickets from a machine as they are unsure of how it works or which is the best ticket for their journey, so being able to connect straight to a friendly voice who can help is really improving the service we offer.”

How to use the service

For anyone who needs help on how to use the ticket machine, or unsure of which ticket to buy, they simply press the ‘Ticket Assistance’ button on the machine to be connected to a call centre agent.

A two-way audio connection will be established so that the customer and ticket agent can talk. The ticket agent can then give advice and information, or if required, can remotely control the machine on behalf of the customer (with the exception of the card payment screen).