Putting the customer at the heart of what we do

A report on the Women in Transport Autumn Reception

by Dorcas Ariyo-Francis, Volunteer Engagement Lead at Women in Transport

On Thursday 12 September 2019 around 100 representatives from across the transport sector attended the Women in Transport Autumn reception hosted by KPMG at their offices in Canary Wharf.

This year's topic was 'Creating the customer centric organisation of the future’. The panel discussion focused on what makes excellent customer experience (CX), challenges faced by specific sectors within the transport industry, the role of technology in CX and what transport organisations are doing to enhance their focus on the customer.

Lorraine Mackin, KPMG Partner, welcomed attendees on behalf of KPMG. She spoke of her 28 years’ experience in helping those in infrastructure, transport and government to transform their businesses. Lorraine said she was pleased to see the interest in this important topic and the current spotlight on putting customers at the heart of business across industry. She noted that, while there are no quick fixes, there are small changes that any organisation can make to improve customer satisfaction and experience.

Lorraine Mackin2.jpg

The panel, chaired by Robert Nisbet, the Rail Delivery Group’s Director, Nations & Regions and broadcast spokesperson for the rail industry, included:

  • Dr Marty Herbert, Global Customer Experience Lead, KPMG

  • Fiona Carleton, Director of Expansion Strategy and Future Operations, Heathrow Airport

  • Jacqueline Starr, Managing Director, Customer Experience, Rail Delivery Group

Sonya Byers, CEO of Women in Transport, welcomed all attendees on behalf of Women in Transport.


The Autumn Reception marks the end of the Advance 2019 mentoring programme, sponsored by TXM Recruit, Xanta Rail, Steer and Cubic. Sonya thanked the sponsors for their continued support and the mentors and mentees in the current cohort for being part of the programme.

She went on to talk about Advance 2020, which will be open for applications at the beginning of October with sponsorship from TXM Recruit, Xanta Rail, Steer and Brighton and Hove Buses. This will be the third year of the very successful mentoring scheme that is now being expanded to accommodate 30 mentoring pairs. Both mentors and mentees have given high scores for the compatibility of matched pairs and this is, undoubtedly, due to the painstaking process that Sonya and Angela Gainsford undertake in studying each and every application from mentors and mentees individually. No algorithms are employed in the process.

As Sonya explained, we get about twice as many applications as available places. To stand the greatest chance of being matched, she advises potential mentors and mentees to include as much information as possible about their objectives when applying for the programme.

The first panel member to speak was Dr Marty Herbert who talked about the DNA of best practice, based on six pillars designed to help a business connect with its customers and deepen that connection:

  1. Personalisation

  2. Integrity

  3. Expectations

  4. Resolution

  5. Time and effort

  6. Empathy

Read more on the six pillars and the full research report from KPMG here.

Martin unveiled a 10 point manifesto for moving towards a customer centric organisation. Highlights included:

  • Develop a clear value proposition to differentiate your customer experience

  • Choose the right people to join your organisation as brand ambassadors and invest in them

  • Design for disruption as it’s the norm.

But how does an organisation put this theory into practice? Fiona Carleton shared an insight into Heathrow’s journey to ‘customer centricity’. Heathrow has undertaken 300,000 interactions with customers to understand their needs; these customer themes and insights have been used to develop their strategic business objectives. Fiona said that Heathrow’s masterplan and approach is to listen, learn, embed, test and develop.

Our final speaker , Jacqueline Starr, said that when she first joined the industry it was important to help change the way the industry referred to people who travelled by train. She believes there's now a better understanding and, mostly, travellers are called customers not passengers.

Jacqueline said customers have high expectations and want to have the same experience in rail as they have, for example, in banking. She acknowledged that there is a need to raise the bar and significant plans are in place to do just that.

Robert Nisbet, the Rail Delivery Group’s Director, Nations & Regions

Robert Nisbet, the Rail Delivery Group’s Director, Nations & Regions

Following an interesting Q & A session, Robert Nisbet summarised the discussion:

  • Keeping your customer-facing staff happy is more likely to result in happy customers.

  • There is an issue about the quality not the quantity of data. What do we do with the data? Are we using the data to learn lessons?

  • Customers expect more. They see a personalised service in other industries, so they expect it from transport providers.

  • We have to look at the behaviours and help deliver that tailored service to customers. The tech sector is ahead in terms of its response with a tailor-made solution.

  • Hire for attitude: look at the staff who have attitudes that are customer centric and not inward-looking. This conversation should take place with contractors and sub-contractors and we need to think about the variety of customers we serve.

  • We need to remember that we have an issue with the lack of diversity of staff in the sector. If we start to address this from the “top-down” we may unlock customer satisfaction at the frontline of our businesses.

  • Businesses need to think about customer satisfaction holistically which means considering customer journeys from their point of origin before they board any form of transport.

The formal session was followed by networking over drinks and canapes.

Here are some comments from our members about the evening:

Excellent venue and great speakers.

Really liked the passion of the speakers and their knowledge of their subject.

Great networking opportunity.

The industry 'insights' from KPMG were particularly interesting.

The speaker and the panel type Q&A session worked really well and held my engagement throughout.

This was a slick, professional event (my first and I was really impressed)!

The ideas spoken about were thought provoking and it opens up questions to take back to your own workplace.

The location was amazing, the panel discussion was informative, the networking was fun.

I thought the subject matter was excellent and it was professionally compered.

Speakers were really good and engaging. And I thought it was good to have female directors speaking.

Our thanks to Marty, Fiona and Jacqueline for their thought provoking presentations and to Robert for compering the event, as well as bringing his own insight to the discussion.

Thanks also to KPMG for generously hosting this event and particularly to Shazar Dhalla and Jo Jenyon for all their support in organising the event.

Members of Women in Transport benefit from networking with like-minded professionals, professional development workshops and technical talks, mentoring and access to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Transport.

Follow us @transportwm or on Linkedin Women in Transport for events, news and updates.