Founded in 1913, Trent Barton is a bus operator based in Derbyshire which has grown into one of the most recognisable and respected bus companies in the UK, with a fleet of over 300 buses and 13 coaches. For more than 23 years, Trent Barton has used Thomas tools as part of their commitment to providing a customer-focused approach to their service delivery.
In the mid 80s, the bus industry in the UK was deregulated and privatised after decades of public ownership. This gave local management teams the opportunity to purchase their companies and have a real stake in the success of their own future. The industry had a poor record in terms of customer service, delivery of the routes operated, lack of investment in new buses and a stagnant trading position leading to years of declining passenger numbers.
Jeff Counsell, Managing Director of Trent Barton, explains:
“Here at Trent Barton we soon came to recognise that we needed to dramatically change the face of our business if we were to maintain sustainability. We embarked on a major customer research programme, asking our customers what they liked and disliked about bus travel and what might get them to travel more with us. We also undertook surveys on non-bus users to gain an insight into what we needed to do to attract new users. This research taught us the values that customers placed on our services, which differed from what we had perceived them to be.”
The results highlighted that poor customer service was a major issue from the customer’s standpoint; fares were rising due to inflation but the service they received was still comparatively poor. They also discovered that ‘value for money’ was far more important to the customer than price alone. Cleanliness of the buses and poor frequency of service also rated high in the dislikes.
Based on this research, the team began to introduce improvements and significant investment in their services, with one of the biggest focus points being the customer service element.
We had a fresh look at the foundation of how we recruited. We needed employees with strong people skills and those who could use their initiative, especially our drivers.
At this time, Trent Barton had been using Thomas International for many years as part of their management recruitment and development strategies. During the discovery stage of understanding how Thomas could enhance the performance of the Trent Barton workforce, and support their strategy to improve customer service, it was clear that the Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) would be the most appropriate tool to use.
The PPA provides an accurate insight into how people behave at work, giving clear details on their strengths and limitations, preferred style of communication, what motivates them and how they behave under pressure.
I look upon our front-line team as our ‘get out of jail’ card when things go wrong (bus breakdown, delays through congestion/roadworks etc.). It’s the way our staff react and respond that matters and how they deal with the customers in live situations. The PPA is invaluable in giving us an indication of this.
Jeff Counsell continues:
“With over 1,000 people making up the Trent Barton workforce, we use the PPA not just for recruitment but also team development and when looking at those we would like to promote.”
They use the PPA in their team audits and complete compatibility reports to give further insight into how different members of the team are going to work together, from those in the office to the drivers on the road.
We use Thomas tools to ensure that team dynamics stay balanced – it’s critical to our business to understand how our office staff interact with our drivers.
With over 25 years' experience of using Thomas tools, Jeff comments:
“We’ve found that it all starts with the right foundation, which in this case is the quality of staff we recruit. We no longer look to hire people just with a bus driving licence and instead look for those with the best people skills who we can train to drive, using the PPA as our guide.”
“Our drivers are routinely noted and recognised for their superb customer service and we have been named as having the friendliest drivers in the UK in the most recent, independent, UK Transport Focus Surveys. Also, our rating for value for money increased to 73% in the same survey – up from 58% the previous year.”
As the team at Trent Barton have been using Thomas tools for many years, Jeff recognises how the tools have become “a part of our culture and staff largely embrace it.”
We continue to use Thomas because it’s a fundamental part of our people formula and has revolutionised how we select the right people when recruiting and how we approach development.