Laying the Foundation of a Satisfying Commuter Experience
Yvette Mihelic is a customer experience senior executive with over 20 years of experience in a leading large and complex business across industry and sector and has been responsible for the delivery of significant customer-centric transformational change programs, including the implementation of Opal across the rail network in NSW and the re-design of the customer experience for the retail arm of St George Bank
Could you walk us through the journey you have had and your current role and responsibilities at your organization?
I commenced my career in hospitality and retail in customer facing roles. During this time, I discovered my passion for leadership that led me to financial services where I worked in multiple roles, from branch manager, to business development, to transformational project stream lead as well as regional director overseeing high-net-worth clients. It was in financial services where I was introduced to customer experience, and I discovered its significant impact on sales and P&L while working at one of Australia’s largest retail banks.
From financial services I moved into a general manager role within the public sector owned operator of Sydney’s metropolitan trains. The role had a direct impact on customer journeys and the communities served and included key responsibilities such as implementing the electronic ticketing system (Opal), leading an inter-modal revenue protection team, educating customers on safe train network usage, and continually improving commercial sustainability and customer experience. For a short period, I worked at Telstra as head of customer experience for business and then returned to transport, leading the on-demand transport business for Transdev Australasia.
At John Holland, I am director of customer experience for rail and transport, and responsible for developing, implementing, validating, and continuously improving customer experience strategy across transport modes. My role includes engaging in business development and designing and implementing new strategies and initiatives for continuous improvement of existing and potential operations. At the same time, my role is also about supporting contract embedded customer experience teams across all areas of customer experience, from strategy and design to internal and external marketing and communications.
In light of your experience, what are some of the challenges that you have witnessed in the leadership development space? What are some of the trends that are solving those challenges?
Customers end to end journeys aren’t restricted to one particular mode of transport, which is one of the complexities of customer experience in transport. When looking at a holistic customer journey, customers may be interested in train or tram services, but they may also walk, drive, or catch a bus to the station on some occasions to get to work, study, visit friends or family or wherever they may go. Collaborating with other modal operators to ensure that there are seamless journey options for customers through integrating all transport modes is a challenge.
Overcoming that challenge is about proactive engagement with key stakeholders. Stakeholders include clients (the government’s public transportation authorities), as well as those
who rely on public transport, like community groups, schools, and so on. Human-centered design and lean customer experience principles and methods can develop solutions for the future in a collaborative manner. Often our innovation and continuous improvement projects and programs involve tech, but may be analog in their design. We see technology as an enabler of the future of transport. We also see the key to future success is working together in an effective and efficient manner across all stakeholder groups.
Are there any project initiatives that you are taking part in or are practicing in your organization?
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more people driving cars, which is obviously not great from an environmental, social and economic sustainability perspective. The shift to public transport requires making transport more accessible and inclusive, not only in actual network usage, but also for information provision and safety.
John Holland as part of a JV operates and maintains Metro Trains Melbourne that runs all of the metropolitan trains in Melbourne. By collaborating both internally with ICT and customer teams and externally with our client, we have developed and implemented a capacity tracker that is particularly relevant to customers’ concerns of social distancing due to the COVID pandemic. It provides real-time information for the onboard passenger population, enabling customers to choose a particular carriage or a different train altogether based on their personalised requirements and expectations for their journey.
Our Adelaide Metro Operations JV team which operates the trams in Adelaide under the Torrens Connect multi-modal contract has implemented body-worn cameras for our frontline staff who are customer service officers. These cameras assist customers and our people in uplifting their perception of safety. Consequently, there is a reduction in antisocial behavior, and its success has prompted the expansion of its framework to other operations as well.
Is there any technological impact on customer experience management?
There is a significant amount of impact. Real time information and how we present it in our customers’ preferred channel are important factors for customer satisfaction. It should also be personalised and contextualised according to specific needs and expectations. For example, if an incident arises on the network that is irrelevant to the customer, it should be omitted during push style communication with customers. One of the things we’ve been looking at is the ability to personalize information according to what’s important and relevant to our customers.
The Metro Train Melbourne team does this exceptionally well. In real time, when there is an issue in the network, customers get advance notifications on Twitter about any incidents and recommendations for alternative journey plans upon feeding their preferred or regular trips.
We are constantly looking for ways to improve the safety of both our community and people. Data mining is utilised to understand incident history and undertake predictive modelling for deploying security and undertaking dynamic deployments to increase the feeling and perception of safety of customers and reduce the incidence of antisocial behavior. Our CCTV leverages AI to identify people who display such behavior on a platform, particularly on quieter platforms or later at night.
What do you anticipate in customer experience overall in the next 12 to 18 months?
Everything boils down to collaboration, city shaping and place making. Customers now use our services with varying expectations and needs, requiring a shift of focus to customers’ necessities in the future. Significant investment is being made in major infrastructure (including transport) across Australia. Integrating transport with infrastructure while focusing on architecture and precinct design across customers’ entire end to end journeys rather than individual modes of transport is the key. This is a comprehensive approach to creating a more livable and sustainable city.
Is there any particular piece of advice that you want to give to the upcoming professionals in the field?
My advice is to focus on stakeholder engagement. It is essential to work together across industries and sectors to meet the demands of customers and communities of tomorrow.