How UKCHA Finalists Arriva Trains Got Back on Track

Arriva Trains Wales is part of the Arriva Group, one of the largest providers of passenger transport in Europe employing more than 55,000 people and delivering more than 2.2 billion passenger journeys across 14 European countries each year. In 2017 Arriva Trains Wales were faced with a growing backlog of complaints, calling their customer relations managers to take some critical action.

Experts say business is all about the numbers. That was certainly the case in June 2017 when customer relations personnel at Arriva Trains Wales made the company’s complaint-handling procedures more responsive despite long odds.

  • 2,000: That's the number of staff members operating Arriva Trains Wales rail service across nearly 1,000 miles of track and more than 250 stations in Wales and England.
  • 20: The number of working days that regulators at the Office of Rail and Road allow for Arriva Trains Wales to respond to customer correspondence.
  • 3: The number of major factors that worked together to dig Arriva Trains customer relations personnel into a deep hole.
  • 1: The number of months it took quick-thinking managers at Arriva Trains to restore response times to regulatory rates.

Now for the story behind the numbers.

The Arriva Trains customer relations department began falling behind in the middle of 2016. Managers cite three factors.

First, key members of the team were promoted to responsible positions in other parts of the organization. That was good for their careers, but it left customer relations short-handed and deprived it of some of its most experienced and efficient personnel.

Second, a major upgrade of the company's complaint-handling software proved disappointing, with numerous flaws and poor performance.

Finally, mid-2016 saw full implementation of the Consumer Rights Act across the railway sector. The law opened up new avenues for passengers to make claims against the company for events that were not previously entitled to compensation.

The bottom line: The flow of complaints nearly doubled while manpower was compromised, and essential software was ineffective. By June 2017 Arriva Trains customers found themselves waiting 60 working days for a response to claims instead of the promised - and now legally required - 20.

Complaint handling had gone off the rails.


Customer relations management saw immediately that cutting the backlog would require more manpower. They received approval for a plan that they hoped would bring response rates within regulatory deadlines within a month.

Managers started by asking staff members to pull together. Every member of the department took on extra work, and most accepted a significant amount of overtime - up to 50 hours of work per week.

But it wasn't just raw effort. Managers recognised that different team members had different strengths, so they assigned work strategically. Some team members excelled at working with customers on the telephone, while others were able to process the large number of claims that followed a rail-service delay. Team members supported each other and passed tasks along to the colleagues who were best suited to them.

In addition, the company added three apprentices and 11 temporary staff members, more than doubling the size of the department.

The new staff members were not equipped to handle the department's more demanding tasks and training them would take a lot of time. Management, therefore, divided the customer relations staff into two parts. One team leader managed established personnel as they handled complex issues, while the other trained the new hires to handle more routine matters. This decision turned out to be a key element in Arriva Trains Wales's success. It allowed the company to benefit from the new employees very quickly because their training periods were short and simple. If they had undergone the company's customary training, which covers all elements of customer relations, the company could not have recovered from the backlog so quickly.


Thoughtful deployment of the new and temporary personnel allowed customer-relations management to cut the backlog from 60 working days to less than 20, thus satisfying regulatory mandates and, more importantly, achieving better customer satisfaction.

Once the immediate crisis was resolved, customer-relations managers worked with the vendor to correct flaws in system software and implemented a forecasting system to estimate future staffing needs. The introduction of the Consumer Rights Act meant that working smarter could not be a complete solution - the department needed more hands on deck. The forecasting system helped managers estimate the number of new employees needed and justify the hiring to corporate management.

Management also implemented a gift-card incentive program for customer-relations workers and established a schedule of catch-up meetings to evaluate performance and identify trouble spots, thus empowering team members by keeping them informed about the seriousness of the challenges they faced.

That's how you get a rail-service back on track - by the numbers.

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