by Chloe Dobinson

Virgin Trains deploys automation and artificial intelligence to improve customer contact engagement

Sep 23, 2016
IT StrategyMobile Apps

Virgin Trainswill work with inSTREAM to roll automation which will personalise each customer’s experience and reduce the ‘manual effort’ from 32 hours to four hours, according to its CIO.

This isn’t the first time Virgin Trains has deployed automation. Chief Information Officer John Sullivan last year launched ATR, a programme which compensates customers without the need for filling out forms.

The process would refund a customer a percentage of the ticket price if a train was 30 minutes late or receive a full refund if over an hour late, being “automatically” repaid back into the customer’s bank account.

CIO Sullivan has found difficulty in implementing the new digital technology with staff concerns in understanding the artificial intelligence. Virgin Trains has been “patient” in leading the team through the barrier in ensuring the change, Sullivan said.

“Essentially we are turning a negative situation into a positive one,” he said. “Once our customer service team understand artificial intelligence they will see the opportunities for the public.”

“I think what we have done is understood where artificial intelligence is best and sometimes where we actually need the technology for higher priority cases… this is where human intervention comes in and where we need people involved.”

Virgin Trainsis continually improving its service in putting the customers at the core of the business strategy.

CIO Sullivan recently launched a project called Beam which is an entertainment centre for its customers.

Sullivan insists Beam is “slightly better” than being on a plane because users can bring their own electronic device on board for free.

Virgin Trainshave made “vast improvements” in terms of mobile ticketing where the public can purchase a ticket through the app and then be emailed the ticket, ensuring convenience for customers.

“We are matching what the airlines are doing now… with a personal device making it much easier for commuters where you don’t have to queue at the booking office anymore in being able to just get on the train for customers.

“What we do now is sending messages to customers for when to board the train but we do that in groups to avoid the mad rush of people…trickling individuals through rather than a mad rush of people.”

The automation has seen security remain an “ongoing issue” for Sullivan and his IT team.

“We are keeping up to date with the latest CTI standards and latest software techniques in ensuring we are spending enough time on protecting personal information. Security is not something you do one month and then leave it, it has remained a top priority for Virgin,” Sullivan said.

Virgin Trainsis continually trying to innovate and “lead the way” in terms of the transport industry.

As part of Sullivan’s CIO role he makes a point of communication being a two-way tool for developing his digital team. Sullivan regularly listens and engages with his team in making sure they are satisfied in their job role with his colleagues being more likely to stay around.

“There may be times when people want to leave and make a career choice and that’s fine but I think as a team we are all in it together and not every day is going to be good but we can work together for the good days and do some really exciting things with technology.”

Sullivan sees the future of Virgin Trains in being able to “sell and deliver” the technology while building a better engagement with the business insisting his role as a CIO will evolve over the 12 months in being a “business leader rather than a technology role” in influencing change.