Interview with Kai-Nneka Townsend

Customer Services Manager (Area Manager) Stations

How did you get into the rail industry?

A local job Agency told me that LOROL was advertising for a customer service position. They wanted to improve diversity in terms not only of gender but also ethnicity so they truly represented the community they serve. I applied and got the job!

I started as a customer host. I was on the front line, selling tickets at the ticket office as well as interacting with customers on the Gateline. It was customer focussed and customer facing. I did this for six months. Then I applied to work in customer relations as an adviser. I dealt with customer complaints on the phone, addressing promptly any arising issue. Having been on the front line, I had a full appreciation of the customer journey and experience; I could understand where customers were coming from and what were the issues to address. I did this for some time and then a position as station manager came up which I took. For me, it was about taking customer service to the next level: improve the customer experience, managing a team to meet the targets set by the business in terms of safety, disruption process etc. It was all about team work. I did this for a year and moved up to Deputy (Customer Service Manager (Group Station Manager)). My role was to oversee 3 to 4 other station managers and their frontline teams. I really enjoyed it so when a similar role came up in the organisation, I immediately applied for it. My manager had been promoted so I stepped into his role. I have been doing this role for the last 3 years and I love it! At one point, I managed 3 managers with 170 staff reporting to them. I am really proud to have contributed to improving the service and the relationship between managers and front line staff in the areas I was responsible for.

I didn’t know anything about rail when I started my career in the industry. Now, I am passionate about the sector, so much that I would not consider leaving the industry for sometime to come. There are great career prospects in rail and many opportunities for promotion. It is not a one dimensional industry as some might think. I would have never thought that the Rail would be a sector for me, nor that I would have such opportunities to further my career in this Industry but now, what matters to me is improving the customer experience and helping to make a difference where I am. I am also very passionate about seeing my team evolve and develop their careers. Through my role, I am able to do that.

What is a typical day/night?

I start by looking at reports from the previous day, find out what my managers and their teams are doing, addressing any issues that I need to follow up as manager for the area. It is very important to be visible and engage with the staff. I will often start by visiting some stations but sometimes, may need to attend meetings on current infrastructure projects or planning for customer service or safety improvements. I also have a weekly meeting with my management team at the start of the week to reflect on our successes and failures of the previous week and discuss targets for the week ahead as well as how to generally make things better. In addition to this I have regular 1-to-1 sessions with each of them to allow for discussions on their performance and any support needed in their role or further development.

I generally work from 9am to 5pm but I need to be flexible which sometimes means I need to come in early to prepare for meetings or conference calls on operational and customer service matters and sometimes I need to work late. In my role I find LOROL is very supportive of flexible working, they are more interested in the job being done properly than in people sticking to their 9 to 5 which is a good approach!

What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging?

Managing individual and team needs and expectations. At the end of the day, we run a business and we need to have the team on side and sometimes there is a conflict between what the business requires and what the individual wants.

What do you like the most about your job/the rail industry?

What I enjoy most of course is getting positive feedback from our customers! I get excited about helping key stakeholders (TfL). I also feel pride when I see someone from my team grow like I did in my career and realise their full potential.

What made/makes you stay in the rail sector?

There’s a certain pride in knowing that you work for a company and Industry that so many people rely on and in many ways respect. Sometimes on my journeys to and from work, I overhear conversations between passengers who remark about how great it is to have London Overground expand to different parts of London, improving their convenience of getting around. I feel great to be able to contribute to that success. Equally, when the LOROL Women group visit Girls schools in London, the girls are often amazed to see women from the “train companies” and hear about the different jobs we have. It inspires them to consider a career in the sector. This is encouraging and makes me feel proud to be apart of this industry.

What do you think could be improved within the rail industry for you personally?

Making information available to our customers, particularly in times of disruption. This industry is evolving with how we interact with and deliver information to our customers. I know there is much work being done behind the scenes to continue to improve this and I look forward to how this will be improved. However it is a two-way street: we want to understand how to serve our customers better and deliver the information in such a way that it gives them comfort their concerns are addressed.

What do you think the rail industry should stop/start/continue doing?

The rail industry should push for more diversity so as to be a true representation of the communities it serves.

We need more women in rail for instance. We need to highlight the benefits of working within the rail sector and showcase that rail is not a one dimensional industry. We need to raise awareness at schools, change the image of rail so that children and young generations do not see careers in Rail as for boys or men only. But can see through the experience of other women, that they too can have a successful and rewarding career in the rail industry.

How did you get to create LOROL Women?

I saw an article on the launch of Women in Rail in 2013 and got really excited about this new initiative. That same year, our HR Department put on a course on “Women in Leadership” which sought to encourage and support women in Leadership in the Business. That inspired me to take this to the next step and provide a means of continuing to encourage and support women at all levels in the Business but also to support LOROL’s Agenda of continuing to increase diversity in the workplace. I met with Adeline Ginn, founder of Women in Rail, and got ideas and support for my project which I then decided to introduce within the business. LOROL has always supported improving diversity in all aspects of the organization. I spoke to my MD who was very supportive and wanted to encourage more women to join the business.

My first step was to find other women within LOROL to support this initiative. I brainstormed initial ideas on how best to tackle the issues. I then sold my ideas to the business as a viable business case. I presented to my MD and got the full support from the board. Then I launched a programme. Anna Walker ORR Chair and member of the Steering Committee of Women in Rail provided outside help and added credibility to this initiative. Now, nearly 2 years on, we have an intranet page, a mentoring programme and regular networking events! As for the future, I would like to see an increase in the number of women represented in the business. The male/female ratio is currently 17% and I would like to this it increase to 20%. We need to be strategic about diversity. I would also like to see a woman on the board and our board has welcomed that challenge!

What would you say to a young graduate/woman considering a career in rail?

Go for it! There are numerous roles and opportunities within the rail sector. Rail is an industry where anything is possible. You need to identify your own skills and talent and go for the role that attracts you the most. Do not be intimidated, explore what there is. I stumbled into the rail sector and learned so much about opportunities and have had an amazing career so far.

Why did you join Women in Rail? What would you say are the benefits of joining the group?

Women in Rail is about men and women working together to improve diversity within the rail sector. The workshops and events put together by the group help women get self-confidence and understand that there are other women within the industry who have the same issues. It encourages us to push boundaries and help each other further our career and make the industry more attractive to other women and young girls. There is a place for all of us in the sector and we should not afraid to push barriers.

 

Interviewed August 2015