Sustainability is all about customer service

Sustainability in Action

As manager of customer service, Greg Honore spends a lot of time looking at ways that Norfolk Southern can improve service and business relationships.
 

As manager of customer service, Greg Honore spends a lot of time looking at ways that Norfolk Southern can improve service and business relationships. During 2013, Honore initiated a project that significantly improved the railroad’s operating efficiencies and on-time delivery of customer freight.

Honore leads a team in the railroad’s Network and Service Management Department in Atlanta. He had noticed that customers’ shipments on certain rail lanes of traffic consistently were being delivered much earlier than scheduled. Customers base business decisions on shipment trip plans supplied by the railroad, Honore said, so freight that arrives earlier than the plan specifies can disrupt work and activities the customer had scheduled around the delivery time.

Honore wanted to know why this was happening – and figure out a way to solve it.

“One of our jobs in customer service is to validate our trip plans,” Honore says. “Every shipment has a trip plan. Shipments are supposed to arrive at their destinations within a window of plus or minus 24 hours.”

Honore and his team began studying the worst performing traffic lanes in terms of early shipments. As they analyzed train movements on the problem lanes, they discovered that the issue could be addressed by communicating better with customers. They found that delivery times of many shipments were changing as they moved across the system but those changes were not being updated and communicated to customers on the trip plan.

“Some train schedules changed, but our trip plans did not,” Honore explains. They found that the lanes with best on-time performance were those where customer service representatives took corrective action and provided customers with updated and accurate trip plans when schedules changed. That also meant that Norfolk Southern was not penalized for delivering shipments outside of the 24-hour consistency window.

Honore’s team worked with the railroad’s operations service support, terminal operations, service design, and transportation departments on ways to better validate trip plans against real-time freight movements.

“After we analyzed and implemented corrective action, on-time performance increased to more than 80 percent from 40 percent in some of the lanes we analyzed,” Honore said. The changes Honore’s team initiated affected more than 40,000 railcars in more than 50 lanes of rail traffic.

“It helps the customers by giving them a better vantage point of their shipments as well as a more accurate arrival time,” Honore said. “The definition of ‘sustain’ is to provide what is needed to continue, and that correlates directly with our customer service efforts. We don’t sell anything – we just provide service. If we provide great service, it allows our company to maintain its sustainability.”