Public transport - Customer Service Officer
Work-related violence case studies
South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) is one of a number of passenger transport executives that operate throughout the UK. SYPTE manages the infrastructure of the transport system, including the bus stations, bus shelters and other on-street fixtures. The Executive issues travel tickets and travel passes, provides information about transport routes and timetables, and subsidises travel services for isolated communities that are not otherwise commercially viable. It employs around 350 staff.
There are approx 30 people in SYPTE who regularly carry out lone working duties. This case study focuses on Customer Service Officers (CSOs) who provide travel information at various interchanges.
- Passenger frustration resulting from delays and disruption to the service.
- Groups of youths loitering around bus stations
- Anti-social behaviour, often related to drugs and alcohol use.
Examples of incidents
A CSO approached three youths known for loitering and asked if they were waiting for a bus. They became abusive and were escorted off the premises. The police were called and the youths were arrested.
A CSO asked a female member of the public to stop drinking alcohol on the premises. The female walked away, then returned and assaulted the CSO. Another CSO came to help and was also assaulted. The female was escorted from the site.
A member of the public was drunk and disorderly on site. A police officer arrived to help the CSO restrain him. In the scuffle the CSO injured his right knee and needed hospital treatment.
Training and information
Training: all staff who deal with customers or members of the public are trained to provide good customer service. This includes:
- High quality: staff are taught to provide a high quality of public service at all times.
- Difficult customers: staff are taught techniques to defuse situations, such as allowing a customer to let off steam before trying to tackle the problem. Dealing with the problem, not the emotion, helps to defuse the situation before it escalates.
- Taking ownership of customers' problems: although late buses or trains are not SYPTE's responsibility, staff are encouraged to listen to the problem and try to find a solution. This helps to avoid further frustration and risk of violence.
- Building relationships: For example, if a gang of youths is being troublesome, staff are encouraged to break down barriers by talking to them and trying to develop a rapport with them. A relationship built on mutual respect is less likely to lead to abuse or physical harm.
- Taking the long-term view: how staff act when dealing with troublemakers today has an impact on how they behave in the future.
- Being vigilant: staff are trained to be aware of what is happening around them as they work.
Contingency Business Recovery Plans: at each site staff have procedures covering planned responses to emergency situations.
Feedback: there is a lot of discussion and feedback with all stakeholders and staff about violence risks and the measures to tackle them. The measures are regularly reviewed.
Good relationship with the local police: SYPTE are involved in community safety initiatives. The relationship with the police is mutually beneficial: the police are informed about what is happening at the various interchanges and can support SYPTE staff if problems arise. SYPTE staff know they can ask for assistance from the police.
Exclusion orders: these can be obtained for persistent offenders.
Work environment and equipment
CCTV: most locations where there are static lone workers have CCTV. Control room staff can monitor lone workers and their environment 24 hours a day. SYPTE uses its 24-hour contract staff to service unmanned, CCTV-equipped sites.
Panic alarms: when the lone worker activates the alarm, it alerts CCTV control room staff.
High levels of preventive maintenance: this ensures the interchange remains in full working order.
Spy holes: these are fitted in the doors of secure offices that open onto public areas.
Building design: new buildings are designed to be uninviting for vandals or aggressors. For example, high ambient lighting, no corners or crevices to hide in, and high visibility of lone working staff at all times by using glass in the construction.
Mobile phones: mobile workers carry mobile phones.
Scheduled routes: this ensures that management knows where staff are at any given time.
Lone workers selected for their suitability: a lone worker must have the right aptitude and attitude for lone working. For example, they must be confident, assertive and able to use initiative. Those not suited to lone working can be moved to other duties within SYPTE.
Contact with management: people are taken off lone working duties from time to time. This enables more contact with management and time to attend training, etc. The customer service manager visits lone workers once a week.
'Check call': lone workers must call their supervisor every hour. There are two shift supervisors available day and night who can be contacted on radio, mobile or landline. If a lone worker fails to call, CCTV control room staff can search for the lone worker.
Constant commentary: lone working staff sometimes carry out duties outside the CCTV surveillance area. In these situations, they keep in close radio contact with control room staff.
Code words: staff at isolated sites and in the CCTV control room can use code words, for example to call for back-up assistance, or to advise that the situation is under control.
Using computers and email: This helps lone workers at interchanges to keep in close contact with other staff in the organisation.
Glass security screen: consideration was given to erecting a glass security screen between customers and staff. However, tThis was not done because it would have created a less friendly environment. There were also implications for providing disabled access.
Less successful measures
Some measures are less effective than others, or may have disadvantages:
- Uniformed security staff: a few years ago, security staff wore official guard uniforms. However, because they represent authority this can cause youths to be even more rebellious and troublesome. Wearing them may serve only to inflame a situation further.
- CCTV must be properly maintained and sited: grants are available to help install security systems, for example as part of a crime and community initiative. However, grants seldom cover maintenance costs.
The benefits and the costs
Staff feel more secure: staff ask for measures such as CCTV and spy holes in office doors as it makes them feel more secure and acts as a deterrence to violence. CCTV makes passengers feel safer: this can encourage people to use public transport more often.
Broader application of measures: Violence prevention measures can also help to meet other business objectives and so be more cost-effective. For example, two-way radios not only help to improve safety but help SYPTE to provide good customer service.
Relatively small: CCTV, which is designed to improve safety and security, is often a small part of major capital schemes.