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NS Customer Service goes remote

April 2020

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Adrienne Grant, customer solutions specialist, works in her home office to assist NS customers. The transition has been seamless for customers, she says.

Who needs Tom Cruise?

Make it mission possible: NS Customer Service doesn’t miss a beat going remote

Remote control

We don’t always get to pick our challenges – but we can choose how to react to them. A little cliché? Maybe, but also very true. It’s a motto departments across Norfolk Southern are putting into action following the COVID-19 outbreak, and nowhere is that collaborative tenacity more evident than in Customer Service.

On March 10, Customer Service director Ashley King says she knew their entire team needed to be equipped with the ability to work remotely. By March 18, it was done. Forty employees had the technology and resources they needed.

Easy, right? Wrong. A lot of innovation and hard work went into what turned out to be a seamless transition for customers. In fact, fellow Customer Service director J.P. McNeil believes none would even know that anything had changed unless they were told.

Customer solutions specialist Adrienne Grant says that is exactly the case since the transition.

“A lot of times the customers are asking how we’re doing and if we’re able to work remotely. They don’t know that we already are,” Grant said. “They really can’t tell a difference because we’re hitting the mark every time.”

John Scheib, chief strategy officer, sees the effect it’s having throughout the company and on NS customers.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what the whole team has accomplished,” Scheib said. “During a very stressful time with a lot of uncertainty for everyone, they didn’t miss a beat on behalf of our customers.”

Karol Lawrence, vice president customer operations, also highlighted the great work of team members supporting other departments as they secured necessary equipment, solved new technology challenges, took personal initiative to share vital information with colleagues, and more.

“It speaks to the quality of people we have here at NS and in our division,” Lawrence added. “They’re problem solvers. I’m so inspired by the way they’ve all pulled together to serve our customers as well as each other. It really is remarkable.”

Pulling together

“The MISSION: CS WFH (Customer Service working from home),” Derrick Perdue, group manager systems support says. “Can you hear the Tom Cruise ‘Mission Impossible’ theme in the background?!”

According to Perdue, each Customer Service employee needed a laptop imaged with the correct software as well as new software that would allow solutions specialists to take calls while working remotely – just as they would in the office. Perdue’s team was tasked with running point on the mission, and called in additional support from NS’ Information Technology Department to get the job done. In a span of about three days, they had Customer Service working remotely, ready for the following Monday. The plot thickens, though.

Over those same days, Perdue’s team was assisting Operations Support to implement the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines. To meet these recommendations, more than 170 employees needed their own work station while also remaining a minimum of six feet away from one another. That meant creating some 90 additional work stations.

It was time to scrounge, dumpster dive, scavenger hunt, and whatever else was needed, says Perdue.

“We quickly realized that there were not enough computers simply lying around to provide everyone their own workstation,” Perdue added. “That’s when we had to get creative.”

Their need didn’t stop with computers, either. At one point, phone adapters and headsets were the hot commodity. So hot, in fact, that the federal government canceled one of NS’ orders because their need for the product took priority. If you didn’t see that one coming, you’re not alone.

“We were sending team members to Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and any other local store to find headsets that matched the requirements,” Perdue said. “But amidst the chaos, we all felt like a team.”

That NS team mentality really is the not-so-secret ingredient in all this. Thankfully, it isn’t hard to find.

The individual initiative of folks like James Hungerford serves as further proof. A customer solutions specialist, Hungerford says he’s always looking for ways, big and small, to be helpful. That’s what motivated him to digitally package and share his department’s daily metrics and goals with his colleagues. On their Goode Building office floor, where this group works in normal times, this information is shared on large ceiling monitors.

“Everyone has access to the dashboard where they can check out the numbers while working remotely, but it may not always be the first thing on their mind. I guess it’s the old chief clerk in me,” Hungerford said. “I always want to keep an eye out for everyone. If sharing the metrics or putting out the personnel on duty helps, it’s the least I can do. In the end, the better our numbers are, the happier the customer should be.”

Mission: Accomplished

Have you heard that “Mission Impossible” theme music yet?

Only a few short weeks ago, most folks could not have anticipated that COVID-19 would be affecting our daily lives this way. It’s created significant obstacles for all of us. Unsurprisingly, though, committed team members and departments, including, but not limited to, those mentioned above have quickly stepped up in a big way.

A common thread through all of it has been the relentless teamwork, Scheib says. Moving quickly to set up remote operations, everyone worked together to not only provide uninterrupted customer service but to maintain and improve performance under trying conditions. “Our Voice of the Customer metrics continue to tell us we have a great team,” Scheib adds.

In a time of uncertainty, NS customers have had one less thing to worry about as a result of this hard work. To advance NS’ strategic plan goals, Scheib has challenged employees in his Service Optimization and Customer Engagement Division to strive to be best-in-class. As the NS team responds to  the unprecedented events in recent weeks, it certainly looks like we’re on the right track.

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James Hungerford, customer solutions specialist, at his home office. He created a way to digitally share the department’s daily metrics and goals with colleagues, which they viewed on ceiling monitors on their floor in Atlanta’s Goode Building.