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Rethinking customer service from the inside out

March 2020

Pictured is a ConnectNS “Chatter” screen.

NS marketing teams see huge potential with ConnectNS

As 2020 progresses, despite the coronavirus, Norfolk Southern employees are moving to achieve full implementation of our Reimagine ’21 strategic plan and companywide cultural transformation. One key development fueling this momentum is the expanding use of ConnectNS, our digital customer relationship platform.

Launched in 2018, ConnectNS offers a single digital access point for all customer data, interactions, and insight to ensure that NS provides responsive and efficient customer service. While it began as a system to support customer operations employees and improve general communication surrounding customer issues and inquiries, ConnectNS is evolving into an advanced internal network encompassing multiple departments.

 Data-sharing drives improved performance

In our push toward process automation, NS marketing teams have opened a new front as they adopt ConnectNS Sales. Marketing’s move to ConnectNS signifies a major shift in how the commodity groups conduct their business.

“ConnectNS allows us to collaborate across all commodity groups and fill gaps that, in the past, would have made our work much more challenging,” said Alex Luc, director intermodal marketing. “The goal is to end up with one shared view of each customer and the data surrounding the opportunities and requirements they have. That way, we can work together to develop a single strategy that best benefits Norfolk Southern and is supported by each department in a way that best serves our customers’ needs.”

In other words, it’s a win for NS and for our customers.

“ConnectNS offers a new level of transparency and collaboration to remove the silos created by our previous processes and overall structure,” Luc added. “The net effect is improved convenience, speed, professional understanding, and customer satisfaction.”

Connectivity builds ‘corporate memory’

For Jerri Parks, director business processes in marketing, the reporting and record-keeping functionality of the ConnectNS platform bridges a gap in NS’ previous customer-service process.

“We're calling it the corporate memory,” Parks said. “We’ve always done the work, both on the service side and the marketing and sales side, but we've never had one single tool that collects all of that customer data in one place.”

In the past, that information and knowledge was stored in somebody's email, in a document on a shared drive, or in somebody's head, Parks said, making it difficult to collect and connect data. ConnectNS serves as a centralized databank to compile all this information — one that everyone involved in shaping the customer experience can tap.

This level of access allows NS to be more proactive and have better informed interactions with potential and current customers, Parks said.

“Think of ConnectNS as your briefcase,” Parks said. “Before you meet with a customer, you can open up ConnectNS on your laptop or cellphone, view that customer’s profile, and see a record of all of the issues they've had, who's resolved those issues, and how long those processes took. There's also a place for market intel, so if there's anything going on within the customer’s industry that presents a business opportunity we want to leverage, you’ll have that information.”

“That level of access,” she added, “allows Norfolk Southern to understand its current position with a specific customer and develop a strategy, proactively, all prior to walking through the door.”

Market intel fuels valuable connections

To gather and compile competitive market intelligence within ConnectNS, Cliff Garner, director marketing in industrial products, helped develop a system to aggregate and classify relevant industry data. Integrating market intel into ConnectNS allows users to search for and share specific industry information. Whether searching by geographical location, industry, keyword, or specific customer, the system makes it easy for users to submit and extract useful information when they need it, Garner said.

“The really great thing – and a lot of our customers voice this as well – is that we know our customers’ business really well,” he said. “However, we realized that, while we may have knowledge of something, we may not be aware of how that information may benefit someone else across our business markets. So, by developing a process and platform to collect, locate, and share information gathered across the company, it creates this new level of collaboration and potential.”

Tracking wins and losses with real-time visibility

Our market research and forecasts group is actively working to create a dashboard in ConnectNS to provide users with real-time performance metrics on business opportunities won and lost – across markets and by geography. Currently, these metrics are collected by circulating a spreadsheet among our business market groups to fill out – not a very timely or efficient process, said Sarah Morris, manager strategic market analysis.

 “Our vision with ConnectNS is that we will have quicker visibility of our performance metrics,” Morris said. “There’s a huge efficiency benefit to having all this information stored in a single repository, and there’s also a real-time reporting benefit. It will give us visibility that we haven’t had before.”

Through the dashboard, ConnectNS users will gain insight into why we lost or won certain business, which can be helpful in planning future market strategies. Having real-time data on such business activity, Morris added, will help the market research group respond more quickly and with more precision to make forecast updates.

Intuitive design sparks ‘social’ communication

While marketing still is in the early stages of adopting ConnectNS, marketing employees now using the platform say that ConnectNS offers an intuitive, user-friendly experience. Its internal communication system mirrors the familiar design and functionality of most social media applications, including elements such as @-tagging, topic-following options, and an instant-messenger feature, Chatter.

“The cool thing about the platform is that it really is like social media,” Parks said. “The system gives you the ability to organize and explore data in a personalized way, while encouraging more transparent and collaborative communication in a form that feels completely natural.”

“For the most part, everybody in service can see what's going on in sales, and vice versa,” she explained. “ConnectNS is breaking down barriers to encourage open communication around that information and provides a place to share ideas in a way that’s approachable. That has never happened before.”

Limitless potential creates new possibilities

As ConnectNS continues to expand throughout Norfolk Southern, the future is full of promise for further connectivity and process automation.

“As we integrate it with additional systems, it'll become more robust and more valuable to where ConnectNS can be the single system that we pretty much live in,” Luc said. “It’s a new level in terms of logging and understanding information. Not only can we go back and measure ourselves on how well we're working with and responding with our customers from a quantitative perspective, but also from a quality perspective. The ability to clearly self-evaluate will only drive greater progress.”

Parks added, “The hard work and effort that NS invests into its customer relationships is still very much there and very important to our success. However, with ConnectNS, we’re leveraging the benefits of this technology to encourage trust, demonstrate our expertise, drive business, and ultimately strengthen the relationship between Norfolk Southern and its customers as we move forward.”