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November to remember

Forest Coach Lines seem to be on a good wicket, having picked up a customer service award, scored a stunning survey result and averted a drivers’ strike

By David Goeldner | November 24, 2010

It’s been a good month for Forest Coach Lines, picking up an award, scoring highly on a satisfaction survey and averting industrial action from its drivers.

Not only has the north Sydney route operator won the prestigious CILTA award for customer service – sponsored by Qantas Freight – but a recent satisfaction rating survey places them well above the State Transit Authority’s Sydney Buses’ network on 89 percent.

Forest Coach Lines Managing Director David Royle says winning the 2010 Certified Institute of Logistics and Transport Customer Service Award for Large businesses is a confirmation of the company’s dedicated efforts in customer service.

“It’s always been a part of our culture at this organisation, and awards like this are an affirmation that we are on the right track from the customer’s perspective,” he says.

Operating on Sydney’s north side, Forest Coach Lines’ service is mixed at 80 percent NSW Government contracted route and school work, and 20 percent charter, with major hubs in Sydney’s CBD and at Chatswood.

Royle says the company’s philosophy stems from the Board of Directors: “There has never been a situation where shareholders have solely been driven by profit – customer service has always been a critical objective of the company, and filters through the whole culture.”

He says his company is in the throes of convincing the NSW Government that customer service is a critical element of performance indicators.

“The NSW Government is in the midst of setting KPIs, and we’ve just done comprehensive surveying of our route customers with assistance from the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies – ITLS.”

Royle says the customer satisfaction rate from the mid-November survey has come in at 89 percent, well above the NSW Government’s 70 percent benchmark.

“We are using similar surveying methods that the State Transit Authority (STA) has used with customer satisfaction,” he says.

“And we would encourage the NSW Government to put this performance indicator right at the top in terms of weightings when they assess operators.”

What makes the survey result more pleasing for Royle and his team is that the high satisfaction result came after the CILTA customer service award, vindicating their win.

“With a percentage figure from this survey, we now have a key KPI we can continually monitor.”

Royle sees a current challenge is keeping up with growth in demand in his region while maintaining dedication to customer service.

“Keeping a personalised approach to running the business gets more challenging with growth,” he says.

“You’ve got to manage your business more efficiently to give those personalised touches.”

Royle points to Forest Coach Lines’ depot development completed five years ago as placing the company in a strong position, coming in ahead of the NSW Government’s ‘Growth Bus’ incentive scheme.

“The increases in buses put a strain on depot infrastructure and we were well placed in that respect,” he says.

But with exponential short term growth, Royle says there has been some mild strain placed on the company’s balance sheet.

“There has been a slight mismatch in funding from what the NSW Government has given us and what we have paid out in fleet acquisition since putting the growth buses on in March this year,” Royle says.

“It will be a few years before the balance sheet is comfortable from some time lags in receiving money for new services – so that’s another challenge.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Royle says his team at Forest Coach Lines is comfortable with how the business has performed in 2010.

Industrial Action

Royle believes his company’s harmonious workplace relations has also helped avert Forest Coach Lines’ drivers joining an industrial action sweeping across other private operators servicing metropolitan Sydney.

The action is affecting four other private operators, with driver calls through the TWU for a four percent pay rise, more driver safety training and improved consultation practices within each of these companies.

The matter of effective employer-employee consultation appears to be in order at Forest Coach Lines, from the driver’s perspective.

“We’ve approached every driver individually and asked if they intend taking industrial action,” says Royle.

“They have all indicated no, so we can therefore let the public know that we won’t be part of any industrial action.”

He says Forest Coach Lines has been incorrectly reported as being involved with the TWU moves to take protected action, which could see disruption to bus services in other parts of Sydney after December 11 when driver ballots are counted.

“What is often the case is that when these things are reported by the media the public assume all operators are affected,” Royle says.

“We want the public to know that our drivers have no intent in taking industrial action.”

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