Trust and respect

RSSB’s Matt Clements and Jill Moore talk about research by RSSB for the rail industry, which has evaluated the factors that contribute to trust and respect between passengers and front-line staff, and how these can reduce the potential for inconsiderate and anti-social behaviour

The relationship between passengers and front-line staff is generally positive but there are rather too many events in which this is not the case. A mismatch of expectations can result in inconsiderate and anti-social behaviour, which in turn contributes towards a sense of less personal security on both sides.
In response to the industry’s needs, RSSB commissioned research on behalf of the cross-industry Rail Personal Security Group (RPSG) into the factors that contribute to trust and respect between passengers and front-line staff, and how these can be used to reduce the potential for inconsiderate and anti-social behaviour amongst the law-abiding majority. The focus for this research was on how to use shared expectations to increase both customer satisfaction with the service and staff satisfaction with their jobs, thus contributing to positive perceptions of personal security. It did not address overt criminal behaviour.
The research process was overseen and guided by a stakeholder group, which included representatives from the rail industry including train operating companies and Network Rail, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), Passenger Focus, London TravelWatch, Confederation of Passenger Transport, Department for Transport, Home Office, and the Health and Safety Executive.

Research aims
Front-line staff on the railway play a critical role in the provision of a safe, secure and comfortable journey for passengers. They are the public face of the organisation and provide a means by which the company communicates important messages to its customers. However, the relationship between passengers and front-line staff is not always a positive one, and there is scope to improve the level of trust and respect between the two.
The interaction between passengers and front-line staff on the railway happens at different levels. How a passenger regards and treats that member of staff is likely to be influenced by their experience and perception of:

  • The rail industry as a whole – messages from government and the media.
  • The individual train operating companies and Network Rail – their experiences and the reputation of the particular company as a service provider.
  • The individual member of staff – the interaction with that individual, often in the context of a query, problem or complaint.

Whilst the remit did not include the high-level relationship with the industry as a whole, the research did reveal the importance of addressing the issue at national level. Passenger perceptions of the railway are drawn not only from their knowledge and experience of individual companies or ‘brands’ but also from their wider knowledge and experience of Britain’s railways as a system.
The aim of the research was to identify:

  • The meaning of respect and trust between figures in authority and the general public; how figures in authority command respect; and how selection and training of staff can assist them in doing so.
  • Practical solutions, with reference to enforcement and the railway byelaws, to provide staff with the ability to safeguard passenger security effectively and safely.
  • Methods and good practice for developing a greater understanding by passengers of the responsibilities of front-line staff, and their ability to respond appropriately.
  • Methods and good practice for staff to develop a greater understanding of the needs and expectations of passengers, and how to meet those effectively.
  • Practical improvements to the job design, recruitment, and management of front-line staff.

In order to get qualitative data, the research involved six focus group discussions with customers, three being at rail stations where passengers reported a good relationship with both station and on-train staff, and three being at rail stations where this relationship was poorer. Interviews were conducted with 28 front-line staff across the country, in locations where there were initiatives in place to address the relationship between passengers and front-line staff. In addition, interviews were undertaken with managers – in the rail industry and elsewhere – who had developed initiatives to improve the relationship between front-line staff and customers. A total of 30 case studies were explored in this way, 15 from the rail industry and 15 from other sectors.

Key findings
The main findings from the research were not surprising, but provide a reminder to all of us, and to railway managers in particular, about the areas where actions can improve the level of shared expectations and, thus both passenger satisfaction and staff morale.
Front-line staff in all sectors and activities want to be treated with respect and dignity by their service users. Likewise, in the rail industry staff should be entitled to expect that passengers exercise certain standards of behaviour – including compliance with the railway byelaws. Most passengers, while they may not know the detail of the byelaws, behave appropriately because of their own values and standards. For some, however, it may be helpful to be clear about what sort of behaviour is expected on the railway.
Fundamentally, passengers want value for money for their tickets, and front-line staff are likely to be the nearest point of contact for passengers to provide criticism of any shortfall. Aside from being competent in their role, helpful, visible, smart and pro-active, passengers want staff to recognise that passengers are individuals and have different needs and that not all passengers are familiar with the travelling environment, and may need patience and a clear explanation from staff.
Passengers may have an unrealistically high expectation of the service, in which case it is important for a company to communicate what they can deliver, so that passengers have more realistic expectations, rather than leave it to front-line staff to deal with the consequences on their own.
Both passengers and front-line staff want services to run without delays or disruptions, with accurate and up-to-date information about any factors affecting services, to be safe and secure on the rail network, and to be treated with respect by each other.

A number of case studies, from both rail and non-rail environments, highlighted a range of possible techniques and solutions that could be adapted and deployed by individual companies. Principally, these fell into two categories:
Techniques which aimed to influence behaviour of the public – these included understanding how communication with the public works, how messages are received, setting standards of behaviour through public awareness campaigns, and using enforcement measures such as railway byelaws.
Techniques which aimed to instigate changes in behaviour of staff – these included setting a corporate standard, selecting the right front-line staff and empowering them to support the business and manage customer relationships beneficially (e.g. through having scope to make decisions), as well as understanding the way colleagues are supported and managed.
Findings were translated into a range of specific, targeted resources aimed at industry professionals involved in operations, security, retail, human resources and training. They all feature under the banner ‘Trust and Respect between passengers and front-line staff’.
An introductory guide to building shared expectations – based on the headline research findings.
A guide for operations managers in the rail industry – a comprehensive guide aimed at operations directors and managers in organisations which have a role in the front-line delivery of the railway to its customers – including infrastructure managers and train operating companies – also useful for personnel involved in retail, marketing, human resources and training.
How to support shared expectations between you and your passengers – a set of PowerPoint slides and Trainers’ Notes designed to be adapted as part of potential training and briefing of front-line staff. Designed to prompt discussion about how it feels to put oneself into someone else’s shoes.
A set of poster templates designed to promote shared expectations amongst passengers and front-line staff. Joint messages can be placed on stations and trains. The templates include ready-to-use high resolution samples as well as files which can be used by designers to modify the concepts with company-specific fonts and colours, without changing the consistency of the key messages.
A report of three case studies – illustrating a range of approaches to the issues by three different train operating companies, ranging from boosting public awareness to more formal enforcements of byelaws.
The guidance and resources that have been produced as a result of this work are designed to enable and support companies in managing passenger perceptions and personal security, thereby building resilience, and preventing problems before they occur. It is an approach that parallels ‘primary prevention’ in the health sector.
Sets of these resources are being distributed to the individual companies in the national rail industry in the coming weeks, and will shortly be available to download from the RSSB website – – (via the Research and Development link) or via the rail industry’s on line Community Safety Resource Centre – For more information contact RSSB on

Matt Clements is industry communications manager and Jill Moore is research manager at RSSB

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