Digitalisation and dialogue – the road toward a new customer interaction for SJ

SJ started its business in 1856. Back then, it was steam that drove development forward. Today, digitalisation is the driving force, and SJ has decided to become one of Sweden’s most digitalised companies. Another change is a shift from being completely technology-driven to becoming more customer-focused. The changes place great demands on the people in the business. Not least for staff members on board the trains.

– The big shift with us has to do with how SJ will become one of Sweden’s most digitised companies, says Henrik Månsson, who is the head of all strategic HR work within SJ. Our customers and travellers expect SJ to be available wherever and whenever they look for information or book tickets.

A changed customer interaction and CSI

– This is a major change internally, not least on board our trains where the work in the past mainly has been about checking tickets and informing about train changes, which was also the core of our customer interaction. Digitalisation means that we have changed the core of our mission when it comes to interacting with customers. Looking ahead, customer interaction must create other values.
Henrik Månsson SJ

How business operations develop and change are closely followed up by various key performance indicators within SJ.

– Key performance indicators are important to us when we drive change, says Henrik Månsson. Therefore, we report both our performance and leadership index from Agerus in the SJ annual report. The measurements show whether we are moving in the right direction, as the Agerus methodology is based on developing prerequisites for people to do a good enough job so that we can achieve our goals.

– One of our most important key figures in this context is the satisfied customer index (CSI), where our work with the Agerus method has had a direct and positive impact. The dialogue that has emerged with the help of Agerus has involved and engaged our staff in a way that definitely has carried into the customer experience. Similarly, good leadership creates a culture that has a positive impact on our brand as an employer.

Dialogue for anchoring

Over time, SJ has become accustomed to driving change. But there is more to be done when it comes to anchoring and creating understanding, says Henrik Månsson. – Many of our employees probably feel greater loyalty to the SJ they recognise since before, and less to the ideas from our group management. It may also be perceived as a lesser degree of job freedom now that much is controlled by the digital world.

– That is why we need to be better on the management side to convey and anchor the strategy to our employees, emphasises Henrik Månsson. And this is where dialogue is the real key to creating understanding and acceptance.

The importance of dialogue propels SJ to work very consciously with the format of their business meetings.

– It is in dialogue that you can relate to changes and ask questions, understand and arrive at a commitment. Therefore, we now organise all our staff meetings in a way that will stimulate dialogue. I have a person in my team who is a specialist at this. She puts all her energy into how we could be better at talking to each other. More interactivity and conversation between the participants is how it’s done.

The dialogue in smart phones

The importance of dialogue is also the reason why SJ together with Agerus has developed an app so that dialogue about the assignments and prerequisites will move into the mobile phone of all employees, starting next year.

About SJ

SJ, with about 4 600 employees, is a private company owned by the Swedish government and tasked with operating profitable public railway transport.

– Being a manager at SJ poses pretty big challenges, says Henrik Månsson. You often have large employee groups with people who work very independently. For example, train hosts and train drivers do not necessarily feel that they work in a permanent community. You constantly change workmates during your travels. It is also difficult to gather your people. In such circumstances, digital tools play a major role and provide an opportunity for dialogue.

– With the app we can create a dialogue with people who do not have stationary job conditions and are very difficult to bring together in one place. We also step away from a large, annual survey to local dialogue where the managers themselves decide which issues are important to follow up on and develop. Being able to do employee dialogue through an app is also a natural part of our digitisation strategy.
Dialogue was also important when it came to developing the new app, says Henrik Månsson:

– We have made a real effort to involve the organisation in how things should work in the employees’ smartphones. Now we have a flexible tool where the manager can choose which questions they want to ask and go even deeper into specific questions if needed. At the same time, we have worked very consciously in terms of employee perspective. Their user experience must be a good one for us to reach the goals of our venture.

Collaboration with Agerus

SJ and Agerus have been collaborating since 2013. Why did SJ start working with Agerus?

– We were compelled by the research behind Agerus, which is based on the fact that when the prerequisites for performance are good, you achieve good results in the business while keeping people healthy and happy, says Henrik Månsson. When we started working with Agerus, it was a different way of thinking for us compared to the traditional employee satisfaction survey.

– We want to give our employees the proper prerequisites for being self-sufficient and creating good performance. Agerus has become our tool for this and gives us a more forward-aimed dialogue, which has brought about greater responsibility among employees.

How has collaboration with Agerus been over the years?

– Working with Agerus has been a lot of fun, Henrik Månsson continues. We have always had good dialogue, and this last year of joint development work has meant a few more strong leaps together. I think much of this comes from a consensus on the importance of dialogue. Dialogue is a common thread in our collaboration. I am excited to be able to continue developing that approach together with Agerus.