Measuring the Customer Experience of Northern Rail Passengers


Northern Rail has developed a customer service strategy to ensure delivery of an excellent customer experience at each stage of the customer’s journey. This strategy, entitled ‘Being Northern’, looks at the three main elements of customer experience delivery – people, trains and stations.  A Passenger Charter has also been developed to ‘deliver local railway services that really work for everyone’.  A key enabler of this customer service delivery comes from a customer research programme that has been put in place to regularly track the whole travel experience.  This enables Northern Rail to continuously monitor service delivery and its impact on the customer experience and to rapidly respond to any changes required.


Research approach

The Northern Rail customer research programme is managed and delivered by Jungle Green in collaboration with Protel Fieldwork.  The key objective of this ongoing research programme is to measure service delivery and make recommendations on improvements.


To ensure that a true view of the customer experience was assessed, a ‘mystery shopping’ approach was adopted. Key requirements for the study were as follows.


  • Each mystery shop was required to reflect the whole travel experience of using ‘one route and one station’.


  • The research needed to reflect travel undertaken on weekdays and weekends and at different times of day between 7.00am and 7.00pm.


  • To gain a balanced view of the travel experience a good mix of interviewers were required to reflect gender and age.  Interviewers were also required to retain a high level of detail to provide meaningful reports being as descriptive as possible. 


  • A post journey report was produced for each mystery shop and photographs were also used to reflect particularly good or bad experiences.   Photographs needed to be taken discreetly and to be communicated electronically (mobile phone)



Key factors investigated during each mystery shop included -Methods of accessing information for prejourney planning (website, telephone); Signage to the station and within the station; the station experience, the journey experience and feedback on Northern Rail staff encountered.



“Protel have provided a high standard of service on this project for a number of years now. The feedback from the mystery shoppers has always been extremely useful, relevant and considered.” Janice Guy, Managing Director, Jungle Green


Initially 50 stations/routes were monitored by this approach twice a year but this is now carried out on a monthly basis.   The outcome of the survey provides key additional information to complement the input received by Northern from the National Passenger Survey which samples every train operator in the UK on 60 routes.  A report is sent back to Northern every month and every 6 months a summary progress report is produced which also makes comparisons with the customer experience being delivered by Mersey Rail which is part of the same group.


“At a recent meeting with Northern Rail they praised the level of detail provided by the field team and reported on how useful they find the feedback, which is delivered very quickly to the relevant station and train managers. Northern has now commissioned this project with Jungle Green for the fifth time; the good work done by the mystery shopping team at Protel has contributed significantly to that.” Janice Guy, Managing Director, Jungle Green