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Life at the sharp end of a micromobility scheme

Beryl shines a spotlight on the practical difficulties of operating a micromobility scheme and the unusual problems it encounters on the ground.

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Micromobility schemes have repeatedly proved that they can form a crucial part of integrated urban transport but to do so, they must function effectively. 

With hundreds of vehicles including bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters and e-cargo bikes available to rent from several schemes dotted across the UK, expert coordination is required from a central hub. 

Beryl’s ‘Control Room’ Team provides this function, acting as the eyes and ears of the whole operation to ensure schemes run smoothly and safely from Manchester to Bournemouth. 

Underpinning their work is Beryl’s industry leading, UK-developed ‘Smart Bike’ technology, which is also used by London’s Santander Bikes and West Midlands Cycle Hire. Each vehicle has a self-contained suite of onboard sensors, providing the customer team with a wealth of useful information. 

Beryl’s Head of Customer and Operations Support, Maria Holfert, recognises how important the technology is for the team’s day-to-day operations.

“We can monitor the altitude of a vehicle (useful if it is on or in a tall building), whether it is indoors or even if it is submerged in water, by measuring the temperature differential to ambient temperature. This allows us to monitor all vehicles effectively and maintain the safety of Beryl’s fleet. 

“The sensors are also crucial to the safety of riders, letting us monitor the acceleration and direction of a vehicle and see whether it has been involved in an accident. When this does unfortunately happen, we can instigate a quick and appropriate response.”

Furthermore, the technology is instrumental to the customer team’s working relationship with the on-street teams, who look after scheme practicalities including moving vehicles to empty bays or swiftly locating and returning lost or stolen ones.

A former hotel manager in London and Vienna, Holfert has built the team from scratch over the last four years. She values the relationship between the two teams and works hard to ensure they dovetail perfectly. 

“It’s one of the most important relationships in our job – we depend on the on-street teams’ great work and we recognise that it’s challenging for them being out and about all day, every day, in any type of weather. 

“But without their work there would be no schemes. Communication is key in our relationship and our internal communication tools are really effective in that respect.”

As well as this, the team must respond to customer enquiries in real time, seven days a week. This is done via social media, telephone and through the Beryl app, with the team often dealing with up to 2,500 separate user enquiries and complaints in an average week. Not only is this volume high, but the scope of the enquiries can be wide ranging. 

“When things go wrong for our users – and due to the nature of our business with bikes and scooters out in the open 24/7 things will go wrong – we are the ones reassuring them. 

“I think it’s crucial for users to know that there’s someone in the company that cares and will actually look into their issues and help to find a solution,” adds Maria.

With an average response time of under two minutes and a customer satisfaction rating of over 88% for 3 years in a row, the team undoubtedly works hard to ensure customers feel valued. Maria acknowledges that this can be challenging and that certain issues can be more problematic than others to deal with, especially working in the technology sector. 

Control Room Manager, Shannon Sloan believes that flexibility and resilience are the key skills required to work in the control room, as well as empathy and an ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. 

“You never know what the day will throw at you! One customer problem might require a totally different approach to another and it’s all about providing the right service for each person.”

However, despite the challenges, Shannon insists that the role is very rewarding and can often generate heartwarming and quirky situations. 

“Without a doubt the most rewarding part of the job is dealing with the wacky and wonderful inquiries we receive. Recently we received an enquiry about a missing cuddly tortoise toy whereby the owner was offering a £100 reward. Our team also helped police track down a puppy that had been stolen back in 2021.”

Maria agrees. “There was one rider who always wanted to use just one specific bike. Every day they would contact us to ask the exact location of this specific bike so that they could travel on the bus to ride it.

“Another user asked us if we had a photo of his driving licence as he wanted to enter a nightclub but had left his actual licence at home.”

In addition to the work done ensuring that day-to-day operations continue to tick over, Shannon also points out that her team provides a valuable learning tool and data source for the organisation and its local authority partners. 

“Using all the valuable customer feedback we get, I provide feedback internally to ensure real changes are made to new product developments.

“We also work closely with the external communication and marketing teams, helping them to communicate more effectively with the right audiences and providing them with important information so they can respond quickly and accurately to media enquiries.”

With a number of scheme launches on the horizon, the value of the team looks set to increase even further over the coming months. By ensuring schemes are running smoothly, they are actively breaking down the barriers to sustainable transport and contributing towards a much bigger picture – improving public health, reducing road congestion and carbon emissions and making the cities we call home more liveable.  

Just remember that they are here to help….

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