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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 2 (June, 1926)

Business Getting

Business Getting

A most interesting feature of the month from a Railway point of view, has been the conference held at Wellington, of Business Agents from all parts of New Zealand.

Seven is commonly called the perfect number. The term “we are seven,” besides being the title of a notable poem, might be applied with equal felicity to the team that assembled, not from the Seven Seas, certainly, but from the seven commercial areas of our Railway world, to tell the story of their year's work to the Administration and to each other, and to put forward proposals, based on their experience, for the betterment of the service.

Unanimous were they in the opinion that the trading and travelling public liked to have the chance to talk over their wants, their difficulties, and their perplexities with accredited representatives of the Department. For Business Agents, instead of waiting, Micawber-like, for somebody or something to turn up, go out into the highways and by-ways, the stores, warehouses, farms, clubs, show grounds and other places of public resort, for the express purpose of encountering clients and assisting them in the transaction of business with the Department. They are specially trained and instructed to see the public point of view and clear the track for additional deals in railway transport. They have opportunities and methods never previously available to members of the Department for extending the scope of railway operations, and bringing greater contentment to that public in whose special interest this vital national transport system is operated.

There is a certain natural demand for railway service, just as there is for butter, or beef. People who want to travel in comfort, travel by train as a matter of course. What the Railway will carry at rates so low as to be practically unremunerative also comes to the train without any coaxing. But when rates rise sufficiently high to make the business worth while for a competitor, the traffic will turn, other things being equal, to the carrier that offers the better service. The inequality of “other things,” however, has often in the past lost traffic to the Department even where the service rendered by the Railways was demonstrably better than that of its competitors. Chief among these “other things” was the art of propaganda.

“Traffic” says the Ministerial slogan, “is caught by courtesy, held by efficiency, and turned to profit by co-operation and economy.” But until “more business in Government” became operative, the soul of propaganda, advertisement, both of the personal representation, and printed and pictorial appeal varieties, had been used hardly at all by the Railways for educating the public to an increased knowledge of available services, whilst its competitors had made a most extensive use of this powerful ally in diverting traffic away from the track.

The Business Agents all felt the need for adequate backing to their efforts through publicity channels; that the spoken word and the printed page should be the infantry and artillery to make a combined attack on the residual inertia of public appreciation. In this direction the hearty co-operation of the Administration is now assured.

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Business-getting methods have produced a tonic effect on the service. This is reflected everywhere in greater attention to points of courtesy, helpfulness, and consideration towards the public. Pride in the service and desire to help things along, are found all through the ranks. Combined with these is an increase in the team spirit whereby engine crews, guards, and station staffs unite in effort to make the train services prompt, comfortable, and reliable for passengers and clients. By such means is business-getting made possible, and business-holding made easy.

While it may not now-a-days be all moonlight and roses for those who want to progress, there is certainly a rough and thorny track for those who hold back against the urge of modern business enterprise. In this field the Railway is fast coming to the fore.

The press of the Dominion has recently been filled with vigorous criticism of the law designed to protect the road-using public at level crossings. We have read all that has been written in this connection very carefully, but not one satisfactory objection to the validity of the law could we discover. That it is both reasonable and eminently practicable, indeed that its observance is capable of achieving what the most ardent votary of safety desires—the total cessation of level crossing accidents—is surely revealed by the following facts for which we are indebted to one of our great scientific journals, “The Engineer.”

During 1924 the vehicles operated by the Standard Oil Company crossed railway tracks 31,000,000 times without an accident. This is an average of 85,000 crossings a day. This record is attributed to the effort on the part of the management to impress all employees with the need and desirability of careful driving. The Company pointed out the dangers of careless driving and furnished placards reading, “This car stops at all railway crossings.” Each driver was asked to pledge himself to co-operate and to evidence his good intentions by displaying the placard on the rear of his machine.

The enormous popularity of the Dunedin Exhibition and the constant stream of railway traffic to that temporary “hub of the universe,” brought a gratifying orientation of public interest and confidence in the railway and in the achievements of railwaymen of all ranks. Public confidence and appreciation of the spirit of efficiency and courtesy which pervades the whole service to-day were evident on every hand. Railwaymen in every sphere should be ever solicitous to preserve and intensify this confidence, for such ideals of service are rich in advantages alike to themselves and the State. In large measure we are the custodians of our own futures in the matter. As a great railroad president expresses it: “When conditions are favourable is the very time to be most diligent in keeping them so. This applies to public relations with the same force as it applies to all other phases of business conduct. Satisfaction is dangerous if it results in a slackening of effort. We seldom stand still. We are either making progress or slipping back.”

* * *

In a recent address to the Melbourne University Public Questions Society Mr. H. W. Clapp, Chairman of Commissioners of the Victorian State Railways, made some interesting observations on the question of service in business. He spoke as one of the 26,000 men who operated the Railways for the citizens of Victoria. It was no “one man's” job, he said, but team work, and it had reached a high degree of organisation.

Collectively, they ran the largest manufacturing business in the State, and the commodity they sold was service. By co-operative effort they were helping the rest of the community to make a success of producing and marketing.

This is the secret of successful business to-day —service. It is gratifying to observe that this ideal of service inspires our own staff from top to bottom. It is a healthy sign of the times and cannot fail to bring rewards to all concerned.

* * *

Owing to want of space in the last issue of the Railway Magazine, it was necessary to curtail the report of a recent speech made by Mr. H. H. Sterling, late member of the Railway Board. In the course of his speech, in referring to his association with members of the Department Mr. Sterling expressed a hope that when passing through Hamilton they would renew acquaintanceship. He assured them that it would always give him the greatest pleasure to meet any of those with whom he had been associated during the term of his connection with the service.