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Ashley King, 35 Director of customer service Norfolk Southern Railway
Nominator’s quote: “Ashley and her colleague and co-nominee JP McNeil have been key leaders in standing up the new customer service center at Norfolk Southern and helping drive a low-effort interaction for our customers. They have been integral in the design of the new center, the selection and continuous training of a high quality staff, the implementation of new technology and the development of meaningful metrics that depict the level of customer service Norfolk Southern is providing its customers.” — John Scheib, NS
What is your educational background? I graduated from North Carolina State University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in business administration concentrating in marketing along with a minor in Spanish.
Describe your current job and responsibilities. I am currently director of customer service responsible for agriculture, forest and consumer products, and automotive commodities. In this role I am responsible for ensuring customers in these commodity segments are receiving a low effort, best-in-class customer experience. We understand the best experience is often the one where someone does not have to contact customer service but when they do, I want to ensure our teams are professional, knowledgeable and have the tools to resolve customer concerns, as well as identify opportunities for improvement.
Describe your career path. I started with Norfolk Southern in July 2007 as a customer service management trainee. Upon completing the program, I was placed in our national customer service center as an agriculture supervisor, where I was later promoted to assistant manager of chemicals and paper and then manager. I have also worked in our operations service and support department on the Pocahontas and Alabama divisions, as well as data quality. Prior to my current role, I worked in our marketing and network planning and optimization departments evaluating new business opportunities.
How did you get into the railroad industry? The rail industry is one I knew very little of prior to joining Norfolk Southern in 2007 after a recruiting event held at NC State. Atlanta was a larger city than where I grew up and an opportunity I wanted to explore. Throughout the management trainee program I was able to rotate through all of the NS departments allowing me to realize the many opportunities NS had to offer not only in customer service but throughout the company. The support I have received from managers and colleagues for working in various departments quickly made me realize I wanted to turn an initial move to a big city into a career.
What is the best career advice you’ve received? When I moved to Atlanta my dad left a quote on my desk that stated, “Don’t say what you can’t do, say what you will do.” It is easy to say that something will not work or you can’t do something. But looking at it from the questioner’s point of view you can quickly see how an answer of what you can or will do is a better offer even if they decline.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? Ask the “why” and get out of your silo. My parents would probably tell you I have asked the why my entire life but I continue to carry this throughout my career. Asking why, in an inquisitive manner, can often get others thinking about processes and process improvement. Getting out of your silo goes hand-in-hand with asking the why. The goal is to ensure that you are making the best decisions to support your company’s goals and objectives. To do this you need to have an understanding of how decisions you are making affect not only your area but others as well. Having a diverse background across multiple divisions or departments expands this knowledge.
What was your very first job? I worked at a jewelry store, Ellis Jewelers, in Lexington, North Carolina.
Describe a fun fact about yourself. I started doing spring break trips with six close girl friends in college and to this day, 13 years later, we plan a trip each year. It’s pretty neat to have long-lasting friends watching our lives evolve and our children become friends.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Prior to having my daughter I enjoyed playing tennis and traveling with family and friends. I still enjoy traveling but now spend most of my spare time chasing a 1-year-old around the house, playing with water tables and teaching her how to play putt-putt, my favorite.
What is the biggest challenge the rail industry now faces or will face? From a customer service perspective, digitalization. COVID-19 has thrust many companies into working from home and relying on technology to complete day-to-day communication tasks previously held in person. Whether it is daily work tasks with internal personnel or setting up meetings with customers through online video conferencing we are being forced to adapt and adapt quickly.
Working remotely is certainly nothing new, but it is at this magnitude that is also making us ask the why. Why did we think we needed to be in an office setting or travel to visit customers for meetings? As technology evolved, did we not?
There is certainly something to be said about in-person meetings, however the current economic conditions as a result of COVID-19 have shown us how quickly society can adapt by forcing us to evaluate our business model. Persons you never thought would video stream or order groceries online now do. Similarly, providing time saving, low effort options for both our customers and employees will be key as we move forward.