Inspirational Woman: Helen Connolly | Head of Customer Services, Passenger

Helen ConnollyHelen Connolly is Head of Customer services at UK public transport app and website provider, Passenger. Passenger delivers scalable technology to public transport operators of all sizes, including mobile app ticketing, travel information apps, and websites.

Having previously worked in advertising, Helen developed a strong interest in technology as she felt it created multiple opportunities for development, as a fast-paced, creative industry which is future-proofed and evolves other industries. As a result, she joined Passenger in 2018, and her role involves being responsible for the customer service team and all interactions between Passenger as its customers. Helen has played a fundamental role in the company’s successful launch of 15 apps for Go Ahead Group, one of the biggest bus companies in the UK, in the space of just 4 weeks. She has also helped establish a brand-new customer service team at Passenger since August 2020.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve worked for Passenger for almost 3 years, beginning my career here in July 2018. I’m Head of Customer Services and am responsible for the customer service team and all interactions between Passenger and customers. I oversee any new customers at any level during the onboarding process - we run a very busy help desk for Premium account holders and end-users for myTrip.

I previously worked as an account manager for a promotions company, but I was always interested in technology and digital account management. I felt pursuing a career in technology created lots of opportunities for development, as it’s such a fast-paced, creative industry where new and exciting innovations are continually created.

When I worked in advertising, things were also changing a lot, so I didn’t know if that was the right place to be. Technology is a lot more future-proofed, and it evolves industries. Transport is a particularly key sector as new technological developments are making systems far more efficient. All bus companies have to move with the times and companies like Passenger exist to give them reassurance, helping them evolve.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not formally and not from the start. I was a working mum for a long time which affected my options, but I did make sure that I was abreast of changes that were happening as I looked for the best opportunities for me. I did plan my move to digital as I thought it would offer me more longevity, but my career was never plotted out from start to finish.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Starting at Passenger was a shock to the system because of how much there was to learn, and I didn’t realise that so much goes into ‘getting a bus’ - everything behind the scenes, as well as the tech side around the apps and websites. Although it was overwhelming at the beginning, the team is always supportive and happy to answer questions.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Successfully launching 15 apps for Go Ahead Group in just 4 weeks in June 2021 was a particularly proud moment. Knowing you’ve made a significant difference for one of the biggest bus companies in the country is incredible.

I’m also proud of our team and their growth, having played a part in their progression as a manager. It’s very rewarding to help people achieve their career objectives.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Simply having a positive mental attitude and looking for the good in every situation rather than dwelling on negatives when things go wrong. It also helps that I genuinely enjoy what I do and feel confident and empowered. I'm always a glass half full (of gin!) person!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I would encourage more women to speak to others about their genuine experiences before deciding whether the industry is right for them. It is easy to be misled by reading up on job descriptions on the internet for instance – you can get a far better understanding from speaking directly to someone in the industry.

Also, make sure you ask lots of questions! I’m still learning after three years at the company, but by continually asking questions, it means every day is different and I can pass my knowledge onto people.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think there is still a misunderstanding of the tech industry, with many women believing it solely involves lots of data and a solitary lifestyle. On the contrary, working in transport and technology is very diverse - as well as working with data, I’m also dealing with people and that’s the part of the job I love.

To overcome this, we need more women to share their experiences and inspire others.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I believe profiling is key. Companies need to encourage and even incentivise their female employees to share their stories, as well as researching events like careers and university fairs to determine relevant speaking opportunities.

There are currently only 17 percent of women working in tech. If you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would ensure there was more parental support from both businesses and the government, such as more flexible working patterns and childcare funding. As a working parent, at one point I had what amounted to two full-time jobs, and I wish there was an expectation of employers to have more empathy and support the women who end up undertaking both parenting and a career.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

On a broader level, I enjoy reading insights from women working in the transport industry, such as those on the Women In Transport blog. I appreciate the support given to women working at different levels, not just founders - so many women are doing fantastic work and making a difference, so I think they deserve to be recognised.

What are the most interesting elements of your job, and/or elements you feel most passionate about?

It’s very satisfying to see a customer go from not having an app and being almost scared of or intimidated by the process, to getting them to the point where they are knowledgeable and confident. I also like how much Passenger involves its operator customers in a partnership approach, so they feel empowered and involved in the process, the product, and its development.

What are you currently working on that you’re excited about and why?

We’ve established a brand-new customer service team since August 2020, taking on four new staff members. Every new appointment brings something unique to the team, and it’s been gratifying to share my knowledge with a new generation of transport industry team members.

Who in your industry do you feel is particularly inspirational?

Jane Cole, Managing Director at Blackpool Transport is a very inspirational leader. Blackpool Transport is leading by example because of how they use data to fuel their decisions. It’s clear this is down to Jane’s strong leadership skills and vision for the business.

Christine McGlasson, Managing Director at Xplore Dundee is also noteworthy, and I admire how she is very hands-on in the business. When we first launched Xplore Dundee’s app and website, she really recognised the importance of the technology for their future. She has a strong vision for the business, and a genuine commitment to providing a high-quality service.


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