With a general perception of delayed, dirty trains and expensive ticket prices aside, it seems we are largely dissatisfied with the level of customer service we receive on the rail network. In fact, according to a recent Which? survey of 7,400 passengers, out of 19 operators, 11 were rated ‘satisfactory’ by less than half of respondents.
Today’s uncertain climate offers a growing body of evidence which demonstrates the link between good customer service and improved business performance and TOCs are no different. For instance, out of the seven long-distance operators, those that scored four out of five for their on-board catering provision had a customer score of over 60 per cent.
Every effort has to be made to maximise revenue and tailor a service suited for every passenger on-board. From silent carriages for those who enjoy peace and quiet to trolley catering complete with a selection of beverages and snacks, TOCs have been building a service where one size doesn’t fit all and this can only be a good thing for passengers.
Today’s technology means no one size fits all
There’s good reason for following the no one size fits all model. Aside from the increase in rail prices, social media channels now allow for instant reprisal for dissatisfied customers, such was the case during the 2012 Olympics when every card machine spectacularly failed and left 80,000 spectators hungry and thirsty at Wembley Stadium; companies need to get customer service consistently right or face the inevitable public backlash
As smartphone usage increases ticket sales are booming, led by industry innovators like Masabi.
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According to the Institute of Customer Service "technology is providing organisations with a growing range of opportunities to shape their service around customers’ needs". This illustrates there is a clear correlation between good on-board customer service and overall satisfaction, but service doesn’t just start and end with a smile. Technology also poses certain challenges such as ensuring that connected networks remain online at all times, especially on long-distance routes.
Solutions like this though require on-going investment not just in technology but in infrastructure. Getting the right infrastructure in place needn’t be costly though and can bring huge benefits. Technology can be used to enhance nearly every service on-board the train, from purchasing tickets to buying a snack or catching up on the latest news. Companies have to ensure that they have the correct infrastructure in place to allow for quick, seamless interactions.
Make the most out of onboard catering
Of course, one of the requirements for most train franchises is the provision of an on-board catering function and every effort should be made to make the most of this potentially lucrative revenue generator. In most cases, this means operating an at-seat trolley service. This is a real boon for passengers, especially stressed-out parents or commuters who simply don’t have time to travel between carriages finding the catering carriage.
Running an effective and efficient catering service is not without its challenges. The need to process cash, credit and debit card payments, monitor stock levels and provide head office with an accurate view of sales requires great technology and infrastructure. These and other significant operational issues can be easily overcome with the use of intelligent mobile payment solutions, linked to a smart stock control ordering system. Being able to identify the most popular products on certain routes using real-time data collated from purchases allows TOCs to manage stock and maximise turnover. Mobile management can play a vital role in bettering this service. From taking orders to monitoring stock levels and offering quick and easy payments options, TOCs can ensure that they serve customers quickly, minimise lost revenue and gain more happy customers.
Wi-Fi and NFC are already a reality
Speaking of happy passengers, most of us can now make use of Wi-Fi on-board long-distance trains – catching up on emails and watching films is no longer a dream that most commuters share, it’s now a reality. Technology like this has transformed the majority of long-distance journeys. There’s more to come, too. NFC readers recently installed on 360 South West Trains carriages gave commuters a taste of the future – tailoring content towards each passenger and giving them access to local promotions. Commuters, what’s more, responded well and Posterscope, a global communications agency responsible for the venture, announced in late 2013 that it was planning to increase its NFC promotional activities due to its success. But, you should always walk before you run.
It’s clear that train operators that proactively invest in customer service will be well placed to take full advantage of increased revenue opportunities from on-board customer-facing technology. Indeed, with customers feeling that they don’t get value for money from some TOCs, any increase in revenue from on-board sales may ultimately help subsidise ticket costs. Any reduction in fares would be met with joy by passengers.