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BUSINESS PROFILE |

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Improving the passenger experience Rob Janes, Rail Lead at Boxever explains how personalisation technology can improve the passenger experience and grow revenues for UK train operators

I

’ve been getting pretty used to my home office over the last few weeks. Like millions of others across the UK, my everyday working life has been transformed as I’ve tried to create a ‘new normal’ and adjust to life without flat whites and football. One of the biggest changes has been the commute, and in particular time spent on trains. Or lack of it. 10,000 hours on a train Sitting at my desk this morning, I did a rough calculation of how much time I’ve spent commuting by train over the past 20-odd years of my career. Conservatively, I calculated it to be around 10,000 hours. That’s just time physically on the train – not including travel either side of the station, waiting time at stations or any delays incurred. From Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and Matthew Syed (Bounce), to name just two, I’ve read about 10,000 hours being the ‘magic number’ to become an expert in something. Well, I don’t claim to be an expert in rail travel, but 10,000 hours is certainly enough time to have developed a point of view on my experience as a passenger – and what can be done to improve it. So, I’d like to share some of that here. In particular, I want to talk about ways of improving the passenger experience that

also have very tangible benefits for the train operating companies (TOCs). After all, if operators are going to make moves to improve the passenger experience then it’s got to work for them, too. And yes, there will be a bias toward technology – because alongside my 10,000 hours’ experience, I also happen to work for a tech company that can deliver these winwin solutions for passengers and TOCs alike. Rail travel in the UK We are blessed with an extensive rail network in the UK, and in 2019 passengers collectively amassed 68 billion kilometres of travel by train. Whilst this number has stagnated compared to last year, it is on a slow upwards trajectory: up two percent in ten years. Commuters account for the bulk of this rail travel, and spend a huge amount of time and money on trains. In terms of revenue, the industry received £19.4 billion of income in 2018, of which £9.8 billion came from fares with another £900 million coming from ‘ancillary’ sales such as on-board catering and car parking. In terms of time, the average journey time for a rail commuter is 59 minutes. Doing that twice every working day quickly adds up. That all looks set to continue – and increase. While rail travel currently

accounts for just ten per cent of commuter journeys (with cars still well out in front) everything points to sustained growth in the future. Rail travel is very safe and more environmentally friendly than many other forms of transport – from a CO2 emissions perspective at least. And it receives a lot of investment from the UK Government - HS2 being a topical case. But this growth isn’t unconditional. If commuters are going to continue to choose rail over other forms of travel, increasing fares have got to be met with an increasing quality of experience. At the moment, for millions of passengers, that’s simply not happening fast enough. The opportunity for train operators And therein lies the fundamental opportunity: to improve the passenger experience by coalescing the sales, marketing and service journeys. Today we commuters have innumerous ways in which to interact with a TOC: everything from mobile apps, on-board Wi-Fi and station and train staff to social media, websites and email. Making life more complicated, we may also interact via intermediary services such as National Rail Enquiries for information and Trainline.com for ticket purchases. In my experience TOCs are not doing as good a job as they might of connecting channels and touchpoints to provide a more consistent and seamless experience for their passengers. This can create a poor experience whereby information appears disjointed or even seemingly untrustworthy. An example of this may be a train manager explaining one reason for a delay, while Twitter gives another - it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. By joining together channels and touchpoints, the passenger will feel happier about their experience, more understanding when things go awry, and ultimately build more trust with the operator. Also – and this is critical – with this increased level of connectedness TOCs can understand the context for every passenger, at any time and on any channel. This means sales and marketing communications (for example emails or mobile app personalisations) can be sent when my propensity to buy is higher, or they can Rail Professional

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