Rail Industry Focus


Personalisation is the future – but how do we get there?

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 16

Joanne Thompson, CEO at Penrillian, discusses one of the key topics covered at this year’s Transport Ticketing & Passenger Information Global Conference: personalisation.

One of the buzzwords on everyone’s lips at this year’s conference was personalisation, because the move from anonymous paper tickets to smart ticketing and m-ticketing options offered by mobile devices enables the operator and customer to engage on a more individual level. 

It is quite clear that this is the direction the industry needs to move in. The use of mobile technology means reduced queues at ticket offices, less cash handling, lower infrastructure costs and ultimately an improved customer experience. 

There has been much discussion about what needs to happen to permit personalisation to flourish, and it is clear the rail industry has a great deal of work do. One of the biggest barriers to overcome is around obtaining customer consent, and the use and sharing of personal data. 

Learning from retail 

The transport industry is looking to the retail sector for inspiration, where the sharing of personal data has become almost second nature to the customer. Supermarkets are an exemplar when it comes to personalisation, taking vast amounts of big data and utilising it to derive a multi-faceted profile of each individual customer – allowing tailored offers to be sent to the customer and generating increased brand loyalty as a result. 

With the use of a plethora of loyalty and rewards cards, supermarkets have been able to collate powerful data on the brand loyalty and lifestyle habits of each customer, understanding anything from what pets they have and their regular shopping locations, to their children’s favourite lunchbox treat.  

This level of sharing of personal data between the customer and retailer has become instinctive to all of us as consumers, but how far off is the transport industry from being in a similar position to capitalise on their own customers’ data? 

There can be some initial resistance from customers when it comes to sharing precise details of their real-time movements, despite the fact that Google, Apple and a host of other apps on their mobile phone already collect the same data. This resistance can be overcome if rail operators seek informed consent, and are open and transparent about the restricted uses to which it is intended the consent will apply. It needs to be clearly communicated from the outset that this will be a win-win relationship for both customer and operator.  

Making it worthwhile for the customer 

Transport operators, like retailers, must work hard to make the personalised experience worthwhile for the customer, offering rewards and loyalty recognition in exchange for data. 

With the greater understanding generated by the data on customers’ regular routes, operators can offer cheaper alternative routes/modes, encourage off-peak travel and deliver transport or location-based offers linked to leisure as a way of getting the customer onside in return for permitting access to their personal information.

Rail operators must also look beyond their own operations if they want to maximise the potential of personalisation.  Joined-up connectivity, one of the key objectives of policy group Transport for the North (TfN), is about making it easier for passengers in the north to travel seamlessly across the country using whatever mode of public transport is easiest and/or cheapest. 

The rail industry already benefits from the Rail Settlement Plan to enable a passenger to buy a single rail ticket to take an end-to-end journey via more than one operator. However, this overarching settlement system does not exist for other modes of transport, rendering end-to-end multi-modal integration with light rail, buses, ferries or rail via a single ticket hugely difficult to achieve. 

A sharing of data, not only between rail operators but across all modes of public transport, could perhaps help to inform planners’ priority setting in order to deliver objectives using the Pareto effect for TfN’s short-term agenda. 

The right balance needs to be struck between the interests of the customer and transport operators; data on the movements of passengers is incredibly powerful but it is vital that communication around its introduction is clear, coherent and, above all, scrupulously honest, so that passengers do not see this as an unwarranted intrusion of their privacy.

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