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Mapping the customer journey of rail passengers in CEE: online and on board

Companies in the travel, transportation, and hospitality industry are dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s in IoT, being among the main investors in connecting people, smart devices and systems, with the aim of delivering value to customers by providing them with even more personalised experiences. Within this industry, the online travel segment is facing accelerated growth, with major opportunities unveiling in the emerging markets of Central & Eastern Europe and Russia. In this markets the online travel (3) has 33% market penetration and an increasing number of travel bookings are being carried out on mobile phones. Smart travel requires smart railways and this puts more pressure on rail passenger transport providers to integrate their services into multimodal solutions, to foster open data platforms, to provide real-time information and to create technology-based experiences to the nowadays hyper-connected passenger.

The rail journey starts online

The station and the rolling stock are the tangible features of the rail service experience, while the journey represents the experience itself. However for an increasing number of rail customers the journey begins online rather than on-site, at the railway station. This trend is well established in Western European countries and now is setting the agendas of CEE railways, pushing operators to adopt new ticket sale channels, to empower mobile-friendly websites and to allow the entry of new technology companies. According to a EU report or Railway competition – Eurobarometer, almost two-thirds (65%) of Europeans would like more ways of buying tickets (e.g. online, via smartphones, or on board). The country-by-country analysis reveals that absolute majorities want more ways of buying tickets in every single Member State; the highest percentages are found in the Czech Republic (82%), Greece (77%), and Slovenia and Slovakia (both 75%). By contrast, the lowest percentages are in Portugal (51%), and Romania (54%) (1).

The main European railways have set digitalisation at the core of their strategies for delivering improved online booking and on-board experiences. SNCF, DB and SBB position themselves at forefront of the race for addressing new customer behavior and are evolving from just rail transport providers towards what SNCF calls “travel adviser”. Their ultimate objective is to have their brands present during all four travel micro-moment : going on-line to obtain itinerary ideas, comparing transport fares, booking rail tickets (mobile or desktop) and enjoying on-board experiences (mobile apps). These have been identified by Google as the decision points when a well-positioned brand can influence a consumer. Rail operators, just like OTAs, are now following Google’s advice “Be there” and “Be useful” in order to attract more passengers into railways.

voyage-SNCF.com sold 80 million tickets in 2015. Established in 2001 in partnership with Expedia, Voyages-sncf.com ranks first in the top of most visited booking&travel websites in France, with over 12 million unique visitors/month and 60% on traffic on tablet & mobile. The company reported EUR 4.3 bn in revenues ( 3,1% increase y.o.y). In Europe and other international markets it covers, SNCF-Voyage reached a EUR 763 million turnover in 2015 (+ 6% increase y.o.y.).voyages-sncf.com aims to become the absolute champion of Smart Tourism by investing in new technologies, making use of Bid Data and new communication channels for reaching even higher levels of product customization.

sncf_1One example of their efforts in taking customer experience to a new level is SNCF’s presence on IFTTT platform ( If This Then That ), an automation service for small tasks between Internet-connected services. Passengers with SNCF and IFTTT accounts can connect their train booking to channels like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and also to home automation. The “IF” recipe is simple: the moment you buy ticket a task is triggered e.g turn off lights 10 minutes before the train departure. In the future, nice weather in Paris, announced via a weather channel on IFTTT will bring you the option of booking a round trip on Voyages-sncf.com. Their innovation and customer experience teams are constantly conducting proof-of-concept (POC) testing with new technologies. After being one of the first brands in Europe to offer Facebook Messenger as part of their customer services, allowing booking confirmation directly in Messenger accounts, information about the journey, access to the e-ticket and the Chat function, last autumn SNCF tested a POC for a Facebook Messenger Bot used for booking tickets directly in Messenger.

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