What needs to be considered as part of a modern passenger management strategy?

Rail transport and the expectations of rail passengers have changed drastically in recent years. Today’s customers are no longer happy with resigning themselves to dirty, late, crowded trains and shabby stations. They expect more and are increasingly making their voices heard. You only have to look to social media to see what people are facing and complaining about daily. Consequently, rail operators and the government are responding in a variety of ways to try to improve customer experience and passenger management. But the job is not easy. So, what can be done to address this everlasting challenge?

Simon Pont, CEO, ECR Retail Systems believes that the answer lies in considering the array of technologies available to ensure that railway staff and passenger safety, and security is kept to the highest standard while providing people – staff and customers – with a positive work environment and experience. He also explains the important role that technology plays in managing passengers while travelling on-board trains.

The state of play and journey to progress
Let’s focus on progress. New rules that make it easier for rail passengers to claim compensation have been announced. The public consultation launched earlier this year by Britain’s rail companies aimed to make ticketing fairer and easier to use finished in September. The outcomes, we hope, will continue to propel the industry forward effectively for passengers.

Technologies like smart ticketing systems, high on the government’s agenda, are transforming the passenger experience. You only have to look at the great work that the Tfl has done on The London Underground with its ‘contactless’ approach to ticketing to see how these technologies improve passenger management. They keep passengers moving; however, the use of these ‘contactless’ technologies is in its infancy.

Aside from this, new technologies enable station teams to direct passengers to less crowded parts of trains. By enabling trains to transmit information on how busy each carriage is, directly to teams on smart devices in real time, congestion can be managed and reduced on platforms. Additionally, simulation models of how passengers use stations, and ways to improve this is popular. They allow management to improve passenger routing, for example, based on real research data, improving efficiency and safety.

Soon, this real-time travel information will be sent directly to personal devices too, so that passengers can improve their journey planning. Passengers can be warned in advance of delays, so they can plan alternative routes, or spend time in shops and restaurants instead of queuing, and even receive special offers. Furthermore, mobile apps are being trialled among wheelchair users and disabled people to help book travel more easily.

Partnerships between cab firms and rail operators, to offer passengers a door-to-door service on a single ticket are being discussed. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, are game-changers for the rail sector and the ‘intelligent train’ is not far away. Progress has been made; but the journey is incomplete.

Meeting passenger expectations
So, where next? An efficient, secure, quick and affordable all-round service may be top of passengers’ requirements and expectations, but they seek more. We’ve heard the exhortation to ‘have a pleasant journey’; but for passengers to really enjoy travelling by train, rail companies need to step up their game and offer better on-board services. This includes convenient ticketing, on-board Wi-Fi, and the ability to order food, drink and other services effectively while travelling and even 21beforehand. Passenger management is as much about keeping passengers moving, as it is about keeping them happy on-board trains.

Passengers in transit are often in a hurry, too. So, whether they are at the station or on-board a train, they need fast, efficient, friendly service with minimal waiting and queuing. This means train companies need to ensure payment and stock control systems accurately reflect what people need today to keep them happy.

To meet some of these goals, the rail industry needs to turn to the example that retail and bricks and mortar shopping environments are setting with customer experience and emulate that. Passengers expect similar positive experiences, and access to technology and deals on their rail journeys as they’d receive on the High Street and online. The challenge for rail companies is keeping up and managing this in a complex environment where the train (mobile retailer) moves from station to station across the country.

How technology can help
To enable this, up-to-date point-of-sale (PoS) systems are essential. They enable rail companies to create a high-quality retail experience and can greatly improve customer satisfaction. This is because they provide information about the customer lifecycle and generate revenue and cost efficiency for themselves.

These technologies can also help rail companies manage customers’ requirements quickly, at a time and place that suits them. For example, through managing at-seat purchases of tickets and retail goods; or even pre-travel, allowing passengers to order food, drink and other goods and services. Throw an app into the mix, linked with a suitable PoS system, then the customer experience is extended one step further into people’s pockets, personalising the service and relationship that rail companies have with their passengers.

Further, the best PoS technology typically spans the front- and back-end, enabling hardware and software – including passenger-led platform-agnostic applications – to enable logistics to work effectively as part of a wider personalised passenger management strategy. Typically, this approach works in the best interest of rail companies and customers by enabling customers to share with operators what their favourite products, purchase styles, and payment preferences are. In turn, this ensures rail companies get the most out of their PoS software; but, more importantly, it means passengers can receive a better service and receive personalised offers; destination-based products; loyalty and multi-purchase offers, and even free giveaways.

Used correctly, PoS technology communicates requirements for passengers with special needs. Do they need travel support or have particular food and beverage requirements?

Contactless and mobile payment technologies also need to be considered as part of a modern passenger management strategy. They literally facilitate queue-busting, especially in peak periods when a staff member has the capabilities to sell tickets and other goods and services with a lightweight handheld device.

Used effectively, the technology can be an invaluable tool to building customer experience, generating loyalty/trust and growing revenue. It also allows customer profiling to tailor offers, while at the time enabling speed and reliability in a contactless-driven but often offline environment.

Connectivity for these technologies needs to be instant and reliable too, and a type 22 authorisation for payments needs to be factored into the mix too. This means PoS technologies need to be able to work in all connected environments (e.g. WiFi, 4G and 3G) and that they enable train operators to trust that payments for goods via PoS systems will be processed if they are put through within 24 hours.

Finally, today, there is no doubt that technology will improve passenger management, at stations and on-board trains. However, people should always form part of this strategy too. Technology and people must work together to improve passenger management. There will always be needs and questions from the travelling public that technology alone cannot meet, so those soft skills from staff will be essential to passengers too.

ECR is the leader in MPoS, driving transactions at the exact time and place when people are ready to complete that transaction. ECR has over 40 years’ experience in delivering secure payment solutions, working for blue-chip clients throughout the UK and internationally across four continents. ECR is at the forefront of the mobile payments software industry.