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A good table, comfy seats and a sandwich!

September 08, 2014
Author: Eve-Marie Morgo

That’s what you would expect of a train trip, wouldn’t you? A “really good table” even is the USP of rail travel according to TED speaker Rory Sutherland, because, as he points out, rail is the only form of transport where you can have everything around you: a cup of coffee, a newspaper, a laptop.

In his key-note presentation on the topic of “Inspiring Perception” at the Rail Forum last June, Rory gave us some really good examples of how little things can have a big impact on travellers’ satisfaction, often more than huge change and investment that corporations usually take as essential to succeed.

He explains how displaying Tube arrival times in London helped increase customer satisfaction, simply because now commuters know when to expect their next train. A bit like the Uber phenomenon: it’s not so much different than booking a taxi in advance, but the fact that we know exactly where the car is, and when it will arrive just makes the experience a lot better. It’s all about “informed certainty” as he puts it.

He also wonders why orange juice is a lot more popular than tomato juice everywhere but in an airplane... and how Red Bull manages to be so successful with a can that is smaller and more expensive than other similar energy drinks...

Along the way, Rory also gives some very good examples and ideas for small business improvements. For example, BA increased their online sales simply by changing the way travel classes are displayed in the results page and by giving travellers the choice to go for a higher travel class. As he points out, unless people are made aware of something, there is little chance they will go for it.

Same for buying train tickets: considering that ticket machines can only be found at train stations, how on earth are non-rail users ever going to consider travelling by train? He recommends putting them in shopping centres or other busy places. This is actually what WestBahn did in Austria by putting ticket machines at tobacconists.

Finally, he also wonders about the added value of rail travel, asking why the UK government spent billions to reduce travel time between London and Paris by just over 30 mins when it could have had a much more positive impact on traveller’s satisfaction by adding WiFi onboard for a fraction of the cost.

When travelling to Vienna to the Rail Forum last June, we had a fairly good idea of what to expect of our 16-hour train journey. We also knew there would be some surprises along the way, which is of course part of the excitement of taking such a trip and of travel in general. Would we make it on time for the forum at all? What about comfort on the trains? Would we be able to plug our laptops to work? What about this 15-minute connection in Milan?vienna_journey

We actually made it on time, which involved a little sprint to catch our next train in Milan, but we knew this might happen. We also had a fairly easy experience overall, with nice and comfy seats, good tables, beautiful scenery, plugs, but… we had no food at all, and that we did not expect, if only they had told us in advance!

After all, it’s all about managing travellers’ expectations. Next time, we’ll bring our own sandwich! 


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Reinventing rail in europe:
the battle for the customer

The Battle for the Customer will ask how rail can use it to strengthen customer focus and look to other industries for best practices in terms of the strategies and mindsets that drive change.