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How applications are helping transform the rail customer experience

April 15, 2011
Author: Eve-Marie Morgo
According to a recent report by research2guidance, smartphone penetration has more than doubled in the UK during the past two years and we currently hold 8% of the global smartphone app downloads market. It is therefore unsurprising that travel companies are finally paying attention to the smart phone phenomenon and teaming up with mobile software companies to develop applications that will allow them to offer services to the traveller via these devices. With mobile devices set to have a greater impact on the way the next generation traveller researches and books travel it is important to take a closer look at the applications that will be hitting our handsets imminently and the specific ways they will be transforming the future travel experience.

The new generation of mobile apps are hitting the market fast and apps already out there, such as the UK’s National Rail’s iPhone app, although good, start to show their limitations. At this stage, the app only allows passengers to plan their journey, check arrivals and departures and find their nearest station.  Moving ahead already, ticketing software supplier Masabi recently launched its mobile train ticketing app, allowing users not only to book tickets through their smartphone but also to display the ticket on screen as a bar code so that they can just ‘buy and board’, eliminating any need to queue at the station.
Likewise, in Germany, Deutsche Bahn’s iPhone app is set to take this idea even further when it begins trialling on June 30th. The application will use three forms of ticket validation and fare collection: automatic position determination, 2D bar codes or the input of touch point numbers.  The ticket price is automatically calculated and the customer is billed at the end of each month.
While both these apps promise to transform the rail travel experience, it’s apps such as the Hogg Robinson mobile booking app that promises to transform the entire journey from door to door. Set to be launched later this year, it will enable users to book hotels, check train and flight schedules, access loyalty scheme information, profile alerts and trip approvals and view an itinerary element offering past and future trip information. In the future it will also allow travellers to access information such as departure gate/platform number and to contact their travel agent at the touch of a button.
So why this sudden explosion in apps of this kind? The trend for businesses looking at rail travel as an alternative to air is one that is growing, especially in light of recent disruptive events. As a result rail operators must rapidly adapt to meet the needs and expectations of a corporate clientele accustomed to travelling by air.

This includes providing information on the go, rapid transfer times and progress through the station, the possibility of last minute booking and the ability to change bookings at short notice.

If mobile apps can address these and improve the rail experience accordingly, the number of business rail travellers is surely only set to grow.

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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.