A blog by Charley Wallace, Programme Director – Customer
6 February 2023
As a railway, we wouldn’t exist without our customers.
In this blog, I want to talk about how the evolution in the way we work has fundamentally changed the relationship the railway has with its customers. In a previous blog, we have talked about freight customers so here I will focus on the work the Great British Railways Transition Team (GBRTT) is doing to enhance the experience for passengers across the country not just in the future, but here and now.
The pandemic has given people and businesses more choice, speeding up trends that were starting to develop previously. No longer do thousands of commuters feel they have to travel into the office every day. Instead, more customers are travelling less often or at quieter times of the day.
Particularly during times of disruption, they have the choice to do things differently, by working from home or more locally. On the other hand, there are other trends; for instance, leisure markets are growing, creating new opportunities for the network.
In a world where train travel is far more discretionary, we must up our game to better meet the needs of our customers. In short, we need to offer a more reliable and simpler to use service – at every stage of the journey – and in turn provide better value for money.
For too long our customers have found the railway too complex and difficult to use – voting with their feet in many cases. This must change. By stripping back the layers of complexity around fares, ticket purchase, compensation and many more areas, we can better serve all our customers – creating a simpler, better railway for everyone in Britain. To do this, GBRTT is putting the customer at the heart of planning for the future and getting on with making improvements now, as with our transformational Fares, Ticketing and Retail Programme.
For example, thousands more journeys will transfer to Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) ticketing, meaning customers can simply tap in and out at the start and end of their journey. We have already outlined plans to introduce PAYG to 52 stations by the end of this year. Further to this, we are planning to work in partnership with some Local and Combined Authorities to bring rail to their multi-modal schemes over the next few years.
An accessible and modern railway
For 20 per cent of the population, accessibility considerations are vital. So, when we say “everyone in Britain” we truly mean it. Already 2,000 stations have been audited to assess how accessible they are. Soon we will be consulting on the first ever National Rail Accessibility Strategy. In time, this will deliver a holistic assessment of the way the rail sector can best address all those with additional needs to access the network in a reliable manner.
Helping when things go wrong
As well as fares and ticketing, one of the greatest annoyances for customers is disruption. Too often the railway lets customers down through a simple lack of timely information enabling people to make informed decisions.
The Smarter Information, Smarter Journeys programme is already delivering results for customers through the provision of better customer information. This includes personalised information about journeys sent through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and train companies’ own smartphone apps. This will continue to be rolled out across the network over the coming years.
These benefits aren’t just being felt at the station or before boarding. Onboard trains, customers will experience a step change in information available helping them to make appropriate decisions for their onward journey.
When things go wrong it is right customers have easy and simple access to compensation. However, we know the process varies depending on where you are travelling and which of the dozens of retailers you purchased your ticket from. This process will be made much simpler, easier and more consistent. We are also providing ticket retailers with ‘common services’ technology that will give their customers better information about their journeys and how to claim compensation, if needed.
Listening better to our customers
While lots of good practice already exists, as an industry we also need to get better at listening. We are creating a railway that actively listens to customers and that can respond better to their needs. We are working with Transport Focus to set up a diverse customer panel, created to help develop future strategies and products in collaboration with customers and train operators. We are also refreshing our customer survey to ensure we are able to capture feedback first hand to keep us improving our customers’ experience with every journey.
Whether it’s existing or potential customers, to adapt and re-grow in this new environment, the railway needs to change the relationship it has with those customers – and that means creating a simpler, better railway for everyone in Britain.