5 Steps for an Effective Rail Customer Engagement Plan

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Passenger rail is a bit behind other consumer industries like aviation and retail when it comes to customer engagement. Railway executives tend to come from engineering backgrounds and put the majority of their efforts into critical features like safety, security and punctuality. Unfortunately, these important factors alone are not cutting it anymore, and as competition in the industry increases, so are railway's demand to understand and engage with their customers.

Enter Phil Winters. Phil is more than a Strategic Advisor at Peppers & Rogers Group. He is a self-confessed passionate rail-nut. So he understands the great love for their railways that most industry stakeholders seem to feel. In a sector which is traditionally very bad at customer engagement, this is a valuable combination. Phil gave this great workshop at last year's Rail Revenue & Customer Management Congress which inspired the following five step plan for rail operators to look beyond the nuts and bolts of their beloved networks, to start to engage effectively with their customers:

1. Identify your customer

You should be able to segment your customer by the reasons for them using your service. Phil identifies six basic passenger segments: The Explorer (flexibility, independence, fascination); The Individualist (status, exclusivity, quiet); The Functionalist Planner (speed, control, efficiency); The Certainty Seeker (punctuality, safety, protection); The Socialiser (pleasure and sociability with fellow passengers); and the Convenience Seeker (uncomplicated, carefree travel). Map out the proportion of each segment using your railway on a daily basis, and also in which segments ridership needs to increase. In many cases, these segments will need to be engaged with differently.

2. Determine your touchpoints

Rail is almost unique in the number of touchpoints on offer to connect with customers. You have a fantastic opportunity to engage with passengers at multiple points at the station, onboard and during the journey planning phase. There is also an opportunity that has been fairly untouched in this sector to date, to engage online well before point of purchase using content marketing, social media and advertising. Every touchpoint offers you the opportunity to engage with your customers in a unique (but consistent) way.

3. Touchpoint choreography

Each touchpoint can be used differently to engage your customer, but needs to convey a consistent message. You need to think about your railway as a brand, and how you want that brand to be perceived. Then you need to co-ordinate your touchpoint communications to make sure that every point of engagement is used fully and consistently.

4. Organisational alignment

If you are serious about implementing a customer engagement strategy, you need to reflect this in your resourcing and organisation. Most successful customer-engagement strategies have a dedicated team working behind it, an extension of existing marketing operations. The mental shift to implement a customer-engagement strategy also needs to come from the top rather than being driven by your marketing team, often a challenge for the traditional engineers who tend to head up Europe's railways.

5. Give to get

Not necessarily critical, but it can make all the difference to an effective customer engagement plan. I love the mentality behind content marketing, and the idea that if you want customers to engage, you need to give them something beyond pushy marketing emails and traditional advertising, and even something beyond traditional on-board services. Railways have a great opportunity to offer things like journey-planning or travel advice in exchange for data and eventually for bookings (and repeat bookings).

For more ideas on how to implement a successful customer engagement strategy for rail I highly recommend going through Phil's workshop notes. You can download them for free here.

If you'd like to find out more about customer engagement in rail, please join us at this year's Rail Customer 2013 show in Amsterdam (like I say, I love a bit of content marketing). More information here.

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