The Trainline Built its Business on Customer Experience

In Customer Engagement, Customer Experience, Featured on App by Vaughn Highfield

The Trainline - be sensible

If it wasn’t for The Trainline’s app, it may not have been a success

The is a rather popular destination for anyone in the UK looking to book train tickets in advance. While, truth be told, buying directly from the train company can be cheaper, The Trainline excels at making the entire process blissfully simple. There’s no managing where you need to buy separate tickets for across different rail networks, it all just works seamlessly and simply. As Andrew Towers, head of product development at The Trainline, put it “The Trainline doesn’t control prices or inventory, the only thing it has is usability. Without that, customers will leave and go somewhere else.”

And it’s true, they will just up sticks and venture somewhere else. But, the truth is, they haven’t. The Trainline has the number one spot on the iOS App Store for travel apps. It’s the number two travel website in the world behind Expedia, and it’s the number one rail retail site in the world too. The Trainline has customers, that’s really not the issue, managing to turn over a cool £1 billion in 2013 to boot.

But, if it wasn’t for the fact that they pride themselves on creating the best user experience possible, then they certainly wouldn’t have gotten that way. And, as far as Towers is concerned, they can do so much better than they already are – especially now the internet browsing landscape has changed dramatically since their initial launch 15 years ago.

One way they’re doing that is by completely redesigning their website to be easily accessible to touchscreen users. Over the last few years there’s been an increase of touchscreen users coming to The Trainline’s site, it now stands at one in three users who visit them are doing so from a tablet or mobile device, and that’s excluding people who visit the dedicated ‘m.’ site and use the mobile app. Obviously it’s an awful experience for most users as the old site was made for mouse users, and that’s a primary concern as most people seem to be purchasing tickets through the app or mobile site as conversion rates on the desktop site is 40 per cent lower than The Trainline’s other channels.

As mentioned before, they do have a dastardly ‘m.’ mobile site, but even Towers admits that it only came about “to fill a gap,” describing it as a “woefully inadequate” experience for consumers. So it’s no surprise they’re completely redesigning the website to reflect more current web trends.

The goal for them is to push conversion rates up by 20 per cent, make sure that there’s minimal keyboard usage needed and that it’s responsive in nature so anyone can access it anywhere. It can’t be a laggy experience either, consumers have to be able to use it quickly even on slower connections and this means that the entire site design has to change.

This isn’t an instant process, it’s being done slowly with a group of beta testers, tweaking each site page until it works perfectly. Towers claims that one big inspiration for how to get the site working as they want it to is the Transport for London site. He cites this as just a perfect example of how a responsively-designed site should work, prioritising the key bits of information on smaller screens, tucking away the clutter and imagery; yet looking beautiful on bigger screens whether held landscape or portrait. For Towers, The Trainline site is too busy, poorly laid out and their ‘m.’ mobile site is just terribly generic and so uninteresting to use.

It’s certainly odd to hear someone so easily slag off their own products in front of an absolutely packed audience at Marketing Week Live. But that just goes to show the level of confidence he has in the Trainline brand.

He’s got the track record to do so too, as the current usability improvements came from inside his own team.

Using web analytics they realised that there was a worryingly high drop off rate of 30 per cent that was largely unexplainable. It occurred between the fare checking page and the purchasing page – essentially meaning that people were leaving on the login and registration page. It’s an unnecessary obstacle for many. Some people don’t remember their logins, others just don’t want to register and would rather just purchase their tickets. After all, in a brick and mortar store you’re rarely made to sign up for something before you make a purchase, so why do so online?

So, to solve it, they introduced a guest login option. You just enter your email address so you can receive your tickets and that’s it. In doing just that there was a 2.1 per cent increase in booking rates, equating to an extra £1 million in revenue.

Another issue that plagued customers was accepting the terms and conditions. Looking at page error reports saw that many people forgot to tick the box saying they agree when hurriedly making a purchase. This led to some users leaving out of frustration, or the loading of the page again and again, meaning poor usability experience. So, they just bundled the ‘I Agree’ box into the ‘Continue’ box, stating that by clicking it you automatically agree to the T’s & C’s. It’s a simple change that had no legal implications, and it streamlined the entire experience massively.

A final example Towers gave for just how much the little changes can impact customer experience was with persuasive design. Using A/B testing mechanics, The Trainline produced two versions of the site, one that contained ‘triggers’ and one that didn’t. The triggers generally ranged from how many others are on the site at the same time, how many were looking at the same train journey as you, and how many tickets were actually left at a certain advanced fare price. It turns out that, by just placing the words ‘limited availability’ underneath popular train tickets increased sales conversion. In fact, it raised it by 4.5 per cent, equating to in excess of £2 million in extra revenue.

So, while it may not seem like the biggest deal in your treasure trove of issues to resolve, improved consumer experience when using your eCommerce site could really have a huge impact on your business.

Take a leave out of Towers’ book, ditch that ‘m.’ site, focus in on what your customer gripes are, and streamline your website so they can access it in any way they want. You could be losing out on far more than you realise.