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Harnessing technology at 300 km/h

Darren Williams

Head of Global Sales, Eurostar

It is a widely held truism that technology is a great enabler of the customer experience – both in terms of the products offered and how companies engage with their audience – but equally true is the fact that the pace of change is greater than ever before. Rail is meeting these challenges head on even if the core product (a less flexible mode of transport in an industry requiring substantial investment) may feel somewhat quaint to Generation Z.

girl on train

When Eurostar started in 1994 the internet was embryonic. Fast forward just over 20 years and the expectation is that any organisation should have an app and/or a fully responsive site on which to do business. Any company overlooking the leap (and in developing countries, the leapfrogging) to mobile is likely to be left behind.

Wifi also feels like an old story now; we’ve all gone from being delighted to have wifi in a hotel to being slightly miffed at not getting it for free in just about any public space on earth. Despite the challenges of delivering unfettered access at 300 km/h through tunnels, unconnected countryside and in some cases under the sea, rail companies are meeting these head on. Our customers demand it – if I can get a coffee and get online in Starbucks with my £2.50 I sure as hell demand it when I’ve paid £250 for a train ticket! And we agree with them.

On board entertainment is another customer expectation which has evolved in how it is being delivered and consumed. We all remember the big screens in aircrafts showing the not-so-latest blockbuster - even now you can sometimes take flights with drop down screens offering anything but on demand. But what about rail? The opportunity we have is to harness the technological advances and skip the hardware. I recall being delighted and professionally jealous of being able to watch a film in my couchette between Xian and Beijing back in 2004. But who needs to do that now? We all have iPads and other smart devices, so simply having access to entertainment is all that’s needed in 2016.

Finally, we cannot ignore social media and the sharing economy. Car pooling and trains do not seem like natural bedfellows, but initiatives such as Thalys’ TickUp and Eurostar Snap tap into the desires and expectations of exactly the same audience, offering a competitive product in a connected world. Uber Train anyone?

Darren Williams contributed to Amadeus’ recent discussion paper, Reinventing rail: the battle for the customer.

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