Ted talks: How to upgrade the rail customer experience?

Eve-Marie Morgo

A table, comfy seats, and a sandwich. That’s what you would expect of a train trip. A “really good table” is rail travel's USP according to TED's speaker, Rory Sutherland . Read on to discover how little things can have a big impact on the rail customer experience. 

Upgrading the rail customer experience

Rail is the only transport mode where you can have everything around you: a cup of coffee, a newspaper, and a laptop. And that is what Rory presented at the Amadeus Rail Forum 2014 “Inspiring Perception”. Little things can make a big impact on the customer satisfaction, more than huge change or investment. 

Displaying London tube arrival times helped increase rail customer satisfaction. Now commuters know when to expect their next train. A bit like the Uber phenomenon: it’s not so much different than booking a taxi in advance, but the fact that we know exactly when it will arrive just makes the experience a lot better. It’s all about “informed certainty” as he puts it.

Improving the rail booking experience

Rory gave very good examples to make small business improvements. For example, British Airways increased their online sales by changing the way travel classes are displayed in the results page. Giving travelers the choice to go for a higher travel class. As he points out, unless people are made aware of something, there is little chance they will go for it.

And the same for booking rail travel: considering that ticket machines can only be found at train stations, how are non-rail users ever going to consider traveling by train? He recommends putting them in shopping centers or busy places. As WestBahn did in Austria by putting ticket machines at tobacconists.

Rory Sutherland, TED Speaker - "Perception vs. Reality" @Amadeus Rail Forum 2014

Finally, he also wonders about rail travel's added value: why the UK government spent billions to reduce travel time between London and Paris by just over 30 mins? It could have had a much more positive impact on traveler’s satisfaction by adding WiFi onboard for a fraction of the cost.

Our own rail travel experience

When traveling to Vienna to the Rail Forum we had a fairly good idea of what to expect of our 16-hour train journey. We also knew there would be some surprises along the way: would we make it in time? What about trains comfort? Would we be able to plug our laptops? What about train connections?

We actually made it on time and had a fairly easy experience overall, with comfy seats, good tables, plugs, but… we had no food at all, and that we did not expect, if only they had told us in advance! After all, it’s all about managing travelers’ expectations. Next time, we’ll bring our own sandwich! 

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