One day a few years ago Samantha Hodder, then Corporate Communication Officer at bus and train operator Go-Ahead, realised that while customers had moved into the 21st century with regards to communication preferences, the company still insisted on printing outdated timetables. She realised a change was needed in order for them to be where their customers were, and she devised and rolled out their social media programme.
Go-Ahead responded to the changing passenger communication landscape by starting to embrace the tools and technologies used by its passengers in their daily lives. The company brought together representatives from across its businesses who were keen advocates of the use of social media, and were in most cases using it in their personal lives, for a social media summit. Go-Ahead also sought insight from external businesses that were already experienced social media users. This combination of enthusiasm and external advice and guidance assisted Go-Ahead in the early days and enabled the business to start its social media journey.
All three rail franchises now use Twitter to communicate with passengers – London Midland has 84,000 followers and has sent over 285,000 tweets. London Midland has also been recognised by the rail industry for its pioneering work, winning the Putting Passengers First category at two National Rail Awards events.
The company uses Twitter to provide service information in a brief but engaging way. It receives regular feedback from followers impressed by the company’s proactive approach to keeping them informed. This improved advocacy has been translated into better passenger satisfaction scores, with London Midland’s score rising in just one year from 32 per cent to 49 per cent – 12 points ahead of the national average.
On the bus side, Go-Ahead’s businesses across England now user Twitter and Facebook to communicate with passengers about their bus services, and also use both to promote news about the latest products.
According to Samantha there are two factors that have proven particularly important:
Go-Ahead’s social media journey has suited the nature of its devolved approach to running its business. It was, however, somewhat driven by individuals’ understanding of the growing move towards the use of social media. Not every business appreciated the pace of change in this area, or that social media is here to stay and must be seen as a complementary means of interacting with passengers rather than a replacement of traditional channels of communication. Social media continues to evolve and Go-Ahead intends to provide refresher training for their practitioners. Samantha’s advice is to start small, build confidence and identify a handful of people in your business who are keen and enthusiastic. She continues: ‘Get your back office and CRM system in order and the right people lined up, then make sure you keep the messages simple and professional, avoid technical language and abbreviations, and be prepared to provide two-way com-munication in specific circumstances’.
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