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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had moved into the 21st century with regards to communication preferences, the company still insisted on printing outdated timetables.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.

What are some of her top tips and lerning?

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.

Critical Success Factors

According to Samantha there are two factors that have proven particularly important:

  1. Go-Ahead has been successful due to the gradual roll-out of social media at the pace most suited to each operating company.
  2. Go-Ahead’s businesses have learnt from each other on the social media journey, sharing best practice, understanding what’s worked well and adapting those lessons to suit their own local audience. For example, early in 2013 the Group corporate communications team set up a Twitter and Facebook account for Go-Ahead plc, recognizing how successful both had been when set up by their operating companies. The team used the knowl-edge and experience of colleagues already familiar with using social media for business purposes to get started and adapted the existing styles to suit the Go-Ahead requirement for a more corporate approach, which is geared towards providing corporate news rather than service information aimed at passengers.

In Conclusion

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’.

For those companies stuck with last century’s CRM systems, the goal may be clear but the way forward is not. Download this Multi-Channel Customer Service e-book, which will show you how to get your service organisation out of the 20th century and into the world of always-on, real-time, social-powered and mobile-enabled customer service.

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