Paul Attenborough, account manager for transport technology provider Trapeze Group, speaks about how transport companies can benefit from new business processes
Ever since the emergence of the UK’s first cash machine in 1967, the self-service boom has evolved to become one of the most popular ways to interact with consumers. Its influence on customer behaviour by enabling end users to automatically serve themselves at any time has been revolutionary.
The rise of the digital age decades later heralded a new era of global connectivity, with the internet redefining business approaches and strategies in every sector. From online banking to booking a taxi through an app and paying at automated supermarket checkouts, self-service technology is increasingly empowering both customers and staff, and improving efficiencies, while reducing operational costs and workloads.
A report in 2015 by customer service company Parature found 90 per cent of consumers expect organisations to offer a self-service support portal, with almost half of respondents (43 per cent) saying they looked more favourably on brands or organisations offering responsive self-service.
And according to Gartner, the world's leading information technology research and advisory company, consumers will manage 85 per cent of their relationships with brands without ever interacting with a human by 2020.
This increasing demand for automation means more companies than ever – including those in the transport sector - are looking at how to incorporate new technological advances into their business models. By enabling consumers to manage simplified processes by themselves, data management becomes more convenient, cost-effective and reliable.
The success of Uber, though at times controversial, is testament to how self-service can revolutionise the way we view transport. By building its global empire around mobile app technology, it has minimised administration costs and boosted customer engagement.
This type of business model enables customers to order services and track their movement progress in real-time. This empowers the end-user more than ever before, while minimising the resources needed by the provider.
Self-service technology can also be incredibly powerful internally, since many organisations have a large numbers of staff and data to manage. By streamlining information input, Welsh firm Cardiff Bus has been able to dramatically reduce costs and time spent on administration. The technology enables its workforce to book holidays, view rotas and duties, and swap shifts online without the need for management intervention, while end users can check bus arrival times, route disruptions and other travel news.
Many rail companies have adopted an app-based self-service model that allows customers to book tickets using their smart devices, which can be collected from automated kiosks at a station of their choosing. Passengers can also receive real-time travel news and use tickets on their mobile handsets.
Public organisations such as local authorities are also increasingly looking to technology to drive self-service models. In the face of challenging budget cuts which have reduced staff numbers, empowering transport users and stakeholders to input information directly through booking portals, for example, has helped to reduce burdens on already stretched resources.
Ultimately, self-service functionality makes managing external processes much more fluid and efficient. Bus pass applications, for instance, can be completed online through booking portals, without intervention from staff – a step that the likes of Bus Eireann and Worcestershire County Council have taken with the introduction of online portals for families booking and managing the school transport application process.
Self-service technology significantly improves and centralises data capture accuracy and collection times, while reducing processing and delivery costs by enabling customers and staff to input information independently. Self-service booking portals in particular enable organisations to manage requirements more efficiently. Less time and resources are spent processing requests, information can be collected and centralised easily, inaccuracies are reduced and technology can serve as an enabler of improved end-user experiences.
For example, organisations responsible for administering demand responsive transport (DRT) services such as Dial-a-Ride schemes can benefit hugely from self-service technology that streamlines the booking process. By enabling users and other stakeholders, including schools and care providers, to make transport requests themselves and specify requirements such as wheelchair storage, the gathering of data and the dispatching of services can be greatly improved. Less time is required to process requests and the pressure on already strained resources can be eased.
Self-service, therefore, is about much more than just the end-user. The potential of technology to drive efficiencies is something that can benefit transport organisations in both the public and private sector, leading to improved business processes and ultimately improved passenger experiences.