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As a blogger, I have a responsibility not to get personal and not to write with righteous indignation.

However, I also have the pleasure of being able to write about experiences I have had that bear on digital marketing and ecommerce.

After my stag do this weekend, I lost my paper return train ticket from Devon to London and had to pay for a new one.

In my opinion this revealed a disjointed multichannel offering because lost paper tickets cannot be reissued, but mobile tickets effectively can be (by logging into an app on another mobile device).

So what can we learn?

Price demands service, mobile shouldn’t reveal a problem

For all train operators in the UK, the National Conditions of Carriage apply.

Tickets cannot be reissued to customers as, unlike airlines, the tickets are not registered to customers individually.

However, if that’s the case, why are train tickets billed as non-transferable and why do mobile tickets come with instruction to carry the booking credit card with you for inspection?

Whatever the facts, I had to pay for a new paper train ticket back to London, knowing full well that mobile ticketing may have prevented my extra expenditure.

To me, this revealed a flaw with paper ticketing. Cross country train tickets are now so expensive that a customer realistically expects the same service that an airline provides, not a blank face from a station master who thinks he’s the one having a bad day.

What that means is I expect a reissued ticket.

At the moment, I’m disadvantaged by choosing one particular channel

I love the mobile ticketing option, except when it’s not available. But even where both are available, doesn’t this create an uneven field for customers?

What about customers without a smartphone, should they be disadvantaged? Do the T&C’s need to change in light of new technology?

first great western mtickets

Mobile is now an absolute priority in travel

Mobile ticketing is brilliant because it effectively solves the reissuing problem. Losing tickets is no longer technically possible (as admitted by First Great Western in the screengrab above).

And yet mobile ticketing isn’t possible with each train operator and even some that do offer it don’t offer it on all routes.

So, why hasn’t every train operator done their utmost to implement mobile ticketing?

Airlines have realised that mobile boarding cards are an expectation, even if they pose some additional infrastructure problems (user error, dead phones etc). Train operators need to realise it, too.

Technology can easily solve a problem, so solve it

To reissue my ticket all that needs to happen is for ticket-checking on the train to be done electronically. Each ticket could have a unique code on it for scanning.

That way, to reissue a ticket, the original could be made electronically void and I could get a new one, providing I give enough notice.

Surely the only reason this isn’t implemented is cost. However, customers no longer find that acceptable.

A train ticket is not a commodity

This last point is quite a philosophical one. The notion of a ticket is disappearing. Tickets now often exist virtually, so losing a piece of paper hurts more than ever.

I realise I am the schmo in this scenario, the guy who can't keep a ticket safe but isn't transparency and digital in business leading to a world where these customer headaches are resolved to the benefit of all?

For more ideas on multichannel marketing, check out the Econsultancy Multichannel Marketing Trends Briefing.

Ben Davis

Published 21 July, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (7)

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John Hunter, Social Media Exec at EDF EnergyEnterprise

this is 5 minutes of my life I am never getting back, its obvious that operators are all going to offer mobile ticketing. It just takes longer to implement the infrastructure. Once all routes are equal for ticketing options they can make the terms equal.

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@John

I still think this lag time between customer expectations and the implementation of technology can harm businesses.

Why would they have to wait to change terms? My points about prices and channels still stand.

The terms are set by ATOC, so perhaps it's up to them to make a bold move.

Thanks for reading.

almost 2 years ago

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Matt Kennedy, Head of Digital Marketing at Tesco MobileEnterprise

You say that "all that needs to happen is for ticket-checking on the train to be done electronically" but what about the thousands of turnstiles at stations? How many extra staff would need to man these for all of the technical mishaps that will happen? You can't compare an airline check-in queue of 300 people with two staff checking the tickets to a London terminus in the rush hour.

Do you not think that the infrastructure investment required to enable mtickets on the whole network would be better spent on increasing capacity or other more tangible benefits to all? With the advent of NFC-enabled smartphones, do you not think mtickets are the QR codes of the transport world, an interim solution waiting for ubiquitous adoption of NFC or other contactless solutions?

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Matt

Turnstiles - yep, I agree. They're not equipped to scan a barcode, so I do often think it's ironic that the mticket has the potential to rather make this element of automation obsolete - at Norwich for example I need station staff to let me through a gate when I have an mticket.

Comparing airline check-in with a train platform in rush hour, I agree again, is probably not right. However, cross country routes as I referred to cost so much money that I still don't see it as that different.

NFC - I hadn't thought about this application, but certainly it would make sense in terminals with readers.

Alongside agreeing with all your comments, I'm hoping my main point still stands, though, that of reissuing tickets. It would seem simple to print a barcode on tickets, for the conductor to scan, rather than using his little clipper. That way a ticket could be made void.

Again though, I agree that other infrastructure is just as important, like making the trains bigger so I don't have to stand up for my money.

Thanks for the thoughts. Bee has now escaped from bonnet.

almost 2 years ago

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Matt Kennedy, Head of Digital Marketing at Tesco MobileEnterprise

Absolutely, I've been that "schmo" that's lost their ticket, there has to be a better solution than having to re-purchase the same seat!

almost 2 years ago

Joe Hawkes

Joe Hawkes, Senior Digital Marketing Executive at Charles Russell Speechlys

They could make virtual ticketing more widely available, but...

Why would train companies rush to spend millions improving their infrastructure/service when they know you're going to catch their train every day whether you like it or not?

If you don't like Easyjet, you can always use another provider, with trains you don't get that choice. They have the average commuter by the short and curlies, and there's nothing you can do about it*.

*not me. I ride a bike.

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Joe

Yes, that's a question I've been struggling to answer.

The only thing I can think of is if they have wider interests. Virgin is usually ahead of the curve on this and that might be because they have service level goals that extend across different products.

You know, if I had a bad journey from Crewe to Manchester, I might decline their space flight in favour of SpaceX :)

almost 2 years ago

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