December 27, 2011 10 Comments
NMBS is going through hard times these days. They cope with a genuine structural issue. Trains are cancelled and delayed daily. And what’s even more striking: customers are often not properly informed about cancellations and delays.
My three months proved enough to realize NMBS can’t undo all timetable issues. After all, much has to do with the inability to expand some key railway stations (like Brussels). There’s simply no room for growth anymore. It’s a mobility and infrastructure problem. Let’s leave that to spatial planners, shall we? Those same three months however also proved sufficient to see that the NMBS could do much more with regards to customer service. And that’s an issue marketers and business people can tackle without spatial planners. So here we go.
Social media can and should play a key role for customer service by railway companies like NMBS. But before we explain the future role of social media for the NMBS, let’s ask ourselves two simple questions:
- Do our customers want support through social media?
- Do we have employees willing to provide that service?
Need for customer service on social media?
Customers definitely want to be informed about delays and cancellations through social media. After all those platforms allow to give real-time personalized information. What’s more: with the ever-increasing adoption of smartphones, most travellers are constantly connected while on the train.
It’s very interesting to see the artefacts of this need: the numerous unofficial NMBS Twitter accounts. Those accounts are basically bottom-up initiatives by real travellers who do not work for the company but do engage with a community of ‘train travelers”. No way you can ignore the need if you look at those accounts.Do we have resources to provide customer service via social networks?
Yes! The NMBS most definitely has those resources. The image on the right depicts an image of a Twitter conversation between NMBS employees and a traveler.
The Dutch conversation states: “we are pleading for this service! Correct, fast and clear information”.
The above sentence points to an interesting aspect. The NMBS employees are actually aware of the situation and want to help. On the other hand, the corporation, hasn’t set up official structures to manage this.
So in fact, NMBS is in a very strong position. They have employees who love their job and organization and want to speak about it publicly on social networks. That’s something most companies can only dream about. NMBS should take advantage of this high level of employee engagement. They should stimulate the current people to grow and contribute to overall customer satisfaction.
Why should NMBS empower all employees on social?
First of all, it’s quite unthinkable that railway services will remain a public service. As Belgium is a part of the European Union who always favors liberal, free and open markets, one can expect future guidelines and/or demands to liberalize the railway services market. We’ve seen those demands before within other industries like Telco, Energy and Postal services. Those industries are now typically known for their fierce competition and new customer focus (vs. customer service to bring value). If NMBS manages to set-up customer service through social media, it will have a competitive edge in a deregulated market.
But then again, the question remains the same: Will the liberalization result in on-time services and consequently improve the customer’s quality of life? Frankly I don’t know. One should ask an Englishman to know whether private railway services are better than public railway services.
Second, because of my experience which made me happy and willing to travel with NMBS for future endeavours. The story is detailed below.My experience: train driver @RikiU2 helps me out
December 14 2011. I had a rather intense day at work. I was incredibly looking forward to a lazy evening with my girlfriend while traveling home by train. When suddenly the train came to stop in the middle of nowhere. That sometimes happens, but this time it took a lot of time. After 15 minutes, my co-travelers started to get worried and frustrated. After all, they were once again to be later at home than foreseen and – what seemed even worse – there was no information whatsoever about why we did not continue our journey anymore. At one moment however, after about half an hour, the intercom of the train informed us about “a prior train in need will cause a delay of this trip”. Hooray! We were informed. Nobody, including myself, however knew what a “train in need” exactly was. It was some sort of tipping point for most of the travelers, including myself. It triggered me to shoot the question “what is a train in need?” on Twitter. It was more a helpless act than that I expected to have an answer to the question. Nothing was less true however. One clever train driver was at home and followed the #nmbs hashtag. As that hashtag was mentioned in my tweet, my demand came on the radar. I received an answer on my question and was consequently informed about the exact time delay, etc.
Result: I could inform the people waiting for me, was happy again and was willing to continue traveling with NMBS in the future.
What does all above teach us about the future role of social media for customer service?
The above teaches us that social is truly a synonym for change. Things have changed and will continue to change. It would not be very intelligent to ‘ban’ social media platforms to employees. After all, they can act as a customer service representative or contribute to WOM advertising efforts, etc. For this reason companies should stimulate their employees to go online and speak in the name of the company. All companies should strive to realize this “superstar company state”. One great example of a superstar company is Dell – who transforms all employees into brand embassadors and certified customer service reps by providing them the necessary tools and training.