Die SBB am Digital Nudge Day 2018
Magazine & Blog

Self-servicing in public transport

  • Nicole Buri

Christof Zogg took us on an exciting trip to the world of self-service. He revealed that for SBB, self-service is not only an instrument for automation and cost savings, it also serves to improve customer experience.

The origins of self-service

For SBB self-service is nothing new. The story began in the analogue world in 1966 with the first ticket vending machine in Switzerland. This form of self-service won the hearts of Swiss men and women in an instant. In 2001, 44 percent of tickets were sold via self-service channels, in particular through vending machines.

In its self-service strategy, SBB has formulated the goal of selling 90 percent of tickets via self-service channels, with 50 percent of them sold via digital channels, by 2023. In 2017, SBB got close to this target when the self-service purchase ratio rose to almost 85 percent. 26 percent of tickets were sold via the SBB Mobile app, almost 7 percent via the SBB Online-Ticketshop and almost 49 percent in vending machines. Compared to the previous year, the vending machines lost importance for the first time. 

How SBB «has the cake and eats it too»

Two challenges are associated with the strengthening of self-service channels in the digital world: 

  • How to ensure customer satisfaction when processes are outsourced to the customer?
  • How to bring about behavioural changes in the course of the Digital Shift?

Basically, what SBB achieves by offering self-service in digital channels is like having the cake and eating it too: the new channels are significantly less expensive than the travel centres at train stations, and the customer satisfaction associated with using the Mobile App surpasses the satisfaction reported for travel centres. Customer insights are another advantage of self-service via digital channels. When buying from a machine, the customer remains anonymous and SBB has no information on customer behaviour.

The customer is at the centre of development

But how does SBB manage the digital shift – how does it take its customers from the more expensive channels like the travel centre to the smart digital channels? On the one hand, it invests in the optimisation of customer experience on digital touchpoints and, on the other hand, in integrated communication solutions associated with the new digital functions. 

In order to consistently improve customer experience at digital touchpoints, SBB has reviewed its entire change management process and re-designed it so that it is more agile. Instead of two releases per year, new functions will be launched once or twice a month. The waterfall project approach was replaced by an agile development methodology. The customer is involved in the development process already at an early stage, and SBB uses a flexible sourcing model in which its partners are engaged to ensure it has expertise in all fields of specialisation. The point of all these adjustments is to always have the customer in the centre of development. 

Three Lessons Learned for decision-makers

Christof Zogg has summed up his Lessons Learned in 3 Paradigms which he gives to the decision-makers: 

#1 Co-Develop With Your Customers

«Step out of the game as soon as possible with a minimum viable product. Let the customers experiment with it and learn from these findings.» SBB created a preview version of its app with the participation of over 250,000 users a month and of a preview community comprising over 20,000 members who tested the new features on an ongoing basis and offered feedback for development purposes.  

#2 Hide The Complexity

«System complexity is the reality in big companies: an infrastructure it took years to create with many rigid legacy systems. You cannot get away with this complexity, but you can hide it from your customer.» 

#3 Maximize The User Experience

«In the development of front-ends rely on high-quality UX expertise and use telemetry after the launch to gain valuable insights into the actual usage in the sense of a 'data-driven UX change'.»

How to abandon old patterns of behaviour through «Nudging»

Disruptive behavioural changes often require additional measures to step up user readiness. However, this process is not always easy because, in contrast to perception changes, any change of deeply rooted behaviour requires much more effort. The power of social behaviour patterns is still clearly noticeable in everyday life: digitally affine users rush to the ticket machine on the platform, holding their smartphones in their hands and using Snapchat and Instagram. 

Marketing communication involving the creation of awareness often reaches its limits, therefore it needs additional measures to boost customer readiness. SBB, for example, is using promoters who, by way of person-to-person interaction, help the customer abandon old patterns of behaviour.

Christof Zogg has formulated his personal conclusion in connection with Nudging: sometimes it takes a major shove to cause a change in behaviour.

Here you can find Christof Zogg's presentation slides (German only). 

Sometimes it takes a major shove to cause a change in behaviour