Just when we thought our morning commute couldn’t get any worse, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) executives got together, thought “outside the box”, and struck on the idea of rescheduling every single train in its franchise – which includes Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern services.
They were hoping that a new streamlined timetable would be part of a programme to increase capacity and efficiencies across the South East rail lines, and go some way to improve the already low satisfaction ratings that some of the franchise enjoy (Southern Rail, I’m looking at you). Ah but alas, the rail track to hell is laid with good intentions.
Above all, GTR’s failures were ones of communications. The GTR’s objectives, rational and customer focused priorities are all on point: Increased capacity? Better trains? Quicker services? Check, check, check! This programme is actually the biggest investment in UK rail services since Victorian times, but you would struggle to know that from the information and communications they’ve put out.
But failures on the day of launch – Monday 21 May – and failure to communicate, meant Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern passengers were left seething into their morning lattes, and stuck on the platform when they should have been in their first meeting of the day.
GTR’s principle failure was that it hadn’t developed a strong enough communications platform.
In the run up to service changes, the rail operator’s main communication platforms were rail intercoms (which announced that “changes are coming” but without any detail), the website (a business to business portal, rather than customer facing), and dusty leaflets (which loitered in station foyers as commuters rushed past).
And what about the channels that customers actually use? For London commuters, this is predominantly social media, the Metro, and The Evening Standard. Any GTR news presence or campaign via these channels was notably absent.
Instead, when the D-Day arrived, and services broke down, these same channels that the customer actually used – social media, the Metro and The Evening Standard – were awash with horror stories of rail failures. Meanwhile, GTR communications was over in the corner, talking to itself on its own channels, and without an audience.
So, rule number one of campaign communications? Make sure you’re in the room with your audience: use the channels they use, rather than the channels you want them to use.
It’s easy, but it’s also easy to get wrong. Let’s watch to see how quickly the GTR team learn and adapt communications from last month’s break down.