OpenMarket and Virgin Trains scooped the Meffy 2016 award for Innovation in Mobile Messaging. They won for “Project Surge’ – a delightfully simple but effective solution to congestion at Euston train station…
Anyone who has ever waited for a train will recognise the mass stampede when platform number is confirmed on the big screen.
At London’s Euston station, the problem is particularly acute. It’s one of the UK’s most crowded stations – with daily passenger volumes (40,000) that match those of Heathrow Airport.
“It can be a quarter of a mile from one end of the train to the other, and therefore its a panic for some people,” says Paul Corney, passenger experience manager at Virgin Trains.
And the daily surge is one of the reasons why, when Virgin Trains would ask for passenger feedback, Euston always scored the worst. But not any more. Virgin tackled the problem in a surprising and effective way: with targeted text messages. It calls this Project Surge.
The scheme works as follows: Virgin Trains sends an SMS alert to selected customers (senior citizens, the disabled, families) 75 seconds before the information is displayed on the departure boards. The texts are sent by messaging specialist OpenMarket. Its V.4 Global SMS API syncs with the Virgin booking system to select the right cohort of passengers.
These passengers are informed of their train platform and seat number, and can board the train ahead of everyone else. As a result, congestion falls for all passengers. It’s a simple idea. But it works, as revealed by Virgin Trains’ customer satisfaction surveys. They show a 28 per cent increase in the ‘ease of boarding’ rating.
Corney says: “We know that standing and looking up at the departure board while waiting for the platform to be announced, then having passengers moving at once and forming long queues does not tick anyone’s boxes. SMS train updates have helped us change our customers’ travel experience from the concourse to the platform.” Now, the company is exploring extending the idea across other stations.
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