TfNSW looks to Opal data to 'personalise' commute

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TfNSW looks to Opal data to 'personalise' commute

Tailored disruption warnings based on travel patterns.

Transport for NSW is hoping to use travel activity tracked by its Opal ticketing system to warn commuters of disruptions to regular services they are known to catch.

Executive director of digital products and services Chris Bennetts told a Salesforce conference in Melbourne that the agency saw personalisation as a key way to drive up commuter satisfaction.

Citing internal research, Bennetts said “if customers have control over the information that’s being provided to them they actually feel more satisfied about the journey that they take".

“So if their train or bus is delayed by five minutes, and if they know it’s five minutes late they’re actually less dissatisfied with that entire experience,” he said.

Bennetts said TfNSW’s “forward strategy” for its Opal travel app – which was launched last year and lets commuters plan and cost journeys and keep track of their Opal balance – is to build in some form of push notification for disruptions based on trip intelligence collected in the backend systems.

“Our forward strategy for that product is all about personalising the experience based on the Opal journeys that you make,” he said.

“So if Opal knows that I typically go from Chatswood [in Sydney’s north] into the city at about 7.30am Monday to Friday and there’s a problem with the typical service I take, if I can get pushed to me a disruption notice that says 'your service has been disrupted today, take this alternative one’, that drives satisfaction [up].

“That’s really interesting to us.”

Bennetts did not put a timeframe on when this kind of push notification service might be added to the app.

But he noted the capability was in line with the agency’s goal to make the public transport experience “more customer-centric and aligned to what’s important to [customers]".

“The whole mantra of TfNSW is bringing the customer into the centre of everything that we do,” he said.

Complaint handling

Another large focus area for TfNSW has been to deliver a single platform to handle customer complaints and feedback that cuts across all the various divisions and operating agencies in its makeup.

“One of the pain points we had was that when it came to customers giving us feedback about what was important to them, what problems they had with the services that we were offering, and what areas we could improve in, there was no consistent way to do that across Transport,” Bennetts said.

In response, TfNSW spent the the end of 2014 through 2015 "designing and implementing a Transport-wide workflow that could be used by [its] 28,000 employees to respond to customer feedback”, Bennetts said.

The workflow, powered by Salesforce, was launched at the end of 2015.

Aside from consistency, Bennetts said the complaints platform helped TfNSW pinpoint for its secretary Tim Reardon the “pain points” in the transport network.

“Before, if our secretary asked us how many bits of feedback we have from customers right now and in what areas, we basically had a small team pulling together emails in a spreadsheet to work it out,” he said.

“Instead of the team spending a week or two squirreling away in the back trying to work it out, we can pull up a dashboard straight away to understand what is happening.”

That view is also available across the whole of the NSW government courtesy of a connection into ServiceNSW systems.

“At any one time we can feed into an all-of-government view about what’s going on,” Bennetts said.

Driving innovation

In addition to improving internal reporting and strategy, TfNSW hopes the customer feedback data may eventually be used by third parties to create innovative solutions to transport challenges.

TfNSW is developing an open data hub that is expected to be live in mid-2016.

The initiative builds on early success TfNSW experienced by opening data to developers for a series of hackathons, which led to a range of apps being built in collaboration with third-party developers.

“We did a series of hackathons where we got our real-time bus and train data along with our journey planning data and shared it with some developers to come up with some customer-friendly apps that drove customers to make better planning decisions and gave them more information about where their service is at,” Bennetts said.

“We got just over half a dozen apps that were built within a couple of months … and our customers really took to it.

“If you’re a Sydney commuter you’re probably using one of these apps every day to find out where your bus or train is. For us that was a big change in the way we do things and it really shaped how we’re going to do this in the future.”

Bennetts sees the customer feedback dataset as one that is ripe for the open data initiative.

“We want to create the right funnel of data and get it out to industry and the start-up community to say 'our customers are telling us through our feedback channel that we set up last year that we’ve got this problem, how can you help us solve that?’

“That’s one of our forward strategies when it comes to customer service.”

Ry Crozier attended the Salesforce world tour in Melbourne as a guest of Salesforce.

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