Parkeon is working with rail industry stakeholders to improve the customer experience through innovative TVM technology

 

retailwallParkeon’s SmartWall, which was developed for Northern Rail

 

As reported in Passenger Transport (PT141) the thorny issue of Ticket Vending Machines in the rail industry reared its head again over the summer after research by The Times suggested that the equipment was frequently not offering customers access to the cheapest ticket for their journey.

It led the Department for Transport to announce plans for an industry high-level summit in a bid to discuss potential methods that would make ticketing simpler and clearer for passengers. It could also lead to changes to industry regulations.

So what is the industry, in particular those involved in TVM technology, doing to address this issue? Paul Moirano, sales director for Parkeon’s UK rail business, says that while ticket complexity remains a significant structural challenge for the sector, there have already been some positive steps forward since the original summit called by the then rail minister Claire Perry in 2014.

Back then, Parkeon was a relatively new entrant into the TVM market, but was making significant in-roads with its new range of innovative TVMs such as the small footprint, collect-only ToDler® kiosk, designed specifically as a fast means of fulfilling tickets purchased online.

Parkeon invested heavily in R&D with a focus on how to improve the customer experience at TVMs. Presenting accurate and relevant ticket options on-screen in a clear format was paramount, but there were opportunities to go further, with the
ultimate goal to restore faith in what is a vital retail and fulfilment channel for train operating companies.

Out of the industry conversations and Parkeon’s own R&D came innovations that have the potential to transform the way people think about TVMs.

Firstly, Parkeon added live train running information to its existing TVM screens because there’s little more frustrating for passengers than buying a ticket for a train and then finding that it has been delayed or cancelled. Next, working with South West Trains, the company looked at how to introduce a more human dimension into TVM transactions – and the result was a video link from the TVM to the train operating company’s customer service centre.

This system, known as IRIS ®, not only enables passengers to get queries answered at the point of sale by experienced SWT ticket staff, it is also possible for these staff to take control of the TVM screen and work with the passenger through the various ticket options before completing the transaction. 

Critically in the case of both these innovations, the company developed the communications modules as retrofit options for all its TVMs.

Moirano comments: “If you look at criticisms of TVMs, the majority of them go away if the passenger has the opportunity to talk to a knowledgeable member of staff. With IRIS, if you are unsure that you are getting the best fare for example, you can press a button and talk to an expert on the screen, who will immediately offer you advice and assistance. That’s a huge tick in the box and solves so many of the perceived problems.”

Parkeon believes that their new generation of ticket machines now being introduced on stations in the UK are far better equipped to cope with ticket complexity, and to deliver the enhanced levels of customer service demanded by government and industry stakeholders, while also improving the performance of TVMs as a retail channel for operators.

Indeed, Parkeon has now taken the concept of TVMs to a new level with the launch of the ‘SmartWall ®’ developed originally for Northern Rail and now installed at Harrogate and Leeds stations. It blends traditional ticket vending with video-based communication, live running train information, social media content and a mix of other selected ‘feeds’, including news headlines. In addition, it is unique in using height and proximity detection technology to adjust screen level to the user’s requirements – a significant advance for  some passengers with disabilities.

These technological advances are exciting and offer tremendous flexibility but rolling them out in replacement programmes cannot be done overnight.

That said, the company’s willingness to engage with both customers and stakeholders has demonstrated a can-do attitude that’s impressed at the highest levels.

“We’ve had representatives from the DfT, ORR and RDG visit us to see our capabilities first-hand and we’ve been able to demonstrate how utilising the latest technology in TVMs brings massive improvements. There’s a tremendous amount of work going on to counter the issues around TVMs and I’m pleased to say that Parkeon really is at the forefront of that.”

It’s an approach that is paying dividends for the company.  From having just 24 TVMs in place with rail operators in the UK five years ago, the company will shortly have an installed base of approaching 700 and is forecasting more success in 2017.

 

IRIS has an eye for customer service

The collaborative approach taken by Parkeon has led to the development of IRIS, a video-based solution that aims to improve Ticket Vending Machine customer service. Installed as part of the TVM, IRIS allows passengers experiencing difficulty at any point in the ticket buying process to receive help and advice from a member of staff via a real time video link.

This innovative system has its origin in an agreement reached in 2015 between the government and South West Trains’ parent company Stagecoach for a series of improvements on the Wessex route out of London Waterloo. As part of that pledge, the group made a commitment to improve customer service. This included the deployment of almost 100 video call-enabled TVMs across the network in a bid to help passengers experiencing difficulties during the ticket buying process.

Parkeon worked closely with Stagecoach to develop the system, including an initial pilot at Sherborne station in Dorset, a location chosen to thoroughly test the technology. “We paid a lot of attention to ensuring that both the passenger at the station and the remote SWT employee could hear one another,” Moirano adds.

There were concerns as to whether passengers would use the system, but in a world of Skype and FaceTime, this wasn’t an issue. Following a further trial at Woking, SWT was satisfied that the system was robust enough to cope and this year approved the roll-out of 91 IRIS-enabled TVMs across its network, all of which are installed and working. This has been supported by a dedicated customer service team in Basingstoke who field the calls.

As part of the IRIS system, Parkeon is also supplying a multiplexing facility that provides the link between the IRIS TVM at the station and the remote contact centre. “So, for example, if you’re a German speaker and select the German option on the TVM, you’ll be routed through to someone who can speak German,” explains Moirano. “You’d usually expect to find this technology in a contact centre, but it has never been used like this before.”

Most importantly, the technology has been well-received by South West Trains’ customers.

“We’re able to help passengers in real time – which we’ve received really positive feedback on,” said Arthur Pretorius, customer service director for South West Trains. “Since June, we’ve helped around 13,000 passengers using the Video Ticket Machines and the opening of a new dedicated contact centre at Basingstoke will only improve the service we provide. Passengers love the fact they don’t have to wait around for an answer and risk missing a train or later connection.”

 

PARKEON’S ROADMAP

Parkeon has been assisting the Department for Transport and a range of organisations to develop a roadmap for TVM service levels and functionality. This has resulted in the DfT’s 10-point plan, which is shaping TVM design for the industry and addresses the TVM ‘Code of Practice’ written by the Office of Rail and Road. Key requirements of this include:

  • Reduce the number of tickets and routes that cover the same journey through simplified retail screens;
  • Provide clear ticket validity information where screen area permits;
  • Show Peak & Off-Peak configurations with usage information;
  • Show ATOC’s “What Can I Do with My Ticket?” feed via journey planning information;
  • Future-proof TVM design for the benefit of future franchises;
  • Make operator and interoperability clearer using larger TVM screens;
  • Inform customers about cheaper ticket options by showing all valid journey tickets;
  • Display all relevant information on larger screens to remove need for TVM labelling;
  • Make NRE’s station picker feed available to users via TVMs; and
  • Provide additional data feeds (e.g. Live Train Running Data) on larger TVM displays.

 
This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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