While passenger satisfaction has been explored in depth, much less has been done to capture how rail customers implicitly feel about their travel experience, how this impacts their behaviour and, indeed, the reputation and trust of the train operating companies (TOCs).
In recent years, however, research has increasingly focused on gaining a fresh perspective by measuring the non-rational, non-verbal consumer experience of products and services.
In December 2015, independent watchdog Transport Focus partnered with Populus to trial a new survey approach of this nature; one which evaluated and monitored the emotional dimension to rail travel using a passenger-friendly, non-verbal and ‘in the moment’ methodology.
Stage 1: Creating our non-verbal scale
The multi-stage project involved a complimentary mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques designed to create and validate a new non-verbal emotional scale and capture these emotions in the moment via an in-app survey.
Populus set about creating and validating our non-verbal scale by conducting focus groups amongst London commuters to explore the emotions associated with rail travel and develop images with the help of a cartoonist.
Our artist observed and listened to the groups’ discussions, capturing key emotions as the session progressed. In the end we had developed a gallery of images that represented a surprisingly varied spectrum of possible emotions associated with rail travel.
The success and accuracy of the non-verbal scale depended on the emotions’ relevance to rail travel, as well as participants being able to correctly identify the emotion depicted. We therefore validated the images shortlisted from the focus group using an online omnibus conducted amongst a 1,000 representative UK sample.
Stage 2: The ‘in the moment’ survey
Having finalised our non-verbal scale, the next stage of the pilot was to recruit and survey a sample of commuters to capture their emotional experience of rail travel using the emotional icons within an ‘in the moment’ survey.
Eligible participants were required to download a survey app to their smartphone that would ask a short one-minute survey twice per day (am/pm) about the emotional impact of their rail experience on that morning and afternoon.
Results from the survey show that passengers are likely to experience a wide variety of different emotions as they undertake the same journey on a day to day basis
The findings show that these emotions certainly correspond to a range of situations – some in and some out of the control of the TOCs.
For example, when asked to give an unprompted reason for happiness, the most common responses were getting a seat (25%) and punctuality (24%) whilst the two main drivers of anger were overcrowding (41%) and lateness/delays (38%).
Putting the findings to work
The insights gained from the ‘in the moment’ survey helped management to effectively prioritise areas for improvement.
And were used as the basis for workshops on how to deliver better information with TOCs and Network rail. They also provided useful recommendations for how operators can contribute to passengers having a good day by getting them to work on time, delivering accurate information and providing Wi-Fi.
The research clearly demonstrated that capacity and punctuality are vital to improving passenger sentiment and highlighted the need for the industry to win back passengers’ confidence, particularly if performance targets are not met. The initial study provided a benchmark for rail passenger emotions and a repeat study in 6 months’ time has been recommended to track changes to sentiment. The implementation of further surveys has also been recommended whenever there will be a period of disruption or significant change, as a way of monitoring how well communications are delivered to passengers.