How are you responding to the customer satisfaction challenge in the transport sector?

Tom Cummins

By Tom Cummins


UK's 2023 Customer Satisfaction Index reveals the lowest scores since 2015, dropping to 76.6. The transport sector faced a steeper decline, plummeting 3.9 points to 71.9 in just a year.

Since 2022, the transport sector has seen amongst the biggest customer satisfaction rating falls with rail at 4.3 points and airlines at 4.6 points. In response to falling satisfaction, many organisations are seeking new ways to respond. Some have implemented a range of tactical operational responses, but in many cases, this hasn’t delivered the long-term sustainable improvements required. It’s critical such investments deliver long-term results and truly transform the experience rather than provide quick fixes which don’t deliver sustainable value. So how can transport organisations respond effectively and sustain real improvements to customer experiences?

From our work across the transport industry, we’ve found there are three focus areas to help ensure sustained improvements combining customer insight, experience, and operating model design to build truly customer-led organisations.

1. Refresh understanding of customers priorities, needs, and desired outcomes

Identify customer types and priorities, their characteristics, needs, and crucially, the outcomes they desire. Whilst most organisations will have a segmentation of key customer groups, many have not updated these in recent years. Innovative organisations are also considering the outcomes which customers are seeking to achieve rather than simply more traditional groupings such as demographics. But we’re also seeing changes to key segments themselves. In the latest Department for Transport user personas summary pack published in July 2023, there is a recognition that the customer landscape in the transport sector is evolving. For example, there has been growth in the ‘Less Mobile, Car Reliant’ group. Demand for support of these users as they travel has grown since the start of the decade and organisations have needed to respond appropriately.

Like many transport organisations, one aviation organisation we are working with has seen significant growth in passengers using their assistance services in the last two years. Rather than focusing on short-term operational fixes, we worked with them to really understand the customer demand and the evolving needs of the customer. By looking at each stage in the journey, including pre-travel, it opens the door to delivering a more satisfying experience for the customer and fixing the cause of the issue rather than trying to address the impact. For instance, providing the customer with the right information and tools in line with their needs up front helped avoid support through the journey and in so doing delivered an improved experience.

2. Meet customer requirements through a renewed understanding of the end-to-end experience

Refresh your understanding of the end-to-end experience and develop customer value propositions to meet the requirements of your customer groups. Changes should be based on the latest insight into how customer needs have developed and the outcomes which they are seeking. In the example of our work with a leading aviation organisation, we brought a fresh perspective on how various levels of the offer align to the needs of different customers. Having clear propositions for different customer groups were then key to meeting these needs. Our approach focuses on developing these with key stakeholders from across the organisation, capturing how value is delivered through the customer journey to develop a joined-up view of the end-to-end experience and the propositions offered to key customers. For many organisations, the scope shouldn’t be limited to only within the organisation but instead there is real benefit in thinking about creating an end-to-end experience which considers the wider system. In the aviation case, we considered the key linkages with different modes and providers at the front end and interactions with partners throughout. We take an approach which overlays customer personas to bring it to life, these are characters created to represent specific customer types. This helps ensure consideration of both the ‘front stage’ customer interactions at each stage in the journey across customer types whilst at the same time considering the ‘back stage’ business implications for the delivery.

3. Establish a customer-led operating model that is aligned and fit for purpose

The last area of focus which is often overlooked but is critical to sustainable improvement is how you deliver the customer experience in a joined-up way. This should consider the implications for the operating model and organisational capability required to deliver on your customer strategy and target experience. This will include 3 key areas. Firstly, which resources including the people and skills, data, technology, infrastructure and facilities required to deliver on the desired experience. Secondly how to organise across process, structure, location, culture, leadership and governance to ensure you are clear on how the customer analysis and experience are going to be delivered upon, so you are set up for success. And finally, what to source with consideration of the mix of in-house, partners and collaborators to deliver to best effect. This often requires a renewed consideration of how different partners can truly collaborate to deliver results for the customer.

Considering these three key aspects of your customer centric operating model helps bring clarity to the organisation required to deliver the change. It also helps ensure you are effectively organised to consistently deliver the desired customer experience. Our work with the aviation client discussed in this short piece led to targeted improvements across the ‘front stage’ customer journey with a focus on preparing the customer for travel to improve their overall satisfaction and allow much greater self-mobilisation to allow a more independent journey. This focus set out a set of clear ‘backstage’ initiatives to ensure the organisation was truly set up to deliver. This not only set out to improve passenger experience but focused on operational efficiency. Clarity on the business outcomes that the changes seek to deliver and how this will be measured is critical. Whilst customer satisfaction is a key measure, we encourage measuring a range of other customer and operational metrics across the journey to support the delivery of a compelling customer driven future.

Are you ready to respond to the customer satisfaction challenge?


UKCSI: UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), Institute of Customer Service

Department for Transport: Transport user personas published in July 2023

About the authors

Tom Cummins
Tom Cummins PA transport expert

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