Customer understanding and innovative transport services — Case: City of Salo

February 17, 2021
Kim Salmela
FutureGO

We sparred with a team of traffic and IT experts from the City of Salo as part of the Keino project, led by Business Finland, seeking innovative procurement models and additional digital expertise for such models. Following the initials parring, we were commissioned by Salo to continue work on improving customerunderstanding.

The transport service development need was initially ‘technical’ in nature. Salo’s team stated that all transport service data would remain with the City and could be made open or available to all parties acting as transport operators, booking handlers, or in other transport service management or reporting roles.The idea was to continue tendering for operators and booking centers as before,while ensuring that interfaces were as open as possible and Salo remained the data owner.

During ashort sparring session, we highlighted our view that the overall transport service delivery model (not just technology and data) could be viewed in a more customer-oriented and innovative way, to better serve residents in Salo’s geographically extensive area. In addition, more efficient use could be made oflocal service providers, customers could be offered more channels for booking transport, and various forms of public-service transport could be used.

 

From a ‘standard public-service transport model’ towards flexible, customer-oriented services

The public-service transport model was the very traditional one used by many municipalities, which is often separate from social and health services and, forexample, school transport. The model was based on certain shift times and pre-bookings made by telephone on the previous day.

We highlighted the Act on Transport Services and the opportunities it creates in terms of the journey chains and interfaces already required of various actors.We also looked into ways of improving the customer experience and wellbeing,and to expand the procurement perspective on the basis of procurement technology and IT. Various thoughts and ideas were validated during a joint webinar. The webinar was attended by representatives of other cities and transport service providers.

Salo had already mapped out some customer needs, but only from the perspective of the previous service, and mainly regarding current users. There was a clear need to increase customer understanding, so we completed a customer survey for the City of Salo as a follow-up to the sparring. One of the challenges was contacting both junior and senior transport users quickly and electronically, since the coronavirus made physical interviews impossible. As a result, we designed effective measures alongside the City of Salo's communications, school and project team to maximize the survey’s reach. We also introduced a simple telephone solution based on interfaces to increase the response rate of seniorsin particular.

The target groups’ habits, wishes, needs and barriers to using mobility services were clarified with a survey and customer interviews. Account was taken of matters such a payment methods in addition to the physical customer experience. For example, juniors have limited access to electronic payment methods, while not all seniors have a smartphone or bank credentials.

Individual customer surveys were tailored for seniors and juniors in order to maximize the effectiveness of target group interviews and ensure reach. The parents of juniors were approached to increase customer understanding in terms of public transport use both by parents and youngsters.

Quantitative and qualitative data was analyzed and the resulting customer understanding was written up in an extensive report, taking account of age distributions,geographical locations, and differences identified between the target groups.The qualitative data provided a new perspective on the improvement of transport services.

To enhance customer understanding and further service development, we created customer personas accompanied by descriptions of their use of mobility services. These can serve as a basis for further development and procurements, as well as building an ecosystem.

 

Towards innovative regional transport planning and IT solutions on the basis of customer understanding

 

The results enabled good customer understanding for the development of transport solutions.They also highlighted the challenges associated with the use of public transport services. Such challenges varied by region, but certain similarities were also identified. Primary needs for improvement included the provision of information, the service experience while waiting for transport, procurement of journeys, and actual travel. In this respect, many differences were identified in terms of wishes and needs between user groups and locales. There were also surprises.

Service chains were identified as key innovation opportunities. Both private and public services must be considered in relation to public transport services. The right planning can lead to well-functioning value chains based on improved service availability. Customer understanding provided a clear picture of the kinds of solutions required, in and around Salo, to make service chains more functional and add more value for city residents. Tried and trusted mobility services alsoprovide cities with a competitive edge among customers.

Other significant findings included differences in the emphases given to different challenges and aspirations across the geographically large city. For example,smoother transport services as a factor in increased wellbeing, as experiencedby the target groups, varied between areas and target groups — sometimes insurprising ways.

The quantitative and qualitative customer understanding obtained from the surveys will help the City of Salo to produce better-targeted, more cost-effective public transport services that best support the needs and wishes of customers —more innovatively. Upon the presentation of the project’s final report, Project Manager Peter Nisula of the City of Salo stated:

“The improvement of service-chain efficiency, through better coordination of mobility services with activities and events, is a key area of development. The related service chains and new transport services will be developed together with service providers and users during the autumn.”

See the results of the traffic survey for further information.

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