Warning to transit authorities: Ignore social media at your peril

Accenture offers seven steps to savviness

By Philippe Guittat

With consumers growing more complex and demanding than ever, brands and services no longer just need to sell something of quality. They must also create trust-based relationships with their customers and open the lines of communications to initiate a dialogue.

In short, consumers want to communicate with those who sell them products and services. Despite this growing trend mass transit agencies for the most part still fail to grasp the importance of implementing social media.

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are simply far more than communication channels to transit users. They in fact serve as powerful catalysts for changing the ways customers, transit employees and associates use technology to interact with the world around them. With so many organizations failing to catch up, only a very few — if any — take full advantage of the technology.

The social media trend has swept around the world with breathtaking speed and astonishing impact and public transit agencies must begin to implement social platforms as part of their communications.
Accenture predicts that leading organizations will soon start applying social platforms and social design mechanics to manage interactions across all communication channels to consumers, fostering greater intimacy with their customers, more efficiently, and with better outcomes.

Organizations that have successfully grasped the potential of social media can serve as case studies for those looking to embark on a new program. Toyota Friend is a network that connects owners with their cars, their local dealership, and with Toyota itself. It allows the car to send an alert for required service, just like a tweet. For users, the new features make their interactions with others richer and easier. For businesses they further solidify the value of social platforms as ways in which businesses must interact with their communities of interest, whether those communities are customers or employees.

While Toyota understands the benefits of social media, public transportation has not traditionally embraced it particularly well. It is only now that some are beginning to see how they too can gain from increased communication with their customer base. Transit agencies have started to engage with passengers when there are disruptions to services, in which advisers connect with customers online to help clarify a situation and solve problems.

There are certainly barriers to social media that put off many public transportation companies. Confidentiality is a big issue, and many agencies are hesitant to part with old ways and share information online.

Then there is the issue of frequency of engagement. Often organizations do not believe they have the time to respond to every post or comment from users. Nonetheless, more companies need to attempt to break down these barriers. Many industries have already broken through by taking small steps in the right direction. As they continue forward they will begin to see the pros clearly far outweigh the cons they perceive.

Some operators are struggling to get to grips with analytics, meaning they cannot make predictions on or know who their customers are; they have no view of the consumers of the future or how they should interact with them.

Social media gives these the chance to overcome some of the old channels but the opportunity to reach out directly to old customers and adopt new ones.

Social media must be seen as much more than a new “bolt on” channel; it has to be viewed as a catalyst for revisiting everything that touches a mass transit company’s customers and, increasingly, other communities of stakeholders. The challenge for IT managers will then be to revisit business processes and the systems that implement them. They will need to look across channels to define interactions. They must look at new forms of data generated by those interactions and evaluate the potential insights they can get from them.

It’s also becoming possible to apply useful metrics for greater impact, a key factor in making social media much more relevant to businesses in this sector. Metrics are building blocks that will enable businesses to monetize their use of social media. The monetization of social platforms is embryonic, notable for its isolated examples such as Walmart experimenting today with the “Shopycat” app from “@WalmartLabs.” There is a great deal of speculation about the true size of the commerce possibilities, but Accenture expects an increasing percentage of consumer spending to go through sites such as Facebook, meaning that mass transit companies can only ignore it at their peril.

For those that do decide to grasp social media the first 100 days of adoption will be key for mass transit organizations. In our newly-published Technology Vision 2012, Accenture outlines the key steps they will need to take:
Become an active user. Get acquainted with several different social media sites to properly understand the customer experience.

Start preparing for the social listening process. Begin to figure out what conversations consumers are already having about the company and where those conversations are taking place.

Look for best practices in social media in other industries. These “early adopters” can help new entrants understand what is possible.

Place IT at the center of conversations. Talk up social media within the organization.

Appoint a tech-savvy social media champion. This person can easily demonstrate mastery of the new interaction models.

Draft a survey of how business functions with social media. Learn from those within the organization already using social and how observe how their use compares with best practice across industries.

Begin discussions about which units are interacting by social media. Work across business units rather than just with marketing.

Some organizations have already moved through this process of exploring and experimenting with social strategies and understand the transformations they require. Canadian telecommunications company TELUS is using Twitter as a better and more immediate path to resolve consumer problems. Instead of phoning a call center and waiting for a human with whom to interact, consumers leave a tweet. In effect, the company is using social media as a new entry point into existing business processes. Early results show that customers who are using the Twitter channel are getting much faster resolution of their concerns and are much more satisfied with the telco’s responsiveness. Its customer satisfaction ratings via Twitter are approximately 85 percent, compared with about 70 percent for its conventional contact center.

Social media can also build levels of trust, and this is what sells products and services, as the TELUS example proves. No business is going to be able to exclude these innovative and disruptive channels. Those that dismiss its rising influence as a fad will be doing their organizations a disservice. It’s clear from aforementioned examples that many other industries are upping their game in terms of social media, and it’s now public transportation’s turn to do the same.  BR

Philippe Guittat is global managing director of Accenture’s Infrastructure and Transportation groups.