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20 Dec 2018

Time for change

With time our most valued commodity, CEO and founder of Seatfrog, Iain Griffin, explains why saving it for customers is the key to any company’s future.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? To become invisible at the click of your fingers? To fly like a bird? When I was growing up, I would always choose teleportation. Because while in many ways the planet has never been smaller, when it comes to getting around it, we’re still frustratingly hamstrung by the laws of physics.

That’s not to say things aren’t being done to speed up travel as much as possible. London’s Crossrail promises to decrease journey time through the capital with a train every two and a half minutes; the Virgin-backed Hyperloop project claims to be 10-15 times faster than traditional rail travel; I even watched Lilium’s CEO talk about the planned battery-powered flying taxis, which use vertical take-off to make journeys five times faster than travelling by car, are set to be a common sight in urban skies by 2025.

But while these efforts are being made to slash the duration of the actual journey, it feels like everything else around travelling takes longer than ever. According to a landmark Google study, if using a 3G connection, the average load time on a rail company’s mobile website is nine seconds. That’s long enough for 29 per cent of visitors to give up and go elsewhere. Even if you have booked your tickets in advance via an app, you often still have to queue up at a station to collect them from a machine.

“If you’re lucky enough to have a mobile ticket you still have to stop at the barrier and scan it or have it checked before you can actually board the train, while getting on (and off) a plane often seems to take longer than the flight itself – something I find particularly annoying when you’re due at a meeting not long after disembarking”

If you’re lucky enough to have a mobile ticket you still have to stop at the barrier and scan it or have it checked before you can actually board the train, while getting on (and off) a plane often seems to take longer than the flight itself – something I find particularly annoying when you’re due at a meeting not long after disembarking.

In a world where Google can answer any question in seconds, takeaway food can be summoned in a matter of minutes, and almost any song ever recorded is available at the click of a button, instant access and immediate gratification have become the norm. Google has found in the past year there’s been a 300 per cent increase in the use of ‘open now’ rather than ‘opening hours’ as a search term. So why does everything related to travel still take so long?

These new, faster modes of transport will undoubtedly come at a premium, but people have become accustomed to this kind of immediacy and the evidence suggests that if you can save people time, they’re willing to pay for it.

“When Stripe launched in 2011 it cut the time taken for businesses to set up a global payments platform from several months down to a couple of weeks. It’s now worth $9 billion. Netflix hasn’t just revolutionised home entertainment with on-demand video streaming, it frequently adds features that actively save viewers a few valuable seconds.”

When Stripe launched in 2011 it cut the time taken for businesses to set up a global payments platform from several months down to a couple of weeks. It’s now worth $9 billion. Netflix hasn’t just revolutionised home entertainment with on-demand video streaming, it frequently adds features that actively save viewers a few valuable seconds. Follow-up episodes play automatically without the user having to dig through the menus, plus it also gives you the option to skip the opening sequence of a show and get straight to the good stuff. The company is now worth almost as much as the entire Disney group and has only existed for about a fifth of the time.

Amazon has made the concept of saving time central to everything they do, and this is no more evident than in its new 24-hour retail stores, streamlining the shopping experience by removing the checkouts and using a combination of sensors and cameras to work out which products customers have picked up. When they leave the shop, their account is charged automatically without ever having to wait in a queue, which to me feels a bit like legal shoplifting, but it works. I don’t need to tell you how much their business is worth.

It’s undisputed that passengers are willing to pay for time and this represents a billion-pound ancillary opportunity for the rail industry. Passengers want to upgrade on-the-go by mobile, switch trains when they need to, pay to access the lounge on impulse and countless other actions that make the most of their valuable time make their journey less ordinary. So, creating customer experiences that remove friction and adapt to their needs, making sure you’re there when they need you most will lead to significant revenue growth.

At Seatfrog, the clients we work with achieve over three times the revenue growth on ancillaries by taking this approach. So just ask yourself, do you make the most of your passenger’s time? And how would you rate your retailing customer experience against Amazon, Netfl ix and Stripe to sell the right product at exactly the moment when your customers need you the most? If it’s low, then 2019 represents a huge revenue opportunity for you.

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