Wednesday, 4 May 2011

You Gotta (Bacon) Roll With It! Creating Public Transport Desire....

Excuse the (nearly) Oasis lyrics - I was looking for a title for my new ramble - why the humble bacon roll means so much more to rail commuters.
Well, Chiltern commuters, to be more specific.
My Facebook friends and Twitter followers know only too well when I'm on the Chiltern train to London. I've no doubt there is a collective sigh at my impending excitement of the appearance of the refreshment trolley, somewhere south of Solihull, which appears on my little bit of cyber-space. Indeed it has become a little bit of fun with the innovative peeps of Chiltern Railway's Twitter team - who have foisted upon me the title of "Bacon Roll Ambassador"! I even got to meet 2 of them recently at Marylebone - a great experience!
Why am I jabbering on about the humble Chiltern bacon roll? (Actually, it's a ciabatta, to be precise....)
Because it's an incredibly simple but deadly effective example of an organisation winning - and keeping - my loyalty.
Some sectors are well-versed in this. Supermarkets are forever trying new ways to keep us coming through their doors. Public transport is, however, in the main, somewhat different.
If I didn't like Asda, for whatever minuscule reason, I could easily go to Tesco. Or Sainsburys. Or any other number of outlets. They have to try hard to keep my loyalty. Creating that desire to "revisit" with public transport is somewhat different.
And yet public transport so desperately collectively needs to do this. It needs to say to people "come back - use us again and again. And feel satisfied doing this". Not "come onto what we offer or lump it", which all too often is still the case.
Wasn't this Thatcher & Ridley's dream in the 80s when they cooked up de-regulated bus services? Did it turn out that way? Not really.
Choice is often a good thing. But in the world of buses in particular it often hasn't turned out this way. One of my previous blog posts about the infamous "5 minutes in front of the other bus" gives "choice" as an example I guess, but do the public really decide to show loyalty to the 2nd bus company which is 5 minutes down the road? Not unless they've got an operator-specific ticket. And then, when the service is only, say, every half-hour, they'll probably resent the bus industry in general for making them stand in the cold and let a bus that's going their way pass by in order to use the next one because their ticket is only valid on the second one. Hardly an industry "creating desire", in that type of example.
But sometimes the reverse is true. No competition creates slackness. It says "come on my bus, because it's your only choice if you don't drive".
That's a pretty downbeat analysis, I know, and I can give you plenty of examples of superb public transport that really is setting the benchmark. Indeed, bus livery designer Ray Stenning really has "created desire" as his Best Impressions design company uses as its strapline. It makes public transport look good from the outside, which is half the battle to start with.
So what does this all have to do with a bacon roll?
It's all part of a jigsaw that subconsciously lures my loyalty to a product - in this case that of a train company.
Where I live in the Black Country gives me something of a rarity in public transport terms - a genuine choice when I need to travel to London regularly for meetings.
I can choose the relatively fast option of Virgin, the slower but cheaper London Midland, the possibly more convenient Chiltern or the even cheaper but less frequent National Express coach service.
So why do I more often than not end up on a Chiltern train down to the smoke?
It's really not just the lure of the bacon rasher all dressed up in its Italian covering.
But it's the combination of a little bit of good customer service, convenience, price and that je ne sais quoi.....
Yes, I do use the other options from time to time - Chiltern don't get it their own way all of the time. But I consider journey time, do I have to change, (public transport users don't like to change!), price and, ultimately, how do I feel about my journey experience, given that I make it fairly regularly.
Add all of these up and I tend to travel with Chiltern.
But add on the now semi-legendary tweetings about the bacon, and it creates a feel-good bookmark inside my sub-conscious - here's a product I'm happy with: I'll use it again.
For all it's foibles, the rail industry doesn't do too badly. Passenger Focus research ranks the majority of people reasonably content with what they get. The bus industry also - maybe surprisingly to some - gets decent marks.
But as I travel around, I see the very best of what public transport has to offer and wonder just why it really can't be all like that.
Simplistic I know, and I'm sure many within the respective industries could wax lyrical as to why their company isn't up there with the best on offer.
The best simply have a "can do" attitude" and have stakeholders and partnerships that don't always need formal agreements to achieve that special gold dust.
If only we could have some more of that special gold dust.
And more bacon ciabattas.


  1. Very interesting read, Phil. Couldn't agree with you more!

  2. I must admit I read the blog because the mention of the Bacon Roll appeared which I know Phil is now well known on that subject. I have seen the twitterings between Phil and Chiltern and I totally agree that "customer service" is still the most important thing whether its public transport or other offerings. A good business (or business person) knows that if they supply what the customer wants or listens to what the customer is asking for and they deliver where possible then a return customer is likely. Thats why many of our independent corner shops still survive by delivering whats required within a reasonable price range and having that friendly really personal service that everyone likes. It may be the humble bacon roll (dressed up) but its what Phil likes, its what Chiltern Rail deliver and to me that makes one feel special.