Thursday, 19 September 2013

What is "Passenger Experience"?

Passenger experience has become a hot topic in public transport especially for airports.  Major airports are putting it at the centre of their thinking - for example, the mission statement for Heathrow Airport is making every journey better.  But what does it actually mean?

Is it more than the latest bandwagon for every vendor of products and services to jump onto claiming that their product will guarantee to improve the passenger experience?

In an increasingly competitive transport environment, operators and providers are clearly seeing it as a way to improve their offer and attract more passengers and increase revenue.

The revolution in social media means that customer feedback on that “experience” is loud and public.  The reputation of the service provide or operator is quickly formed and changed on the basis of how it delivers the experience.  So they are right to take it seriously.

This should mean that it is more than a gimmick or a trend but something that is at the heart of the design of environments, products, staff roles, etc - all the touchpoints with the service.  Passenger experience should be the thing that unites the various elements of the airport or station.  We think it is an area where design research and design thinking need to be at the centre of the approach to getting it right.

There are a number factors here...
1. Understand the passenger as a person  
This is more than market research of “what do they want”.  This is about understanding behaviours now and predicting needs into the future.   This is often done using broad groups of user types with the assumption that there is commonality - there is no such thing that as the “business traveller” for example.  Our needs as passengers are complex, dynamic and individual.  It’s also never the same as how the designer sees the world.

2. What is an experience?
Is it about services and things we can do at the airport?  Or is it actually about how we feel…feelings about stress, security,…attitudes, beliefs, perceptions…how do the things we interact with make us feel?  How does the total interaction make us feel rather than just the elements?

3. Join it up
It’s about the door-to-door journey and therefore it needs to be joined up.  The passenger won’t remember the great check-in experience if security was awful.  It's about getting the whole journey right and making sure the different services work together.  That’s why the gimmicks and the isolated bits of “passenger experience” technology don’t work.

4.  High performing passengers
Delivering a great experience often demands that passengers honour their side of the bargin and do things like have their ticket ready or get their bags ready for inspection.  But we have to help them to know this in a way they will receive and understand.  We also have to make sure that the desired behaviours don’t go against what people would naturally do.  Otherwise we face an uphill battle.

5. It’s about more than shopping. 
Retail is great and lots of us love shopping (and of course it's handy for revenue).  But it is clearly only one part of the experience we have of a transport system and it is the wider system we remember.

6. Get the basics right.
Without providing the basic services, the high value or memorable services will be forgotten.  The temptation is to go for some high profile interventions or add some great new technology.  But if the toilets are dirty, the staff unhelpful or absent, the ticket machine out of order, none of the flashy stuff will make any difference.

7. Put the passenger needs first…
…and sacrifice some of your needs.  A great example is how free wi-fi is currently delivered.  If it’s free, as a user, why do I have to register and log-on each time?  This is providing an irritating step in the process purely for the benefit of the service provider (presumably marketing information).  Why can’t it just connect?  So challenge how the operation works, but doesn’t help the passenger.  From the passenger’s point of view, these operational factors are usually invisible or not understood so will do nothing but annoy - their perception is what counts

8. Make the experience feel human.  
The world is complex, crowded and fast paced.  The memorable experiences are often in the personal touches and the small things, the details.  Someone going out of their way to help (rather than confirming to a company policy) or just being useful, for example.  Technology and shopping have their place but get the human stuff right first.

So what does "passenger experience" mean to you?

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Friday, 13 September 2013

Share your poor wayfinding experiences with us

When spaces like airports are well laid out and we are helped at every turn by things like useful and informative signage we hardly notice it.  When we are let down, for example, the signs suddenly stop mentioning where we want to go at a critical decision point, we feel annoyed, stressed, etc.

Our work as designers obviously aims to provide the best experience possible and we want to eradicate wayfinding woes.  But we’re always interested in those poor experiences to see what we can learn and how we can use those lessons to convince others of the need to get it right.

So if you have had a memorably poor wayfinding experience on any given journey, we’d like to hear from you.  Please comment on this blog to add your thoughts and experiences.

Whether you’ve been visiting a hospital, your journey to work, finding your way around a commercial building or outdoor space, shopping centre or anywhere, please let us know your experience in as much detail as you like.

To get us started, one of our principal consultants found himself in an embarrassing situation recently due to the rather overly “designed” symbols on the toilet doors of a London pub!


Friday, 6 September 2013

Keeping the trust of the user

There was an article this week on the BBC Magazine webpage about whether or not pressing the button at pedestrian crossings actually does anything.  Interestingly the answers was "not always".  It seems there are a number of types of crossing, especially at junctions, where the green man  is just part of the natural cycle of the lights and the timings are not impacted by pressing the button.

There are a few interesting behavioural questions raised by this. Is there value in us at least feeling like we are having influence by pressing the button?  Arguably, it gives us a sense of having some control.

However this is quickly undermined once we start to feel like there is no genuine impact.  We start to not trust the device and, in this case, maybe incidences of "jaywalking" increase with the inherent safety issues.

The implication is that the importance of trust should be carefully considered by designers and engineers.  Another example: we've all experienced the VMS signs on motorways telling us to slow down as there is congestion ahead and all too frequently nothing appears and clearly the sign was out of date.

So we stop trusting them and we don't always slow down which could be a problem when the congestion is genuine.

For the pedestrian crossing issue, one direction could be to remove the crossing control from those crossings where they don't have an impact.  The counter-argument is about consistency and the control panel providing the pedestrian with a strong visual clue of a safe place to cross.  Any thoughts?

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