Traveline Cymru works a little bit differently from its English counterpart. The business prides itself on customer service and employing people who can make a difference â€“ and now coach and bus operators can benefit from its facility, as Jessamy Chapman finds out.
It’s one of the oldest and most beautiful languages in Europe. It’s the ultimate symbol of a small country’s own treasured identity. And it’s spoken and valued by hundreds of thousands of people across its native land.
That’s why Traveline Cymru is a Welsh-speaking business first, English-speaking second. And it’s partly why the bilingual journey planning service is branching out to offer wider services to coach and bus operators in Wales.
The organisation’s Contact Centre, offering sophisticated customer service, expertise and usability, means it can be very useful to operators, as well as directly to the bus users of Wales, and the fact that it speaks to customers in their own language is one reason that it scores consistently high for customer satisfaction.
More for less
The core of Traveline Cymru’s business is journey-planning. This year it has rebuilt its entire product offering, including its website and app, using a new supplier at a lower cost to the operator. It’s all bilingual â€“ Traveline Cymru’s was one of the first Welsh-language apps in existence when it was introduced in 2010 â€“ and its design is streamlined, functional and entirely user-friendly. It’s also interactive; customers can be updated on disruption during their journey.
â€œThe way it works and how information is displayed is based on what our customers tell us,â€ says Graham Walter, Managing Director. â€œIf the customer hasn’t expressed a wish for something, there’s no need to have it. You’ve got to listen to what they’re saying and in the public transport information industry, we’re not very good at that.
â€œThat’s evident in the fact that we tend to call them ‘passengers’, not ‘customers’.â€
He continues: â€œThey don’t want graphics and photos, they just want to know when the bus will turn up, how long their journey will take and how much it will cost.
â€œWe’ve tried to reflect broadly what the customer wants.â€ It also listens to feedback from local authorities and operators. â€œWe have strong relationships with everyone we work with.â€
Whereas in England, Traveline is staffed by a low number of people and controlled by the local authorities and PTEs, Wales’ service is funded by the Welsh Government and operators.
And, the cost to operators has decreased dramatically for what they get from Traveline. Since Graham started working here in 2008, the cost has decreased by more than half â€“ but more information is put out now than it was then. â€œWe put 3.8m pieces of information out last year, doubled from 2008,â€ he says. â€œOperators are getting a lot more for their money.â€
That’s partly due to the changing media channels, and partly because the Welsh Government is putting in more funding, which keeps part of the cost from operators. â€œThe Welsh Government sees us as very good value for money,â€ says Graham. â€œThey use us as a delivery agent for various projects; they know we can do more with less.â€
Traveline Cymru has big things planned. The â€œpenultimateâ€ part of its journey-planning jigsaw is to publish fares, which so far is going much better than could have been predicted. â€œCustomers told us it was frustrating,â€ says Graham. â€œThey can plan their journey, they can get the timetable, all the information they need â€“ but they don’t know how much it’ll cost. It’s like going around a supermarket without the prices on display.
â€œWe took on the task and we thought bus operators wouldn’t be up for it, because they wouldn’t want the competition to see their fares, but most were fine. It’s in their best interest, after all.â€
The hope is that 80% of all fares in Wales will be live on Traveline Cymru from autumn this year.
The final stage is ticketing: The plan, over the next few years, is to make Traveline Cymru a fully-fledged e-commerce model for bus passengers to buy their tickets before travelling. â€œIt’s to support operators, not to compete against them,â€ says Graham. â€œIf they’ve planned their journey online, and seen how much the fare is, why shouldn’t they be able to buy their tickets there and then?â€
A new role?
Traveline Cymru already supports bus operators and the Welsh Government in various ways, and has more ideas for doing so. Bus service registrations are currently sent twice by the operator: Once to the Traffic Commissioner, and then again to Traveline Cymru. â€œBut there’s no requirement for them to send it to us,â€ says Graham.
â€œWe’ve built excellent relationships with operators, and we ask them that every time they submit a change, to please send it to us. The bigger groups generally do. And we monitor operators’ Twitter feeds, and find out that way. Our agents at the Contact Centre will call operators to ask if they’ve made any changes. But there is a better way.â€
The organisation has been lobbying for some time for the Traffic Commissioner for Wales to be based with it, and to be the agent that deals with bus service registrations, instead of the central licensing office at Leeds.
â€œWe need the same information, and it would mean it only has to be submitted once,â€ says Graham. â€œIt would save money and speed up the process.â€
Staff who take pride
Traveline Cymru has enough resource, particularly in terms of staff, to not only provide its core services â€“ but to market the bus industry, too.
And the image of the industry is in good hands here. Based on the same site as Cardiff Bus, Graham and his staff take pride in their role within the industry, and have a helpful, friendly attitude towards customers. â€œWe’ve got a really great team of people,â€ says Graham. â€œOur staff are bright and very customer-focused.
â€œOne thing I’m particularly proud of is the number of women we employ. In particular Emma Lockett, Manager of the Contact Centre, and Jo Foxall, Marketing Manager, have key roles within the business; both have been here 10 years and developed what we offer, and made the company what it is today.â€
There are 29 people employed in the business, many of whom speak fluent Welsh and English: 10 at the Cardiff site, and 19 at the dedicated Contact Centre in Penrhyndeudraeth, near Portmeiron. The call centre has just celebrated 10 years of operation, handling all calls, Twitter enquiries, text alerts and the website and app, and despite the 150-mile distance, the two sites communicate daily to deliver customer service.
And now the Contact Centre has grown into such a useful resource, it is being offered to others for use.
Coach and bus companies can outsource their contacts, social media, lost property and other customer services to the Contact Centre.
It’s an ideal solution to the problem of how to do social media. Traveline Cymru has the necessary information at its fingertips, and has dedicated months to finding out how best to present it to bus passengers. And it’s no nine-till-five operation â€“ the Contact Centre is open 0700-2000hrs every day, only closing on Christmas Day.
The Contact Centre already has a handful of bus operator clients, plus large train operators. Its USP is the fact that it’s Welsh-speaking first, English-speaking second, and customers’ appreciation of that fact is reflected in its high levels of customer satisfaction.
Whereas bus operators spend their time concentrating on running bus services, Traveline Cymru is free to dedicate as much time as needed to the customer-facing side of a business. â€œWe’re surprised at how many bosses of bus companies do the social media themselves,â€ says Graham. â€œRelatively few operators have specialist marketing. But we’re open 91 hours a week, and no operator can offer that level of customer service.â€