March 19, 2014, 4:57 PM

Why one railroad exec says companies need to get on the mobile train

At Voyages-SNCF, many younger travelers’ first interaction with the company is via a mobile device. A speaker at eTail Deutschland says that means all teams in his company should pay attention to mobile.

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If you want to stay on his good side, don’t mention the prospect of mobile commerce cannibalizing other channels of French rail business Voyages-SCNF to Pascal Lannoo, director of mobile business, France for the company.

“I’ve heard a word recently I find shocking: cannibalization,” Lannoo said yesterday in a presentation to attendees at eTail Deutschland in Berlin. “This word has got to disappear. We need to be where our customers are.”

And that, Lannoo says, is in the mobile realm, and it’s not just for buying and booking. The company offers via its app mobile tickets, doing away with the need for any paper when boarding and a trip planner—both of which can be accessed via the app without needing an Internet connection.

“For our young customers, oftentimes their first experience with us is a mobile experience,” Lannoo said. “We receive customers who only have mobile as their point of access to the Internet.”

Voyages also personalizes its app for each user, for example, by offering special rates to destinations the consumer has bought tickets for in the past or offering discounts on rail tickets to the cities where most of a customer’s Facebook friends live.

“We’ve done everything possible to tailor the app to the needs to the user,” Lannoo said.  “The more you use our app, the better it gets.”

Lannoo also says he has changed his mindset on how mobile teams should operate. When Voyages needed to quickly introduce mobile options, he says he fought for a separate development team and other mobile-only teams. But now that Voyages is tweaking and improving, he wants teams across the company to work together.

“For the last three years I fought hard battles to have core mobile teams working in silos,” Lannoo said. “Now I want to break down the barriers. Now I believe the mobile team should have a mandate to work across the entire company and with other teams and be 100% dedicated to customers.”

About 20 staffers now work on mobile at Lannoo’s company, including developers, project managers and architects, he says. And the company does all its own mobile development.

More mobile features are in the works. Voyages is working with a French mobile technology company to send push notifications to its app users and is developing a customer identification option that will enable Voyages to know every channel the consumer uses to access it, including via smartphone, desktop and tablet.

It’s also soliciting positive feedback for its app in an effort to give it higher ratings in Apple’s App store, Lannoo said. Over time, he says Voyages has learned when it is more likely to get  a good rating from a happy customer.

“It is wise to ask for feedback after a customer has used or purchased a ticket,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to ask:  ‘Are you happy with what we offered?’” 

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