Chiltern – a tweeting modern railway

Three cheers for Chiltern Railways, for working out that they need to harness social networking and new ways of communicating – as well as traditional ways of networking – in order to stay in touch with their customers.

At a business networking meeting in Wycombe, I met Chad Collins, general manager (south) at the railway company, which runs trains out of Marylebone to Banbury and Birmingham. Perhaps because they are owned by German Railways, rather than a British operator, Chiltern seems to understand that it needs to serve and talk with its community, as a way to create happier customers and grow its business long term.

Chad mentioned that, as part of its franchise commitment, Chiltern Railways is duty bound to hold a regular series of “meet the manager” sessions at stations along the line. But there’s an obvious flaw with this; close to half of people arriving at a station are rushing to catch a train, and have no interest in missing it, in order to gripe about overflowing litter bins or poorly lit carparks.

Instead, some bright spark at Chiltern came up with “tweet the manager” – and apparently, this session brought substantially more interaction with customers than standing on a windy platform for three hours.
The only challenge, said Chad, was answering questions in 140 characters or less.

Chiltern’s approach is in distinct contrast to First Great Western, who still haven’t bothered to get in touch – see Nov 11 entry below.

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