2020 turned the transport sector around the world on its head. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi has enforced restrictions on public transport in order to limit transmission of the virus and to ensure public safety. As a result, the public transport sector has been severely impacted. The decisions people have had to make regarding their transportation requirements changed drastically overnight, impacting commutes all over the world.
Kristine Pitts, Director of Serco’s ExperienceLab Middle East, said: “Now more than ever, people are worried and anxious about being in crowded areas and the impact on public transport has been phenomenal. Whilst we still have a long way to go, the situation has made us look more closely at certain aspects of transportation, to see where improvements can be made during this time.”
Back in March 2020, the Kingdom implemented a number of precautionary measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 following the announcement of the first case. The measures included the suspension of visit visas for travellers from countries affected by the virus, the cancellation of Hajj and Umrah, and the suspension of all inbound and outbound commercial flights, resulting in a financial loss of around 22.5M SAR in three months for the transportation sector only.
Rena Baba, UX Consultant, Serco’s ExperienceLab Middle East, added “When thinking about the future of transport in Saudi, policy makers and the government need to work hand-in-hand with the private sector to make passengers feel safe. There needs to be transparency of measures that are being implemented and clear communications at every stage, so that people are informed about what is happening and also reassured in these uncertain times. For example, this can be implemented by ensuring websites and social platforms are updated regularly with accurate information around Covid-19 prevention measures, having clear signage on protocols and social distancing parameters on transport carriers and lastly providing regular station / airport announcements.”
Some of the key considerations include:
- Having increased frequency of sanitisation across public transport re-assures the public about their safety while using these services. This can range from taxi fleets to specific areas such as seats, cabins on a bus, trains, and wider areas like the platforms that passengers wait on at the station. Providers need to be careful with how transparent they are with information about for example sanitisation programmes – if a passenger believes that for example a taxi is sanitised between each passenger and is then informed of the sanitisation only being once per day, this mismatch between expectation and reality is likely to reduce trust in the provider. Understanding expectations and carefully shaping messaging around this knowledge is key to maintaining trust.
- Complementary to this service is providing free sanitisers which contributes to the overall perception of safety. Passengers feel more reassured when they can sanitise their own hands and spaces. They like to take ownership of their own safety as opposed to trusting another person or entity to do the sanitisation and safety measures that are needed. Saudia, the official carrier of the Kingdom, has been quick to introduce various safety measures including complimentary hygiene kits for every passenger upon check in and on flights, providing all aircrafts with HEPA filters to clear the air, disinfect before and after each flight, and much more.
- Having access to information around safety measures and constant communication about changes being made is another way to reassure the public and help make them feel safe. The lack of a unified communication platform generates a lot of uncertainty that leaves customers confused about regulations and current safety measures. To reiterate, it is important to have an updated website and social platforms which clearly outline Covid-19 prevention measures. Also providing pre-travel information through alerts via email or text messages which links back to your website, can be of assistance.
- This also extends to the aviation sector, for which the main challenges for respondents were around the planning stages of their travel journey, which were described as “stressful” and “confusing”. To attract more travellers and offer a seamless journey, this means that the necessary information must be communicated at the right time through the right channel. A potential solution can be to look at an existing communication channel, such as an easy to access mobile application, to get real time customer feedback, and unify the information across all platforms (airline, airport, government entities etc.). This ensures a stress-free journey for travellers.
- Lastly, take a look at how you can re-design the physical environment as part of a long term strategy, instead of just meeting short term requirements. This includes designing queueing systems that make it easier for passengers to abide by physical distancing measures, all the way to prototyping and testing new signage. This will help passengers to self-enforce physical distancing and mask-wearing measures.
In a bid to win back the public’s trust, transport providers in Saudi need to ensure that the customer experience being provided to passengers is the best in class. Striking the right balance of information is also crucial, because too much information can overwhelm passengers and too little can lead to them being underprepared.
With the Kingdom welcoming many travellers and tourists soon in to the country, and with the introduction of big projects that will attract more workforce such as “The Line” by NEOM, the transportation sector needs to pay close attention and adapt to the requirements of the passenger. Tapping into customer specific research and collaborating with the right experts, can help organisations and governments truly understand the needs of their passengers.