At the Salesforce annual conference held on 19-21 November in San Francisco, L’Atelier met up with Mathieu Belouar, who presented the digital strategy of French National Railway Company SNCF and outlined the company’s plans for monetizing the advanced services it plans to roll out.

SNCF betting on digital to enhance its services

In October, during SNCF’s presentation of its development plan entitledExcellence 2020,Group President Guillaume Pépy outlined the company’s plans for digital development right across the board. The SNCF Gares et Connexions(Stations and Connections) subsidiary, which works on customer service and satisfaction at the various stations, is playing a key role in the rollout of digital services. During his visit to San Francisco, Mathieu Belouar, Head of Digital Sales and Marketing, explained his vision of bringing all the stations in France into the digital era. SNCF has plans to create a closer relationship with its two billion customers by using an array of technologies ranging from free WiFi access in all stations to the potential offered by location-aware wireless sensor ‘beacons’ linked to smartphones, and has worked out a variety of strategies for monetizing its investments.

Moving to multi-modal

For over a year now a dozen major stations in France have been equipped with QR kiosks that enable daily commuters to report any problems – faulty information displays, overflowing rubbish bins, etc. – by scanning a QR code with their smartphone. This first initiative entitled ‘Garantie des Gares’(Station Guarantee) is part of SNCF’s overall strategy to enhance rail passengers’ customer experience. The stated aim is highly ambitious. Mathieu Belouar explained that the company will have to change its customer software so as to transition from being a purely rail-centered transport company to a multi-modal provider, i.e. switching from a ‘station-to-station’ to a ‘door-to-door’ customer service. Other initiatives are in the pipeline, including an app for tracing lost articles, whereby passengers will be able to share photos categorized by means of a system of tags. A service for facilitating the return of lost items through payment of a charge, coupled with procedures for verifying the owner’s identity might be added. SNCF also envisages creating a single digital platform for apps covering a range of services which complement the basic rail transport – e.g. ordering taxis, carpooling, traffic information, geolocation – and will enable the company to extend its value chain without losing sight of its original raison d’etre.

Direct and indirect monetization strategies

Turning railway stations into multiple connection hubs offers a number of advantages. First of all the QR kiosks can serve as a kind of quality audit, crowdsourcing-style, enabling the company to build up more sophisticated passenger profiles. By re-thinking the range of available customer data, SNCF should be able to improve its Customer Relationship Management, especially by working with Salesforce’s Cloud technology. And there are many other opportunities out there for the company to cash in on its investments. With the free-of-charge WiFi service in place, supplemented by the Beacon and QR Code technology, SNCF will be able to implement a ‘push’ strategy to attract passengers with promotional offers and coupons. Meanwhile, indirectly, the increase in passenger interactions with the retail outlets inside the station as a result of using these apps is likely to boost revenue from annual rental charges. Last but not least, points out Mathieu Belouar, apps developed for SNCF use may have a secondary commercial value, especially at petrol stations and airports. The Gares et Connexions division might then also be able to monetize its knowhow as a publisher of software and apps in its own right.

By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst