Kolumbus with unique passenger insight despite Covid-19 restrictions

Kolumbus is the only Norwegian public transport company to have beacons installed on all their vehicles. With more than 20,000 unique users sharing feedback on more than 20 million travels each year, Kolumbus has a finger on the pulse despite infection control considerations.

- Customer surveys always have and always will be important. And when Covid-19 hit it became imperative to find out what our customers experience and believe, in order to provide proper and reassuring follow-up of infection control, amongst other things, on all departures, says Espen Schiager, Research Manager at Kolumbus. 


A customer survey program is now integrated into Kolumbus’ real-time travel app. It automatically triggers surveys to consenting customers when they are on board a vehicle, and the customer conveniently answers via their smartphone. This enables Kolumbus to continue surveys even when others have had to subside due to infection control. 


- We started with automated customer surveys in March and discovered that we got more accurate results when customers were not affected by a person conducting the interview. In addition, it started making more sense to conduct surveys in areas where it previously had been challenging to send research personnel, like rural areas with fewer routes, less passengers or on late night departures, Schiager reveals. 


The digital solution also made it possible to listen to customers and discover changes in personal travel patterns due to the pandemic.

Infection control obstructs traditional customer satisfaction surveys 


Public transport companies rely on customer surveys to form the basis for future decisions. This might include rewarding operators on excellent customer service results, elevating specific criteria such as cleanliness, driving capabilities, precision and so on. But also, mapping travel behaviour which can impact planning, as well as reasons for routes being altered or stops being moved. Previously, surveys were conducted with personal interviews, and travel habits were mapped based on the travellers' recollection at the time.  


Kolumbus has installed beacons on all busses, trains and boats in their service area, and is the first Nordic transport company with this specific type of complete coverage. The beacons notify Kolumbus’ travel app that a customer is on board and automatically triggers a customer survey via the same app.  


- The Pinch technology offers a cost-effective solution that provides the opportunity to get answers without rescheduling or putting personnel or passengers at risk. Another major benefit is that passengers can provide a timely, more neutral assessment of their experience, which arguably is more valuable, Prøitz says.  


The use of location services in the app with sensors also adds important contextual information such as temperature, delays or information about the number of people and capacity of each vehicle - factors that can affect the customers’ experience on board. 

Feedback opportunity on low-traffic routes 


Automating user surveys in the real-time travel app has given Kolumbus a whole new flexibility and the aptness to set up new surveys quickly and easily in its service area, at any time. 


- Without factual data one can easily argue that a certain route should be closed if frequency and number of passengers are low, however those routes might be imperative to those who live in the area. Conducting customer surveys on such routes has historically been complex and challenging due to for example personnel coordination and time restrictions. These automated surveys are not bound by geography or distance, and they provide more opportunities for adjustments and quantity. A personal interviewer can only interview one person at a time, Prøitz says. 


Current surveys are easier than ever 


Major or minor events in society and the world can quickly affect our travel patterns and needs, something Covid-19 certainly is proof of. It is essential for public transport companies to be at the forefront of challenges in their day-to-day business and administering thematic surveys can uncover what type of needs that arise when society around us changes.  


- Ad hoc surveys or thematic surveys previously required a lot of resources and time. It had to be planned and designed, interviewers had to be brought in to carry out the surveys, and it took time to gather input. In the current automated system Kolumbus uses, this process will be cut down to hours or even minutes. Surveys can now be activated and triggered automatically to passengers straight after it has been decided and can easily be altered after the fact if needed, Prøitz concludes. 

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