A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Uberizing Your Toll Road in WAYZ That Would Make You Google!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Uberizing Your Toll Road in WAYZ That Would Make You Google!
Whether you like it or not Uber, WAYZ and Google have an impact on toll road operations. Your customers are often their customers and they are likely to deliver their services in a way that incorporates yours. Their customers often use toll roads as part of the route. So what? Are the lessons to be learned and insights to be gained from this thought? How should we adapt in the light of these new privately operated services, as they help to shape the expectations of our toll customers?
I had a thought that it might be interesting to consider a future vision where one or more of these companies actually operate a toll road. Although, in my opinion this is a highly unlikely scenario, it is a useful framework from which to discover lessons and insights. Please also note that when I use the term “toll road operations” in this article, I really mean the total business process of delivering toll road services, including planning, design, project delivery, operations, marketing, back office processing and maintenance.
These companies have one big thing in common in that they all have a highly polished user interface. The interface is designed to make it easy for people to use the services and to get a high quality result with minimum effort. So let’s take a look at this first insight. Perhaps a Google toll road would have a major emphasis on supporting an enhanced user experience. At the risk of irritating those leaders and staff within toll road operations today who are already focused on enhancing the user experience let’s explore how Google would do it. Google,
I expect, would place a heavy emphasis on smart phone Apps that support information services to make it as easy as possible for toll road users to understand costs, times and choices to get from point A to point B. As a private sector enterprise with a laser focus on the consumer, Google would also attempt to ensure that the value proposition is clearly defined and communicated to the user. This would explain why you should use the toll road service and define the values that you would expect to achieve in terms of safety, efficiency and enhanced user experience. Of course the Google business model also revolves around free consumer access to information, within the context of paid advertising.
Therefore, you would also expect that your free information services will come with context specific adverts from sponsors who have paid for the right to deliver additional information to you. For toll roads, oil companies and perhaps even Uber, come to mind as suitable sponsors.
Let’s take a look at another insight. What if Uber was operating the toll road? Then perhaps we would see the advent of surge pricing. This would involve temporary periods of variable tolling with the value of the toll directly related to the demand for use of the facility.
The actual price to be paid for the trip would be established before the trip was made and charged automatically to a pre-registered credit card, at the end of the trip. You would also have the opportunity to “rate your toll road” by pressing on the appropriate number of stars. This might be modified to rate safety, efficiency and enhanced user experience separately. From a back office perspective, Uber would use this and other information collected regarding user behavior, to conduct performance management, identify opportunities to fine tune existing services and identify opportunities for new services
If WAYZ was operating the toll road then perhaps we would see a higher degree of crowdsourcing. This is the voluntary provision of data from a large number of service users, making use of smart phone apps and social media. In addition to the conventional approach of using transponder equipped vehicles as probes, they would also use smart phone apps, used by the passenger or the driver when the vehicle is at rest, of course. These would provide real-time information on what the customer is up to and how they feel about the services provided by the toll road.
An interesting example of the use of social media analysis was a recent study conducted for Universal Studios for the Wolf of Wall Street movie. In advance of the release of the movie, as the marketing campaign was getting into full swing, a context specific search for keywords was conducted on appropriate Twitter feeds. This revealed public sentiment towards the movie using context specific keyword searches on the Twitter feed.
This was continued as the movie moved from pre release to release in movie theaters, then on to Netflix and other distribution services later. Input from the sentiment analysis was used to support decisions regarding the best time to move the movie through the various stages of distribution. It would seem that a similar technique could be adopted to provide continuous monitoring of sentiment for toll road operations. This would be particularly important in times of construction, not just on the toll road but on the surrounding road network that feeds into and out of the toll road. This also raises the question of how would Twitter operate a toll road? Perhaps they would begin by charging in increments of 140 cents?
Of course, all of these companies could also adopt the ultimate in customer service performance measures – a money back guarantee if the service delivered is not what you expected. I recently discovered that FedEx offers a money back guarantee on some services. If your package does not arrive when they said it would, they will refund your money. They have such a high on-time delivery rate and confidence in their ability to manage their service delivery that they can do this. I have also discovered that there are a number of companies that specialize in monitoring package delivery and getting your money back for you..
This led me to think that if you are really confident about how well we would deliver toll road services then perhaps ultimately we will offer a money back guarantee, if you don’t experience a level of service that you expected. I can imagine that those responsible for finances and revenue within a toll road would probably shudder at the thought. So perhaps you would start off by running an internal level of service program. This is not exposed to the customer but is used in house to determine the effects of a money back guarantee. Once sufficient expedience has been gained with the internal program, that it might be possible to roll out a customer program on a pilot basis.
Another incremental approach to this would be to first of all develop a detailed method of measuring and understanding current levels of service. I am reminded of the evolution that took place in the UK. Initially these privately operated services undertook to publish performance parameters and information regarding how well they were doing in regard to achieving these measures. This involved two things the development of performance measures and the publication of actual performance against each measure as a yardstick. Having gained sufficient experience and understanding of these performance measures, one or two organizations took the next step of offering a money back guarantee.
It seems to me that if Google, WAYZ or UBER were operating your toll road then perhaps a money back guarantee would be part of the deal. Perhaps there is another insight here, if you don’t feel comfortable in offering a money back guarantee then perhaps you really don’t understand how you road is currently operating, how your customers feel and what affects the quality of your service. Perhaps this is the real power of even thinking about a money back guarantee. It places the focus on knowing what’s going on. Of course, you might also anticipate that third party companies would also spring up that monitor your service delivery on behalf of your customers, applying for money back if appropriate.
Going back to FedEx for a second, I conducted some research on their approach to performance management a couple of years ago and was intrigued to find that they just don’t view it is simple performance management. Admittedly they have the benefit of having a closed system but they were approaching performance management not just as a way of guaranteeing performance, but also as a way of looking for new service and product opportunities. Their goal was to understand the customer so well that not only could the use that knowledge to underwrite performance, but they could also find new products and services that the customer would welcome. Perhaps this is also an insight for toll roads and the wider world of transportation service delivery. Of course this all requires a high degree of sophistication when it comes to sensing current conditions on your network, current the conditions on the surrounding network and also how the user is behaving now and is likely to behave in the near future.
There is no doubt that things are changing, technology opportunities are coming at a faster pace, data is coming in a richer variety at a higher velocity and in increasingly larger amounts. We are faced with the challenge that more choices can make life more complicated unless we have a decision support approach to operations. There are two ways to view this acceleration in technology, either as a challenge or as an opportunity. It seems to be that the companies we discuss about in this article see technology changes as opportunity and deliver high-quality services to consumers in a successful manner.
I feel obliged to conclude this article by re-stating that I really don’t expect companies like Uber, WAYZ or Google to ever operate toll roads. There is simply just too much specialist knowledge that resides with current toll road operators for companies like this to even think they can attempt to enter the market. There are also significant public service elements to many toll roads that may not suit an aggressively commercial company.
My goal in writing this article is to use a future vision as a playful way to define a framework for uncovering some insights and lessons from how these companies operate very successfully in commercial marketplaces. If I have offended you by writing this article, then I apologize, this was not my intent. If it provokes you into thought and action, then it has achieved my purpose.
As William Shakespeare so eloquently put it
“If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended— that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream, gentles, do not reprehend. If you pardon, we will mend.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1