Marketing at Transport For London: Where “Every Journey Matters”

Chris Macleod, Transport for London's marketing director, on the importance of the customer experience.


Chris Macleod will be the Opening Keynote at this year’s CMO Disrupt, Melbourne

Right now London is a city of over 8 million people and it is growing fast.

Some estimates figure its population will hit 10 million before 2030.

That kind of scale brings self-evident pressures that are deeply felt in all aspects of a city’s life.

Yet, the consensus amongst urban environmentalists, planners, policy makers, politicians, and futurists, is that London is not only coping with this but is a world leading ‘smart city’.

The concept of a smart city puts digital technology at the centre of a city’s development to make it more liveable and dynamic, increasing its potential while reducing resource consumption.

Amongst London’s smart city features is its much-lauded public transport sector. A system that has been the envy to many other for well over century.

Chris Macleod, Transport for London

Transport for London (TfL) is the government authority responsible for the city’s public transport network and has been called a ‘hotbed of innovation.’

For Chris Macleod, TfL’s marketing director, what matters most is the organisation’s reputation with the customer.

“There’s a lot of future gazing about how wonderful it will be to turn up at the station and walk through the gate with a smart card and [think] ‘I’ll know the train is already there and they’ll be a seat waiting for me,’” Macleod told TechExec.

“But there’s a danger that you can over idealise that sort of stuff.”

Macleod steers the conversation into the immediate challenge of a growing population.

“A lot of marketing people are trying to stimulate growth,” he said.

“Our challenge is to manage growth… how we continue to provide good customer service, how we can grow our services.”

TfL predicts a 60-80% increase in the use of Underground and rail services by 2050, with road traffic nearly doubled by 2040. At present TfL, Macleod says, handles 30 million customer contacts a day, 20 million of that on the roads the organisation is responsible for.

“Our position is that ‘every journey matters’,” explains Macleod, who is passionate about TfL’s role as a ‘customer service’, a characterisation he argues is atypical in the public sector context.

“People get services from a wide range of businesses which are all organised in a wide range of ways,” he said.

“So the fact that we are public sector you could argue that the obligation on us is even greater to provide the best possible service because to some extent people don’t have a choice. They are paying for it through the fares or indirectly through taxes and other things.”

In the past decade, TfL’s innovations include ‘talking buses’, which introduced real-time travel information to passengers for the first time, and the Oyster card – a tap on tap off system – which has proven a time saver.

Source: Transport for London

In 2014 TfL introduced contactless payments on the Underground which proved to be such a winner that the process – which allowed passengers to use their credit cards and mobiles for travel transactions – was rolled out across the travel network in the last 12 months.

Last year the initiative won a prize at the UK’s Marketing New Thinking Awards.

“As a marketing person in an organisation like ours, you are trying to get people to use your services and systems in the most efficient way for them and for you,” Macleod said. “We are in the ‘reach business’.”

He says this means getting the message out there by whatever means available, but perhaps especially by using innovative technology: Big Data, Apps, whatever can assist in the challenge.

“You are trying to reach a large number of people so they are well informed,” he said.

“For many businesses data is proprietary and you generate your competitive advantage by how you manage your own understanding of your customer maybe through your loyalty scheme and we can do that.”

But Macleod says he is more interested in consumers “knowing where their
train is, where the bus is, how you get your ticket… I am not trying to compete with someone else for your attention… I am competing with everyone and everything since you are probably more interested in reading about sport!”

He says TfL has 6,000 third parties use their data in various ways. “We power 400 apps and that’s just transport data and that’s what I mean when I talk about ‘reach’ we have 3 million people on social media.”


Source: Transport for London
Source: Transport for London

Macleod says that TfL has understandable restrictions on how it uses and shares personal data, which is randomised and aggregated within the organisation as a tool in forward planning.

“We run our ticketing system and we don’t let anybody else do that,” he said.

“While I have a large database which you could be on if you were travelling in London – I don’t share that personal data.”

He is convinced that if punters were to believe that they would get something in return once their data was shared they would be more comfortable with it.

“If my smartphone tells the world where I am and [it’s okay] if I get better services as a result of it,” he said.

Macleod said that TfL has recognised considerable cost advantages in Big Data and social media since it reduces the expense of getting the message out and saves time. He estimates this strategy creates savings to the organisation of £50-60 million annually.

“That’s one of the challenges of Open Data… how do you value it? What’s it done for you?”

In moving forward, Macleod says that for him the question is: “Are there ways to do things cheaper and more efficiently or do you do the ‘new thing’… which involves rising expectations.”

He says that when he started travelling, there was no wifi or air-conditioning, now the consumer relies on those as standard.

In 2016 Macleod will continue to market the contactless payment roll-out and as well as a campaign to help support awareness of sexual assault on public transport..

Ultimately he says the organisation is faced with managing London’s steady population rise, whilst appreciating cost pressures.

“To use that horrible business cliché it’s about doing more with less.”