“Circle Line disruption, Uber surges, and CTE Jams, as commuters live out a nightmare scarier than Halloween” – Quoted from mothership.sg, one of Singapore’s most prominent website for local news in a sarcastic way. This incident was not foreign to most Singaporeans as the circle line broke down only recently on 2nd October 2016.
As mentioned in our blogpost previously, our team picked SMRT due to their various operational and communication issues they face. We felt that there is a need to analyse and recommend areas of improvement for our main public transportation provider in Singapore. Given the immense pressure from commuters in reaction to SMRT’s poor service provision (e.g. train breakdowns) and inadequate (i.e. slow and evasive) communications, it is crucial for SMRT to improve their communication efforts.
Our target audience are MRT commuters who are engaged on social media. Our team further surveyed 42 MRT commuters at City Hall MRT Station and found that there are extensive negative sentiments towards the communication efforts of SMRT. A low score of 3.81 out of 10 was found for SMRT’s perceived communication efforts, which was measured by commuters’ impressions of transparency, authenticity and the perceived level of interaction that SMRT gave to them. Given the lack of communication efforts by SMRT, it is palpable that commuters turned to social media to vent their emotions. As such, SMRT should channel their resources and focus on improving their communication with commuters via social media.
With the end goal of improving public perception of SMRT’s communications, our team propose that the SMRTConnect application should be the official channel for communication, news and updates. Through our research, we noticed that SMRT has been operating on too many social media platforms, and negative consumer sentiments have since overwhelmed these platforms such that it becomes ‘noise’ that is hard to track. This increases the difficulty for SMRT to effectively respond, since various viewpoints are distributed across too many social media platforms. Furthermore, these numerous platforms cause commuters to spread negative feedbacks and sometimes unfounded rumours instead of communicating to SMRT. Lastly, commuters do not perceive SMRT’s communications as two-way and transparent. We plan to resolve SMRT’s communication issues by channelling all communications to one platform and to translate transparency, authenticity and two-way communications.
As such, our team has established an objective:
“To streamline SMRT’s communication strategy and to restore customer confidence regarding SMRT’s competence and reliability in communication.”
“To establish a single official communication channel (i.e. Expanding SMRT’s current application – The SMRTConnect) which translate transparency and authenticity to commuters.”
To achieve our goal and eventually our objective, we came out with a “3-step-process” to engage commuters to use the SMRTConnect application
Our first strategy aims to raise awareness of the existence of SMRTConnect through:
- Harnessing existing Social Media Platforms: leveraging on SMRT current Social Media platforms and periodically advertise the existence and various functions of SMRTConnect.
Diverting users from existing platforms to SMRTConnect: Inform commuters that new information would only be reflected on the application. However, this would be done incrementally and in phases (e.g. 3 years). In essence, we are promoting platform cannibalisation.
- Engage Native Advertising: To market the application by using native advertising in the form of editorial content, such as posts on popular forums like Reddit, Hardwarzone, Vr-Zone.com, gossip article pages like Yahoo! Articles and video sharing websites like YouTube.
After increasing awareness of SMRTConnect, it is important that commuters are engaged with, as well as increase the usage of the application. Hence, there needs to be various incentives to engage commuters to use the application. As such, the following are strategies to “increase usage of the App”:
- Establishing SMRTPay: Making use of the Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology and applying the payment function of an Ezlink card into the App. SMRTPay draws inspiration from ApplePay, such that commuters can use the App as an ezlink card. Furthermore, value-added services such as incorporating “transport expense” widget enable commuters to trak their transport expenses. In the event of unfortunate breakdowns, SMRT will be able to reimburse fare directly into SMRTpay.
- Complementary Rides: Drawing inspirations from Uber Referral programme, we will enlist the existing social networks of commuters, and draw word of mouth to pass on the awareness of SMRTConnect to new users. As such, with every referral, both the referrer and referee gets complementary ride value. Social Exchange Theory supports this mutually beneficial transaction and would encourage further exchanges with other parties.
- Partnership with various retail outlets: Value-added services such as flashing the app to allow for discounts and coupons on partnership stores will be included as well.
- Daily Rewards programme: To reinforce desired behaviour (i.e. daily usage of the application) through operant conditioning. Commuters will be awarded loyalty points with every day access to the application.
Lastly, our third strategy include sustaining usage of the application. – “We want you to continue to use the app as the official platform for information.”
Our strategies will not stop at increasing usage but aim to sustain the habit of using the application. Since effective Social Marketing involves honesty and transparency (Shim, 2016), our retainment strategies will focus on ensuring that the application’s contents are authentic and transparent. This will in turn, translate to our objective(s), allowing for sustaining continual usage in the long run.
- Authenticity: Information provided through SMRTConnect would always be factually accurate, true, and fully reflective of SMRT’s position. This includesintroducing digital signatures for messages. For instance, to have each message consistently signed off by a ‘Patrick Nathan, SMRT’s Vice President of Communications’ or ‘Lim Chek Boon, Boon Lay station manager.’ This would provide a figure that is accountable for the news that they publish. Such stakeholder management strategies would assure the public that information provided will be more trustworthy than any other social media platforms. Although these efforts may seem small,it is a small step in public communications which goes some way in ensuring accountability. As such, messages become not just a blank promise but an actual statement of intent.
- Transparency: Ensure that SMRT always be transparent in communications. Through the definition by Garvey (2000), transparent only is defined when the motives of participants are fully known to all. To apply the definition, SMRT should not withhold any news about train breakdowns or investigation reports, as well as consistently reply pertinent queries and criticisms on their social media (i.e. two-way communication). Hence, our team has come up with sub-points to establish how SMRT can be transparent.
- Stream live video footage of affected train stations where a breakdown might have occurred. This allows commuters to gauge the situations themselves, instead of relying on a crafted PR message that ‘everything is under control. Commuters can swiftly take the replacement shuttle services’..What commuters would prefer is if they can decide for themselves whether the shuttle bus queues are as swift as they claim,before they get to the affected destination. Such a live streaming function is unscripted, with no propagandistic vibes, allowing commuters to know “We give you the information, you make your decision.”
- Engaging commuters in a two-way communication. This can be established through actively replying to social media comments and criticisms on SMRTConnet. We had established that currently SMRT is not listening to the commuters and that communications are one-sided. This resulted in negative responses from commuters even though the message broadcasted was celebratory. Social Penetration Theory supports this in pointing out that SMRT should be involved with each commuter individually and personally. In fostering such customer-to-customer relationship, SMRT would then be able to manage their impressions and create trust (Shim, 2016).
In conclusion, our team aims to restore commuter’s confidence regarding SMRT’s competence and reliability in communication. As such, we established a plan to re-strategise current strategies for SMRT’s Social Media Tools. There are currently too many platforms SMRT is on and it results in numerous “noise”. The existence of many platforms have also allowed commuters to vent all sorts of emotions and negative comments and rumours across the various platforms. As such, it becomes hard for SMRT to resolve these concerns before they spread. Hence, our proposed plan is to establish an official communication channel – Expanding on the current SMRTConnect App and channelling its resources to provide real-time, authentic and transparent information that matters to commuters. These strategies are break into a 3 -step process according to the summary diagram below.
We believe proposed strategies will improve public perceptions of SMRT as well as their communication strategies!