SBB.connect, an awesome idea! BUT…

In Others by Sébastien FluryLeave a Comment

Last December, the Swiss national railway company SBB/CFF launched a new mobile application to connect rail travelers. The basic idea is to let you check-in for all your trips and… BOOM: you see who is in the place or in the train (Facebook and twitter connections, random people), and you can even chat with them. As well as I didn’t put much value on at first, I’ve experienced it 3 times: 2 times, someone I’ve met years before chatted with me, once I’ve seen a friend was on board (and bumped at him randomly right after, looking for a seat.

But the main point off the app is to record your travel routes and collect points (you can even buy train tickets from the app). And become a mayor and/or benefit from vouchers at rail station shops. You can get specific badges for a specific route, a long journey or if you change train often. Or if you travel early or in regional train at peak times.

Great. Finally, this old good SBB enters the social web!

Excited by the idea, and as a heavy rail user (you know, train is like my regular office!), I downloaded the application early January and started to check-in every time I was on boarding. There is a ranking of users and I have to admit… it is quite addictive to progress in the ranking. Even if it seems quite useless!

The check-in feature works particularly well and is quite precise. I think that it’s technically pretty well executed (but, yes, you can discuss on the User Experience). The only regret there is that you cannot chose your final destination (for instance, Parc Scientifique Lausanne), but only the ones proposed by the application from where you stand (that is for me, I have first to check in a regional train, then ICN and finally metro). SBB.connect has even a geo-localized control feature, which avoids any misused check-in (if you’re not close to train station, your record cannot be validated).

Around 2 months later, I’m “proud” to be in the 800 heaviest train users in Switzerland, after travelling around 5’000 km. But I don’t know how many people use the app currently, so it doesn’t give a real perspective (all that I know is that I’ve started at rank around 7’000 in January)!


But what the sense of it? Yeah, I’ve been named Mayor of my little town… so what?

After having travelled so many kilometers… where are my vouchers? I’ve checked the website and… I’ve been really disappointed! SBB rewards with third-party vouchers by partners given certain locations or journey. OK, I’m still waiting for them… even if it’s not really what I want!

I’d like to get rewarded for kilometers I’m traveling, not for having checked so many time in a certain location. I want to receive vouchers which make sense to me, that is: related to train travel! It could be just “credits” I can collect and exchange for a wide selection of different gifts (a coffee, a discount on my next GA travelcard, a daily pass on SBB railway network, etc.).

The least I can say is that SBB.connect could do much more to inform you (in the app, push notifications!) which kind of vouchers you can get… and HOW!

Moreover, I’d be OK to give SBB an access to all my travel data, if only I could opt-in to an automatic tracking of my travels… But I’ve heard that top SBB management thinks it’s not respecting my privacy. But hey! Why do you decide for me? I’d love to give you my data, so long as I can choose and can be rewarded accordingly (and that you use these data carefully, of course)!

It’s quite strange to see that the last application update was processed mid-December… And nothing from there. How can it be from a company like SBB? Don’t you invest in the continuous improvement of the app? It looks like they had launched an app that can do many things (forget the idea of a Minimum Viable Product here!), but doesn’t need to evolve… really?

And what’s the purpose of a social network around train travels? Even if you can try to connect with this charming girl you’ve spotted (but this is a totally different idea), I don’t see the true sense of having a proper social network there. The community in a train is not driven by a common interest – just by a destination, which doesn’t really encourage me to connect with other travelers.

I think that SBB is missing the point on an important, if not the most important topic: vouchers. Are they trying to bring new customers to shops or earn some additional money from them (commission on coupons) or unlocking travel data (isn’t it the core business of SBB?)? I guess it’s the first one. But how about reconsidering the goal of the application as getting users data and rewarding this? Think it twice: “big data” is a goldmine that can help SBB reduce cost and optimize its offering (without having inspectors asking you your exact trip for their internal statistics), and help it  better knowing its customer base.

It’s no too late for SBB (even if they have the means to wait for at least an additional 6 months) to improve the non-satisfying incentives they’re giving us right now. Check-in is funny, but after a certain period of time, if you don’t get additional value from it, you just stop. It’s a brilliant concept, but it will struggle with user engagement on the long run if they bask in the status quo. Do we make a bet?

UPDATE: I’ve finally received a fantastic voucher mid-April… a 10% discount in a restaurant around Zürich train station… on a beer. So, a CHF 0.35 discount. At this time, I had recorded 6’500km train travel in 3 months. What are a reward – are they kidding ;-)?

I’m bored. And no more recording my travels (application is much slower now, and takes minutes to find my travel routes when I’d like to checkin). Really sad, because I love the concept!