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Rebuilding customer confidence in the age of Covid-19

Rebuilding customer confidence in the age of Covid-19

Author: Victoria Scott, customer experience manager, transportation

At Costain, we believe that leveraging behavioural insights and technology is at the heart of attracting customers back to public transport. We want customers to travel with confidence and we recognise that it is only by working with transport providers to understand their challenges that we can make this a reality.

Rebuilding customer confidence covid-19

The challenge

We are all finding life challenging and continually weighing up frequently changing information to make the best choices for ourselves, our families and our communities. And best means different things to different people: for some it is reducing risk, for others it is trying to keep their business afloat, and for others still, it is trying to look after their mental health by maintaining as much social contact as they can. For many, it’s a combination.

This commitment to making the best choices is not reserved to individuals or to governments; it is also in the DNA of those who keep our nation connected through our transport systems, forming the backbone of our country. At stations, on routes, at interchanges and at airports around the country, customers’ priorities of health and safety and staying connected for business and social opportunities are well understood. This is why now is the time to prepare for when national and regional restrictions on non-essential travel are removed and life can return to a – new – normal.

So, what can we do to win back those customers who will worry that if they travel using public transport, they will lose control of their surroundings and put themselves at risk?

New research released by Transport Focus in November suggests that there are several key factors to encouraging customers to feel confident that our transport networks and hubs are safe. These include: the ability to find out how busy a service will be ahead of travel; cleanliness; the number of people wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing; passenger behaviour; and the level of assistance provided to passengers by the operator and transport representatives.

For the period between October 9 and November 1, we saw an overall steady increase in customer confidence in public transport, which is also supported by the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, which found a small increase in the number of people travelling to work. While the Transport Focus survey sample is relatively small given the reduced numbers of people travelling, the data gathered still gives us important insights. It confirms where we will need to focus when restrictions on non-essential travel are lifted and that there is still more to achieve before more customers consistently want to use public transport again.

To provide context for the scale of the challenge, surveys undertaken by Transport Focus in September showed that customer confidence in the safety of public transport had plummeted, even though international research suggests that the transmission risk is low. Many had returned to travelling by car, resulting in congested city centres, localised pollution and public transport usage at unprecedentedly low levels - research undertaken by the Office for Rail and Road shows that rail passenger journeys between April and June fell to their lowest since the mid-19th century. To put it in perspective, this represents 8.1% of the journeys undertaken in the same time period last year.

Rebuilding customer confidence covid-19

The solution

Encouragingly, we do know from the Transport Focus September surveys that people who travelled using public transport following the first lockdown indicated that they largely felt safe – and interestingly, those who had travelled and experienced it first-hand were more confident than those who had avoided public transport since before the start of the pandemic. This no doubt contributed to the ORR findings that rail passenger numbers returned to 43% of normal traffic in September.

Our discussions with clients suggest that priorities have shifted from trying to detect Covid towards addressing issues of confidence and we’ve been working with operators of major transport hubs and networks to help gain customer’s trust. It's important to be mindful of the impact that the virus has had on people’s physical, mental or financial health and to demonstrate as an industry that we are doing everything we can to keep customers safe. Different people respond in different ways so our experts advise that integrated systems thinking which embraces both behavioural insights and technology offers the right blend of solutions to demonstrate that it is safe to use public transport.

Insights into how people react to change, risks, rules and consequences can help to achieve high standards of safety, ensuring employees and customers follow the rules and feel safe when using public transport. Technology can play a huge role when its use is informed by behavioural insights: it can support behavioural change by monitoring adherence to the rules, encouraging compliance and – where appropriate – reinforcement, providing positive and constructive feedback, verifying if customers are medically exempt and safely managing pedestrian flow through travel hubs.

Advances in camera technology mean we can now measure the distance between people and identify anyone who is not wearing a face mask or who may have a fever (one of the common Covid-19 symptoms). Furthermore, an integrated barrier system informed by this systems approach could be used to permit access for those who are medically exempt from wearing a face mask. This kind of technology can also be ‘trained’ to detect efforts to avoid compliance, thereby providing invaluable feedback to employers and safety ambassadors. In this case, technological solutions are developed which envisage common human reactions to a specific scenario.

When harnessing and integrating technology, it’s important to consider how it can be integrated into the broader operations of transport hubs and, also, governmental systems. Deeper integration of technology, such as the cameras systems mentioned above, can be done in such a way as to minimise disruption to these hubs and their passengers. The ease of flow of people through an airport or railway station not only provides a highly effective layer of security against infectious diseases, but also helps passengers feel safer as services are less congested. Data this technology can gather can also be used to enable customers to make informed decisions about how they move through a transport hub. Real-time information can be accessed through bespoke travel hub apps to advise customers of the most recently cleaned facilities or which café is the quietest for their coffee stop.

Reinforcing desired behaviours that protect ourselves and each other is also key to reassuring customers. Demonstrating the desired behaviours, such as the wearing of face masks, social distancing and the frequent use of hand sanitiser - and approaching at times challenging conversations in a positive manner will inspire confidence. Safety ambassadors can answer any questions that customers have about how to follow the rules and address any issues around compliance. Visual reminders can be used to support these requirements.

Implementing these measures will help to mitigate risk and reassure passengers as a programme of mass vaccinations takes place over the next few months. Furthermore, embracing this approach will future-proof our transport network and hubs, enabling customers to travel safely and with confidence.

To find out about how we can work with you to implement innovative technological solutions driven by behavioural insights, please send me an email



Case study examples 

  • Behavioural safety programme: Costain’s behavioural safety programme was awarded platinum status by the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, US, in 2018, making it one of only two organisations at this level worldwide.
  • Camera technology: We are a member of ONVIF and we are actively supporting the development of industry standards for video data-sharing.
  • Thermal imaging: We have deployed thermal imaging solutions for a number of clients in the UK aviation sector as part of trialling technology that will help restore passenger and employee confidence by helping to identify people who have an elevated temperature.
  • Assuring cleaning regimes: We are currently converting a tried and tested app which has previously been used in the Highways sector to allow customers to see in real-time when facilities in a travel hub were last cleaned.
  • Enabling social distancing: We have deployed wearable technology to onsite teams across a number of major projects to help ensure that they maintain social distancing at work.


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