Before reading any further, I must first of all point out that I am not in the habit of taking pictures in public toilets. Honestly.
A significant part of the role of a corporate Marketing & Communications team is to increase customer engagement with your brand.
The word engagement is something that means different thinks to different people. Thanks to the English language, context is of course important.
Employee Engagement is part of the modern management lexicon of corporate-speak. A cynic might say that someone with a high level of Employee Engagement is likely to accept less remuneration (or lower pay rises) and is less likely to leave, than would otherwise be the case.
For a train company, customers are in the main your passengers. Passenger Engagement can therefore mean different things, but if a Marketing & Communications team can successfully increase brand perception, then that is good. It is what they are there for.
A strong brand increases loyalty from existing customers and will also help attract new ones. For a train company, that means new passengers.
I am probably fairly high up the target list of a passenger that a train company would want to keep loyal. I do not say that because I have an over-sized head but because (a) my local Train Operating Company gets sack loads of my dosh every year (b) I use twitter to communicate with and about them and (c) I occasionally write blog posts about my experiences.
For me, there is no chance of another TOC getting my day-to-day business. Chiltern Railways operate a monopoly in my area so, along with thousands of other commuters, I am not going anywhere else.
It's a different story however for Chiltern Railways when looking at the entirety of their route. The London to Birmingham route is highly competitive.
Here are the options and a snapshot view of each brand and offering (my views alone).
Virgin Trains. London Euston to Birmingham New Street. Fast. Expensive.
Chiltern Railways. London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street / Snow Hill. Not so fast, better value.
London Midland. London Euston to Birmingham New Street. Really slow. Good value.
So, see what I've done? I have ranked and compared three multi-million pound businesses based on just two comparatives and my perceptions.
Each of those comparatives (speed and price) can easily be challenged, or proven wrong, or may be completely irrelevant to particular passengers.
Speed (time a journey takes) is affected by a number of factors including your specific start and finishing points, ease of connection to onward trains and even the time or day of the week.
Price, as far as the UK railway industry is concerned, should be the subject of a Masters Degree in Confusion and Complexity. I will simply say that a single one-way journey between London and Birmingham can sometimes be obtained for as little as 50 pence (a newspaper promotional offer) to as much as £135. Of course the vast majority of passengers pay somewhere in the middle and well below the mid-point of those two prices.
Other passenger relevant variables might include;
The availability of wi-fi and it's cost.
Plug charging points
Types of trains
View out of the window
Friendliness of staff
Availability of seats
Awareness of what choices there are
Cleanliness of toilets
Everybody is different and each individual will have their own personal decision-making matrix that they use. That is complicated and is difficult to model or to communicate effectively.
That is where the Communication and Marketing team comes to the front. Can they encapsulate little snippets of information that subtly make people want to use their services over those of a competitor? Perhaps a self-deprecating choice of language. Humour. Honesty. Integrity. Everything helps, almost anything goes.
So, what has all that got to do with toilets?
Take a look at the toilets at Marylebone Station and you'll find out!