How Trainline Innovates and Stays on Track with Customer Feedback

8 min read

Trainline has grown tremendously in the past few years, expanding across Europe and recently progressing to launch on the London Stock Exchange. As the leading independent rail and coach travel platform, Trainline today brings together millions of routes.

It now covers fares and journey times from over 260 rail and coach carriers across 45 countries. There are many moving parts making sure that Trainline provides a seamless online booking experience for passengers looking for the best travel option. 

No doubt Trainline’s position as an innovative leader in the technology industry can be attributed to its commitment to really listening to, and understanding, its passengers’ needs. 

It’s no easy feat to update ticket availability in realtime or crowdsource data to help passengers find a free seat on a train. Curious how the company culture leveled up from customer-centric to customer-obsessed

We recently sat down with Michelle Lotia, Head of User Research, to learn more about how Trainline uses Usabilla to incorporate the “voice of the passengers” into its product development.

When you joined Trainline, you were the first dedicated hire on the Research team. How did the Product team approach feedback collection before Usabilla?

Prior to Usabilla, we had been using another survey tool that collected verbatim comment feedback. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very actionable because it lacked the metadata that Usabilla provides. When we did a Usabilla trial, the Product team was immediately convinced because suddenly we could get screenshots, technical details, see where people were located when they gave feedback, along with URL information.

We could replicate anything unusual that visitors experienced because we had all the data to do so.

That’s when the penny really dropped for our team.

What is your philosophy around feedback, and why does it matter?

Usabilla is a safe space for our users to share feedback, but collecting customer feedback doesn’t make your issues go away. In fact, it may alert you to alarming issues. Suddenly you’ve got all these listening posts you weren’t hearing from customers before, and you’re turning over all these stones, uncovering things you had no idea were there. 

It’s incredibly exciting from the perspective of discovery, but it also requires urgency and commitment from the team to back it up so that action is taken and improvements can be made.

How did you stay organized as Trainline’s feedback items grew into thousands of items per month?

Initially, it was just me reviewing the feedback, labeling each item into categories that I thought made sense. Over time, that system evolved into a detailed labeling taxonomy that is relevant for Trainline’s UX needs and how our teams are structured.

Even as our Research team grew, we read and categorized every single feedback item.

I think our processes have also been informed by the fact that we’re researchers, and there’s a particular researcher mindset that wants to gather and label all the data as it’s coming in, because you never know when it’s going to be important. It may turn out that something that seems isolated early on actually starts to pile up, and after some time it emerges as a trend that might need addressing.

How is feedback shared across teams at Trainline?

At the beginning, we would share feedback links quite informally through Slack. This workflow has matured a lot since. Fundamentally, people are drowning in information, so a key responsibility of our Research team is to help the Product team discern the signal from the noise. We began weekly and monthly reporting on feedback items, ensuring that tickets were raised to flag issues.

If there were new ideas or feature enhancements, we made sure the right teams were aware.

I also set up a lot of Saved Searches, so that different Product Owners (POs) would receive feedback items relevant to their product. This meant that our POs simply had to check automatic emails that contained a snapshot of feedback relevant to them and then click particular items they found interesting. Once a week, our team would curate a list of the most insightful feedback and send it out to the entire Product team. 

What was most surprising about listening to customers?

Customer expectations change all the time, and even Trainline’s product is changing and improving all the time.

It never ceases to surprise me how much people do in fact want to tell you about their experience.

We’ve had several experiences where triangulating Usabilla feedback with other data sources was able to give us insight and tell a new story, in a way that none of the data sources could do on their own. 

That’s why it’s important to see your product through the eyes of the customer, rather than through your own internal systems and data. Having feedback enables our teams to really stand in the customer’s shoes, to hear a particular explanation from a customer about what is happening or preventing them from a smooth experience. 

How do you close the feedback loop across the teams at Trainline?

Usabilla is incredibly exciting, but without a proper process in place you can immediately drown in the feedback coming through. That’s why the Research team is the first line of filtering for the thousands of monthly feedback items coming through, before it’s passed on to the Product team. 

As a Research team, we are also somewhat impartial to the feedback, which means that we aren’t foremost thinking about technical constraints that might make it difficult to build a customer’s requests. Sure the technical constraints are a reality that affect whether we can address our customers’ needs, but our priority is to make sure that customer insights are heard. Our Research team then works with Product to figure out how to bridge the gap between the passengers’ actual experience and their expectations.

How do you make the most of qualitative and quantitative insights?

Combining qualitative insights and quantitative data is really helpful in Trainline’s rapid test-and-learn culture. As humans, we’re often hasty in drawing conclusions about why a test performed the way that it did.

Having qualitative customer feedback gives us a much stronger foundation for understanding why something performed as it did.

We’ve actually seen noticeable differences in customer feedback from A/B tests that we’re running, so that we can look back on results and explain more clearly why a test performed as it did

Also, hearing directly from a customer’s perspective can really change the significance of something you wouldn’t notice if you just looked at the data. Counting on quantitative data to give insights, e.g. whether figures move north or south, doesn’t explain everything. We avoid relying too heavily on numbers because this can lead us to projecting our own biases to explain why a user is behaving a certain way.

How has the feedback culture been embraced by the wider teams at Trainline? 

I think the biggest cultural transformation that’s happened here since Usabilla’s been introduced is that there is now an expectation and reliance on qualitative data to complement the quantitative data.

Product meetings now start with the question: what is the customer trying to tell us?

The fact that with Usabilla we can immediately see what our British, French or American customers have been saying about our products in any given morning, just blows the doors off in terms of our capability to learn, adapt and to think ahead. This VoC insight is now also expected at the executive level and they frequently check in with us about what our customers are saying and how that’s helping to shape Trainline’s product roadmap.

Any final thoughts or suggestions for other companies trying to spread the importance of VoC across a company?

It may sound pretty obvious, but the mere act of introducing new technology is not going to magically make your team customer-obsessed; it’s going to tell you what the issues are, but then you need to take action

We’re happy to say that the reliance on customer feedback is now coming from all angles, and Product meetings even include sharing Usabilla screenshots and reading feedback out loud. It can be really powerful to do this together.

When you democratize access to customer feedback, you remove barriers to act on it because the insight is there and the direction is there.

It’s then up to us to say we’re going to engage directly with this by being open to challenge our assumptions. We don’t settle for simple verbatim feedback or scores – we use Usabilla creatively to really dive deeper into the customer experience. We even use Usabilla campaigns to recruit customers who are in our product to participate in research! The immediacy of those conversations gives us even richer insight.

As Trainline expands across more countries, our ability to learn from customers anywhere, at any time is vital.

Usabilla sets us up well for this with automatic translation of feedback, so again there are no barriers to learning from our customers.

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This piece was written in collaboration with Lucy Luo and Meghan Horvath

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Sharing our insights and expertise on all things customer experience and data management.