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Innovation and agility: Learn from a bus company

by Alexander v. Bernstorff

In 2013, the German department of transport deregulated the market for national bus services. Until that time, bus companies were allowed to either serve regional or inner city routes, or to carry passenger abroad. Long distance services, like Munich to Hamburg, were not allowed. Deregulation resulted in the rise of a number of bus companies, trying to win market share from national rail services. At the same time, customers (and authorities’) expectations as to safety, reliability and comfort needed to be met. Potential for innovation.

Seeing is believing, so I recently tried the last remaining operator FLIXBUS a few times (rocket fast consolidation had taken place).

Oh, you are saying the bus industry is different to the airline industry. Well, it’s both about taking people from A to B safely. Consumer’s expectations towards different services or industries are approximating fastly. This has to do with Liquid Expectations. People expect to go online while on a bus, a train or an airplane. They want to watch movies or to be able to get something to drink. And that’s all available on Flixbus. So don’t accuse me of invalid examples.

What I want to outline here is how Flixbus solved our beloved “change itinerary”. Bear in mind, they are still operating in a start-up mode, listening to their customer while growing and adding new features and services as they go. Their app where you can search for offers, make bookings, view flight, ehm, schedule information and so on is what I would call a MVP in its second or third iteration. But, as we all know, change itinerary can be a difficult feature to implement, and the Flixbus team found a clever solution based on the following conclusions:

–          Understanding the importance of the possibility to make changes online

–          Avoiding the implementation complexity of a full blown change process

What they are offering is the following procedure: Check if alternative bus has availability, cancel own reservation against voucher, user voucher for new reservation. Done in <30sec. The point here is speed to market while fully enabling the consumer’s goal to change his or her itinerary online. I believe that in our airline industry, things are often being overly complicated.

At InteRES, we work 100% Design-Thinking. This means, we value speed to market and fast learning higher than comprehensive specifications and project-plans. We believe, our airline customers can benefit from our approach and thieve a bit of Flixbus’ success that is largely built on agility and innovation – because operating bus services is something their former competitors could do as well.

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