In the UK, 22% of people are registered with a disability. That’s 14.6 million of us, and rising.
You can book train travel assistance ahead of time, but what if a lift isn’t working or announcements are missed? Sometimes problems just pop up in real time.
The challenges can be unique, and occasionally it can be difficult to find the assistance you need.
Understandably, this leads to frustration and upset.
Progress has been made. Avanti West Coast were the first to offer Passenger Assist, which allows people to pre-book assistance. They also have an Accessibility Panel and a dedicated Facebook group for passengers with accessibility needs.
But like most train companies, they haven’t got it right every time.
One negative experience can have a huge impact on an individual.
And when that story is shared, it can have a wider knock-on effect on passenger confidence.
Avanti wanted to go even further to assist disabled customers, and encourage confidence in train travel.
Was it possible to support people with a wide range of accessibility needs across a whole train network in real time?
Drumroll… it was time for a brand new real-time support service.
Avanti West Coast called in Cubaka to make it a success.
Our KPI was clear: encourage 50 people to use the new service during a trial run over four weeks.
That meant extensive reach and a good level of engagement and attention. To really spread the word, we needed to reach not just people with disabilities, but their friends and family too.
And Avanti wanted to see positive sentiment and a real impact from the service on the lives of passengers. We needed qualitative feedback.
From the start, people with disabilities were our experts.
We collaborated with the Avanti team, which includes people with first-hand experience of travelling with a disability. We spent time learning from Emma Martell, Martin Byrne and Ricky West, all on the social team, and built-in more rounds of feedback than usual to ensure we got things spot on.
We also had access to Avanti’s Accessibility Panel and feedback from live Facebook Q&As with disabled customers.
As a result of all this, Avanti knew they needed to offer real-time, human support to disabled passengers, backed by extensive knowledge and a passion for accessible travel.
The big idea? A WhatsApp channel offering human support in the moment.
An industry first.
So, why WhatsApp?
We could also integrate with Be My Eyes, an app connecting people needing sighted support with volunteers and companies through live video.
The next challenge? Spread the word.
Because before it could launch for good, the new service had to pass a trial.
First things first - the service needed a name.
Its working title? ‘Remote Chaperone’. Sounds a bit cold for a human service.
We took time to develop the right name, discussing various routes with the Avanti team. The name needed to be memorable, meaningful to people with a wide variety of disabilities, human and dignified.
We all chose ‘Travel Companion’ as a familiar phrase that would help passengers feel supported, valued and not alone on their journey.
Next, a tagline. ‘All Aboard means All Aboard’ summed up Avanti’s mission nicely.
Then, it was promotion time. Cubaka handled everything for organic and paid social media.
We started out by creating a hero video to explain the Travel Companion service.
We asked Martin from the Avanti team to star in the video. Martin is one of the people behind the new WhatsApp service, and he’s visually impaired, so people would know if they used the service they’d be talking to a real person who gets it.
Then we wrote a conversational script to be delivered from Martin to the audience.
With accessibility top of mind, we clearly communicated all the information in the voiceover and on screen - something we do as a rule, but it was extra important here.
It was important for the video as a whole not to take a different tone just because it’s for disabled people. Our content was social first, used lo-fi footage, had a fairly fast pace and contemporary editing style.
Because we were confident we had a story to tell, we made our hero video 60 seconds long. That’s epic for social. But we really wanted to maximise its impact and introduce people to the service to the point they would save the number and use it.
Meta rules say you can’t target people with disabilities directly. No problem. Instead, we retargeted people who watched the bulk of our 60 second video with shorter content.
To fully utilise paid media, we also targeted those people’s friends and families. People talk and people share, so this would make sure content was reaching the people who mattered.
Our statics and GIF-like video snippets drove home the key messages and calls to action.
The results tell an amazing success story.
Over four times our target!
That’s an average of seven people helped each day.
It’s worth noting that these numbers should be small - the service is for those rare occasions where something has gone wrong.
It included 29 video calls using Be My Eyes.
It was lovely to see people sharing their happiness that the service existed. Many said they were saving the Travel Companion number for future use. We think this shows a fantastic impact: the service gave people confidence to travel, even if they didn’t use it.
Travel Companion helped three times when Passenger Assist hadn’t worked out.
One person avoided suffering a four-hour round trip!
Great news: Travel Companion is here to stay. The trial was a great success.
And a corner’s been turned. Two more train companies say they’re interested in launching a similar service. That’s a real win for passengers and a mark of progress for the whole the industry.
“Travel Companion will improve ‘live’ communications for disabled customers and give confidence to travel on their end-to-end journey. Knowing that trained staff can be communicated with via WhatsApp, for missed Passenger Assistance or communication with onboard staff, will be incredibly helpful. This new service can make a huge difference to a customer’s experience when travelling with Avanti West Coast.” - Tony Jennings, Co-Chair, Avanti West Coast Accessibility Panel
“Cubaka’s help in launching this important service for disabled customers has been invaluable - from coming up with an inclusive and catchy name to filming brilliant thumb-stopping content to promote it. After a successful trial, this invaluable service for disabled customers has now been made permanent.” - Emma Martell, Head of Social Media Content, Avanti West Coast