SMS case study - Orange County Transportation Authority
By Dan Butcher
November 19, 2010
OCTA taps ExactTarget to roll out Text for Next
Name of organization
The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), Orange, CA
Name of marketing services firm
ExactTarget, Indianapolis, IN
Text4Next, which provides SMS-based bus arrival times for customers based on bus stop and route number.
OCTA launched the program Nov. 16, 2009.
Common short code and keywords used
Short code: OCTAGO (628246)
For more details, visit www.octa.net/octago
Keyword: Bus (space) stop number (space) route number (enter)
(Example: Bus 3563 71 would be stop 3563 and route 71)
Bus schedule information is one of the core communications OCTA provides bus customers.
Previous years have seen large quantities of printed schedules, but with increasing paper costs and decreasing budgets, the printed schedule information has been drastically reduced.
R.J. Talyor is director of mobile product marketing at ExactTarget
As a result, internal research indicated that customer calls to the Customer Information Center (CIC) had increased to approximately 18,000 per week, and with a cost of $2 per call, this was costing nearly $144,000 per month.
The need for a convenient, cost-effective alternative to provide bus schedule information was more apparent than ever.
OCTA’s recent bus customer survey indicated that 75 percent of OCTA bus customers have mobile phones, and 64 percent of them have text message capabilities, indicating that a mobile marketing solution could provide a more cost-effective solution that catered to the majority of bus riders.
The Text4Next program was developed to utilize the growing use of mobile media to provide this information to the customers. The program objectives were:
- To reduce customer dependence/reliance on printed schedule information
- To reduce the number of calls to the Customer Information Centre (CIC)
- To provide OCTA bus customers with immediate access to bus arrival times
- To create awareness and understanding of the Text4Next program
- To increase program usage and develop repeat use among OCTA bus customers
OCTA’s current bus customers who regularly called the CIC were the primary targets, and current OCTA customers who previously relied on printed materials for bus schedule information were the secondary targets.
In early 2009, OCTA contracted with ExactTarget to implement an electronic email platform to provide a cohesive email program to all of their customers.
Further discussions with ExactTarget, revealed that OCTA could provide bus customers with a cost-effective alternative to getting their bus schedules by using SMS services.
OCTA’s “Text4Next” text-messaging program relies on ExactTarget’s Advanced Edition triggered messaging to automate text responses to customer inquiries.
Once a customer send a text with their specific bus stop number and bus route number to the short code OCTAGO, ExactTarget’s Advanced Edition processes that information, in conjunction with OCTA’s bus system scheduling platform, and sends the customer back the next three arrival times their bus will arrive at that stop.
By implementing this new text-messaging program, OCTA was able to provide customers with individualized bus schedule information at a more cost-effective level.
Whereas each call to the CIC cost OCTA $2, the Text4Next service was developed, at a per call charge of $0.10 to OCTA, resulting in a substantial cost savings.
OCTA created a comprehensive awareness campaign targeting current OCTA bus customers.
The primary message was that OCTA has developed a new text-messaging program that will allow riders to receive scheduled bus arrival times quickly and accurately by using their mobile phones.
The message was quick and direct: “When’s your next bus? OCTAGO knows.”
The Text4Next program was launched using guerilla marketing and traditional marketing in November 2009.
OCTA promoted the program with the “Text4Next Street Team” who wore t-shirts donated by ExactTarget and went out to high boarding stops around schools and showed students how to use the program, as well as creating a promotional video and replacing bus stop signage Text4Next instructions.
A separate section for Text4Next was developed on http://www.OCTA.net, and provides program information, instructions, examples and a promotional video.
This section has received more than 60,000 Web hits since November 2009.
Email blasts were sent to more than 1,800 email communications subscribers, announcing the program.
Automatic voice messages from the CIC provided callers with information about the program and its cost-saving potential.
The campaign also included brochure distribution, onboard bus advertising, information at the bus stops, press releases and articles. The program continues to be promoted on all bus stops and the OCTA Web site.
Providing the information at the user level has provided a wide awareness of the program and resulting usage by our customers as indicated in the usage pattern.
The number of monthly text messages has increased from 7,000 during the launch month of November 2009 to more than 198,000 in the month of October 2010.
The number of calls to the CIC averaged 18,000 per week in November, and they are now currently averaging 14,500 per week.
The success of the program not only rests on the dramatic increase in text usage and decrease in calls to the CIC, but in the cost savings.
With the cost of text-messaging OCTA being $0.10 versus the $2 call to the CIC, the schedule information provided to those text customers remains affordable despite the high volume of texts.
After Text4Next gained momentum, the weekly number of calls to the CIC dropped by as much as 40 percent, from an average of 18,000 calls per week in November 2009 to 10,000 weekly calls in March 2010, before levelling off at an average of 14,500 per week.
Estimates show that the Text4Next program, by decreasing the number of costly calls and replacing them with the cost-effective texts, has saved OCTA more than $350,000 since its launch.
Each month, the number of unique users increases, showing that the service is positively received by users.
In November 2009, there were nearly 1,400 unique monthly users, which increased to nearly 19,000 unique monthly users September 2010.
Currently, the CIC is averaging 14,500 calls per week, or 25 percent less, and the text messages are averaging 50,000 per week.
In addition to providing cost-effective customer service tool, OCTA finds greater control in its customer communication efforts by maintaining one central point of contact for email, mobile and social media marketing messages.
“By using an existing media platform and configuring it to work with internal scheduling systems, OCTA was able to avoid costly development costs and provide immediate communications to our customer in a cost-effective manner," said R.J. Talyor, director of product marketing at ExactTarget.
"The Text4Next program provided OCTA the ability to cross the financial crisis barrier and provide enhanced satisfaction to our customers,” he said.
The success of the Text4Next service for bus schedules has prompted OCTA expand the mobile messaging program to include commuter train schedules in Orange County.
Additionally, OCTA is currently working with ExactTarget on phase two of the bus mobile messaging program that would originate bus rider alert information from ExactTarget’s Advanced Edition, provide the customer specific route information based on that customer’s opt-in information.
OCTA learned that their customer’s are very tech-savvy and have adapted to the mobile media solution fairly quickly, as indicated by the increase in monthly text messages.
By tapping into the success of the Text4Next program, we will be able to provide more customer information and services via the mobile and digital platforms.
What began with ExactTarget as a single email platform to provide customer communications turned into a turnkey partnership providing digital and mobile marketing solutions cost-effectively and much quicker than traditional print media is able to.
“The text messaging program provides our customers added flexibility to confirm bus schedules on-the-go while reducing our overhead expenses," said Stella Lin, marketing manager at the Orange County Transportation Authority, Orange, CA.
"The immediacy of text messaging reduces costs and increases efficiency by providing schedule information at the bus stop level,” she said.
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