According to the USDOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), there are around 50 million drivers in the USA under the age of 35. This new generation of drivers presents new challenges to transportation officials, particularly those of us in the user fee community. Millennials have different buying habits that constantly test traditional marketing efforts, which makes it even more important for those of us in the industry to keep abreast of our customers’ preferences.
The majority of millennial drivers are used to ‘having things their way’, and I am not just speaking about eating at Subway or Burger King. Most important is their increasing online interaction – over 50% of smartphone users reach for their phone when they wake up, but not to make a phone call, to use data services. Today’s consumers demand the ability not only to purchase services online, but also to interact with and quickly resolve any issue or question they have. They want that power at their fingertips, whether that be from their smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
And we in tolling and managed lanes are not alone; millennials are causing shifts in other areas of the transportation industry as well. Today it is not uncommon to rent a vehicle, locate and pay for private and public parking and, of course, pay for tolls or order an Uber, all from your cell phone. To keep attracting these new users we must design access to and create management of customer accounts that is straightforward and simple. Along with this simplicity it must be a satisfying experience, visually pleasing, lightning fast and accurate.
Brands have always been important to consumers, but nowadays customer experience is what makes a brand. People want to do business with brands that are well liked by their friends, family and other peers. And it’s easier than ever for people to share their thoughts, opinions and experiences and read about those of other people. In the old days, when a reporter ‘got it wrong’ it could be updated or retracted. Today, once something hits the web it will be around for eternity and can destroy a brand. If customers have favorable experiences we need to encourage them to share those positive notes with others. However, one bad review can spread faster than wildfire. One person’s experience can be read by and influence hundreds, thousands or even millions of people within minutes. The power of today’s digital world bridges traditional media, social media and word-of-mouth marketing, and reaches across all generations.
Managing a transportation program today takes more than writing a plan and installing high-quality systems. For our industry to remain relevant and continue making progress, we must look more closely at the consumers view, and adapt and design experiences that meet our customers’ ever-changing expectations.