Virgin Trains

Virgin Trains on using AI and virtual reality to boost customer experience

Speaking at the Knowledge 18 ServiceNow conference in Las Vegas, Virgin Trains outlined the potential role immersive and data-driven technologies can play in improving customer experience

Virgin Trains is exploring how the use of natural language chatbots, machine learning and virtual reality (VR) could improve customer experience, as part of its wider digital transformation efforts.

Speaking at the Knowledge 18 ServiceNow conference in Las Vegas, Dean Underwood, head of tech services at Virgin Trains, said the company is currently evaluating a number of emerging technologies, including augmented reality (AR) and machine-learning-based offerings.

“We’re looking at AR/VR and how we can use that in business. Can we enhance the customer experience on-board using AR and VR? Could I do some internal training? Especially with AR now – and you can do it on your phone – can we have some signage up on our trains that provides an AR environment?”

The company is also incorporating elements of artificial intelligence into the customer experience, by rolling out an integration that allows users to purchase train tickets with the help of Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa.

The IT landscape changes so fast, but it is important not to fall into the trap of adopting new and emerging technologies just for the sake of it, said Underwood.

“Automation and machine learning is going to be exciting, but you have to make sure the use cases are correct. Everybody wants to do machine learning, but you’ve got to pick the right use cases to get the benefits for it, because you could just do it for the sake of it,” he said.

Virgin Trains has been partnering with cloud service management provider ServiceNow since 2016, using its IT Service Management (ITSM) platform to modernise its systems and boost staff efficiency.

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This process has seen Virgin Trains recently move 80% of its infrastructure to the Microsoft Azure public cloud, with Underwood citing business culture as being biggest barrier to digital transformation for many organisations.

“Changing culture is always the trickiest bit of any transformation project,” he said. “We have a fantastic internal team that do internal comms; our brand team are heavy on the tone of voice that we use and the way we go about doing cultural change.” 

“You always have challenges, but it’s having a varied approach; so we do a lot of videos, we do a lot of clinics, we go out [and send messages] through tech geniuses and we have internal communications platforms so we use multi-channel comms to make sure we get the widest exposure.”

While the company has made significant progress headway into its push for digital transformation, there is still more to do, said Underwood. “It’s about setting a foundation. We’ve just done all this great change, but if I say ‘I’m finished’, I might as well have not done it.”

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